More Youths Report Paying Attention to Anti-Smoking Ads

A statewide anti-smoking campaign reached significantly more youths across North Carolina between 2006 and 2007, and most youngsters are paying attention to the message, according to an evaluation by researchers in UNC’s School of Medicine.

The evaluation found that awareness of the campaign — called “Tobacco. Reality. Unfiltered.” or TRU — increased from 54 percent of N.C. youths in 2006 to 71 percent in 2007. The rise in awareness followed an increase in funding, provided by the N.C. Health and Wellness Trust Fund, to $4.5 million from $1.1 million annually, which began in fall 2006.

In addition, the evaluation found that N.C. youths responded well to the ads. More than 95 percent who had seen the ads run in 2007 reported that they were convincing, attention-grabbing and gave good reasons not to use tobacco. More than 25 percent said they talked to their friends about the ads, indicating high “chat value.” And anti-tobacco and pro-health attitudes among N.C. youth remained stable and strong, the evaluation found.

“North Carolina’s TRU campaign is now reaching nearly three-quarters of young people statewide between the ages of 11 and 17 with true and effective messages from real people in our state who have suffered from tobacco addiction and disease,” said Dr. Adam O. Goldstein, a professor in the UNC School of Medicine’s department of family medicine and director of UNC’s Tobacco Prevention and Evaluation Program, which conducted the evaluation.

“We believe that North Carolina’s TRU campaign is the largest sustained tobacco prevention media campaign in any tobacco-producing state,” Goldstein said. “And, while many other states have slashed funding for similar campaigns, it’s encouraging to see that North Carolina substantially increased funding for its campaign. Our evaluation shows that the increase in funding is producing real and significant benefits.”

The TRU campaign was launched in April 2004 with three ads featuring N.C. youths telling personal stories of their own or loved ones’ serious health consequences from tobacco use. The ads, developed with information from a comprehensive report on best practices in youth tobacco prevention ads, ran until October 2004. A fourth ad, featuring a teen smoker who wanted to quit, aired that fall, and a second series of ads aired in fall and winter 2005.

To evaluate the effectiveness of the TRU campaign, the survey research unit at UNC conducted several waves of telephone surveys. A baseline survey in March and April 2004 reached 634 youths between the ages of 11 and 17. Follow-up surveys took place immediately after the fall 2004 ad campaign and immediately after the 2005 fall and winter ad campaign. The latest evaluation survey, for 2007, began four months after the funding increase went into effect.

The 2007 evaluation report also found that one-third of N.C. youth remain susceptible to smoking and that the ads currently on the air — some of which have been running for two years — may have reached their maximum impact in terms of receptivity among young people. To keep the momentum going, the report recommends developing and airing new ads in the upcoming year.

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