The Food and Drug Administration launched an ad campaign Tuesday aimed at scaring teenagers away from vaping using snark and special effects.
The unusual campaign, which FDA officials described as “irreverent,” will target teens on social media and even in school bathrooms while staying below the radar of adult smokers who might want to use e-cigarettes as a way to help them quit.
The message: e-cigarettes deliver nicotine to addict you, and toxins that could have unexpected health effects.
“We are acting on very clear science that there’s an epidemic on the way,” FDA Commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb told a gathering of “stakeholders” interested in tobacco control.
Last week, the FDA called e-cigarette use among teen an epidemic, and gave the five major makers two months to come up with a plan for keeping their products out of the hands of teens. The FDA also threatened to ban flavored vape products, saying that flavors such as mango and bubble gum were clearly aimed at hooking teens.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also says vaping is unsafe, delivering addictive nicotine, which can harm the adolescent brain, as well as heavy metals such as lead and other potentially damaging chemicals.
Teen use of e-cigarettes has risen from about 1.5 percent of high school students in 2011 to 12 percent in 2017, the CDC says. In 2017, 2.1 million high school students used e-cigarettes. More than 3 percent of middle school students said they had recently used an e-cigarette.
“As a youth leader I would like to see our generation and the ones after us grow up healthy and not addicted to any tobacco products. I want the future of our world to be safe, healthy, and tobacco-free.” - Evie Leary @ystreetva says while helping unveil FDA’s #TheRealCostECigspic.twitter.com/leyd5zG7O2
Gottlieb said the numbers have risen even more in the past year. “We’re in possession of data that shows a disturbingly sharp rise in the number of teens using e-cigarettes in just the last year,” he said.
“We’ve had to start taking some actions before the final results of this data can be made public. We will make these results public very soon. But we have an obligation to act on what we know. And what we know is very disturbing.”
Thus the ad campaign, the FDA’s Kathy Crosby said. It includes “snarky and irreverent” posters in school bathrooms, she said, with messages such as “Strangely enough, some kids come here to put crap into their bodies”.
Other ads will go to social media channels such as YouTube, with geotargeting to try to focus on users aged 12 to 17 while they are in school. Ads will also go onto websites used by students to see their grades or get assignments, Crosby said.
Crosby said the ads were shown to focus groups, including a group of adult smokers who want to quit. She said they made these smokers cautious about trying e-cigarettes as an aid to stop smoking combustible cigarettes, so the FDA will not be running the ads on mainstream media such as television.
Gottlieb, who once served on the board of directors for vaping retailer Kure, said it’s still possible that e-cigarettes provide a less deadly alternative for adult smokers.