U.S. flag An official website of the United States government
  1. Home
  2. Tobacco Products
  3. Public Health Education
  4. Public Health Education Campaigns
  5. The Real Cost Campaign
  6. The Real Cost Cigarette Prevention Campaign
  1. The Real Cost Campaign

The Real Cost Cigarette Prevention Campaign

On this page:


FDA’s first tobacco prevention campaign, “The Real Cost,” was launched in 2014. In its first two years, research showed “The Real Cost” prevented up to 587,000 youth ages 11 to 19 from initiating smoking between February 2014 and November 2016, half of whom might have gone on to become established adult smokers. 

Our Goal: Educate youth ages 12 to 17 who are at-risk for smoking cigarettes in the United States about its harmful effects.

Campaign Research

How Research Guides Our Campaign  

FDA has conducted several rounds of research with teens, including focus groups, interviews, and surveys across the country. Our research includes participants from different geographies, race, ethnicity, gender and age based on their risk for smoking cigarettes.

Today, with teen smoking at an all-time low, our research helps us assess and refresh our messaging to ensure we are being effective with an audience that hasn’t been swayed by other prevention messages. 

By preventing these kids from becoming established smokers, "The Real Cost" campaign will save more than $53 billion for youth, their families and society at large by reducing smoking-related costs like early loss of life, costly medical care, lost wages, lower productivity, and increased disability.

Our Approach

“The Real Cost” cigarette prevention campaign uses digital marketing tactics and creative advertising to educate the audience on the negative consequences of smoking. Some of these marketing tactics included: 

  • Digital and streaming video advertising  
  • Streaming audio advertising
  • Social media to engage the audience 
  • A variety of influencers to extend the campaign’s messaging

In January 2023, “The Real Cost” launched two new ads rooted in science-based facts about cigarette smoking. One ad, “Auctioneer,” focuses on the negative mental health effects of cigarette smoking and withdrawal, a new messaging area for the campaign.

The other ad “Said Every Smoker Ever” introduces youth to the fact that 3 out of 4 teens who smoke will continue to smoke into adulthood and focuses on the negative consequences of cigarette addiction.



Campaign Resources

Quitting Resources for Youth

FDA partners with the National Cancer Institute’s (NCI) Smokefree.gov initiative to provide youth with resources for quitting tobacco products. Resources and information on Teen.smokefree.gov are designed specifically for youth audiences by cessation experts. “The Real Cost” campaign connects youth to these resources on social media and various digital platforms (Spotify Pandora, Wattpad, etc.). Some of the quit tools and resources include: 

Free Tobacco Education Materials at FDA Tobacco Education Resource Library  

TERL teen posters


Learn more about print materials, web content, and social media posts available for free that help keep communities, including LGBTQI+ smokers and Spanish language speakers informed about tobacco-related issues.

Awards and Recognition

  • Anthem Awards
    • 2022: Bronze award in the Awareness Category
  • Effie Awards
    • 2020: Bronze Effie in the Youth Marketing category  
    • 2017: Bronze Effie in the Youth Marketing category 
    • 2015: Gold Effie in the Disease Awareness and Education category
  • Festival of Media Awards 
    • 2020: Grand Prix for Campaign of the Year 
    • 2020: Best Branded Content led by Digital Channels 
    • 2020: Best Communications Strategy 
    • 2020: Creative Use of Media  
  • The One Show Award 
    • 2020: Merit award at The One Show in the Branded Entertainment Games category 
      • Power or Purpose Award 
    • 2020: Power of Purpose for Brand Purpose 
  • Verizon Media Award
    • 2019: Brandblazer for Premium Integrations 
  • AdWeek 
    • 2019: Media Plan of the Year Award for Best Use of Branded Content/Entertainment 
  • Clio Health Award 
    • 2019: Silver Clio award for Branded Entertainment and Content  
    • 2017: Bronze Clio award for Visual Effects 
  • Spikes Asia
    • 2017: Silver Spike for Film Craft 
  • Shorty Award  
    • 2016: Creative work on Tumblr
Back to Top