Tag: tobacco prevention
In 1998, Mississippi’s tobacco prevention and control program began. Mississippi was one of a handful of states to settle with the tobacco industry outside of the “Master Settlement Agreement.” The settlement meant that, as a state, we had the ability to control our tobacco prevention efforts apart from any one-size-fits all national campaign. Today is World No Tobacco Day, and it seems fitting to reflect on Mississippi’s tobacco control program as it moves into its 15th year. The program is now managed as an office within the Mississippi State Department of Health, and is truly one of the best state-level public health success stories of the last half century.
Regardless of your political opinions regarding the tobacco lawsuit and subsequent settlement, it is near impossible to argue with the effectiveness and ramifications of the initiative. Maris, West & Baker was the first and primary marketing partner charged with overseeing tobacco “counter-marketing” programs and media promotion of the state’s tobacco cessation hotline, known as Tobacco Quitline Mississippi. One of the aspects that has and continues to make Mississippi’s efforts so effective is the comprehensive nature of its approach: Community-based coalitions manage programs from a local level. Physicians are engaged through a professional outreach component. And an active youth programs effort ensures strategic, age-appropriate prevention messaging and curriculum are taught in schools, care programs and in the community. While the marketing/media aspect is only one component of larger effort, it has contributed to reductions in prevalence, helping to reduce the tax burden related to tobacco related diseases and ultimately save lives.
That’s something to be proud of.
We don’t often get to say as much in the advertising profession. Sure, we can be proud of awards we win, accounts that we grow, increased sales of BrandX Toothpaste by 2000%, etc., etc. And these are points of pride. But when you consider that a campaign we helped develop and implement means that tens of thousands – maybe more – Mississippians will ultimately not die as a result of tobacco-related disease. Well, that’s something altogether different.
My very first official task at MWB was to stuff press kits for the launch of our teen-focused counter-marketing campaign. The agency had also developed the very first tobacco counter-marketing campaign aimed specifically at the Kindergarten through 6th grade demographic. This approach was implemented despite the beliefs of many skeptics who were skeptical about the wisdom of targeting children of that age group with tobacco prevention campaigns. Now, 42,027 fewer middle school smokers later, “Terrance the RAT,” the “spokesrat” of the RAT youth campaign is nearly as well known among young Mississippians as Mickey Mouse. Personally speaking, these achievements are real points of pride. Speaking for my company, we couldn’t ask to be involved with a more significant and important public health effort.
Everyone who has had a hand in Mississippi’s unique, comprehensive, and effective tobacco prevention and control programs should feel the same sense of pride.
Many of the communication strategies used to prevent teen tobacco use can work for teen pregnancy prevention campaigns. But there are some very important differences between the two issues.
Both are social issues that are reinforced by social norms. And both have enormous public health consequences in addition to the negative impact on individuals. Here in Mississippi, treatment of tobacco-related diseases costs our state $264 million each year in direct medicare costs alone. By comparison, teen pregnancy costs Mississippi $154 million per year in the form of lost tax revenues, incarceration and foster care.
But it’s important to keep in mind one very important difference between teen tobacco use and teen pregnancy: The consequence of tobacco initiation is often disease and early death. The consequence of premarital sexual activity is, in many cases, a living, breathing little human being.
You can strip away the false glamor of smoking and expose cigarettes as a dangerous, addictive product. But, when it comes to teen pregnancy prevention, you have to be very careful not to devalue the human life that can result. Babies are great – just not when you’re 15. Raising a child is a wonderful and rewarding thing. But when you’re still in school? Forget it.
Getting back to the similarities, the toughest challenge for any youth-targeted prevention program is that teens have a hard time anticipating and fully appreciating future consequences. You have to portray the consequences in a way that’s real, relevant and credible to their lives. You have to get that message out and let them hear it over and over and over. Not just for one week during school.