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Wanna Smoke? It Could Cost You A Tooth, FDA Warns Teens

When it comes to persuading teenagers not to smoke, you have to think short-term, the Food and Drug Administration says.

"While most teens understand the serious health risks associated with tobacco use, they often don't believe the long-term consequences will ever apply to them," FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg told reporters Monday before unveiling the agency's first-ever anti-smoking campaign.

Instead, the ads focus on how smoking affects teenagers' appearance by ruining their skin and messing up their teeth. One graphic TV ad shows a teenager buying a pack of cigarettes at a convenience store and literally pulling out a tooth with a set of pliers to pay for them.

"What's a pack of smokes cost? Your teeth," the narrator says. "Smoking can cause serious gum disease that makes you more likely to lose them."

Other ads speak to teenagers' growing desire for independence by showing how the need to smoke can take over their lives.

Anti-smoking advocates say they're thrilled by the ads.

"For the first time the federal government is really using the same quality advertising agencies, using the same kind of research, that the tobacco industry has used for decades to market to kids," says Matthew Myers, who heads the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids. "However, this time they're doing it to discourage tobacco use among kids."

NPR requested interviews with several tobacco companies, but they declined.

The $115 million ad blitz is aimed at teenagers ages 12 to 17 who are at greatest risk of becoming addicted to cigarettes for various reasons, including being from troubled homes.

"At its heart, this campaign is about reaching kids who are on-the-cusp youth smokers," Hamburg said. These are "teens who've already experimented — who are just one party away from becoming daily smokers."

The ads will start appearing Feb. 11 in 200 markets on radio and television, in magazines that appeal to teenagers, on billboards and online. They will run for at least a year, Hamburg said.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Rob Stein is a correspondent and senior editor on NPR's science desk.