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3 ways truth is creating the first tobacco-free generation

When the first national truth® commercial aired in 2000, almost a quarter of young people smoked. Now, with the teen smoking rate at 6 percent, the truth campaign has a new challenge for a new generation: #FinishIt and bring that number down to zero.

To achieve this goal, the longest-running national tobacco prevention campaign for youth and young adults relies on innovative approaches to engage young people. These strategies have made it a leader among public health campaigns, with a reputation as one of the most successful campaigns in history and an award chest of more than 300 industry honors, including multiple Emmy, Cannes Lions, Effie, Clio and Webby awards.

The best proof of truth’s success, however, is the slashed smoking rate and the corroborating published research about the campaign’s effects on youth behavior and attitudes. For instance, teens aware of truth are twice as likely to say they do not intend to smoke in the future. Additionally, truth was credited with keeping 450,000 teens from starting to smoke in just the first four years of the campaign.

3 ways truth is making tobacco a thing of the past

1. Shift with youth behaviors

With more than 15 years of experience engaging young people, truth has had to adapt to changing characteristics and tastes over time. But that is not the only way the campaign has evolved to stay resonant.

The age of initiation of tobacco use has been trending higher in recent years. Data from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health found that, during 2002 to 2006, more people tried their first cigarette between the ages of 15 to 17 than between the ages of 18 to 21. By 2007 to 2012, however, those results had swapped, with more people trying their first cigarette between 18 and 21 years old. Changes in tobacco industry marketing practices partially explain the shift.

“The tobacco industry is constantly evolving their game plan,” Truth Initiative Chief Marketing Officer Eric Asche said. “We need to constantly evolve ours.”

2. Highlight the unexpected effects of tobacco

The most serious health consequences of tobacco are well known. The truthcampaign, knowing that, shines a light on many other unexpected ways that tobacco affects smokers and nonsmokers.

Some examples: Pets are two times as likely to get cancer if their owner smokes, smokers earn 20 percent less than nonsmokers and people smoking in their dating app profile pictures get half the number of matches.

The campaign also tackles other tobacco products and use patterns, such as flavored products like hookah and social smoking, to educate young people about effects they may not be aware of. Additionally, truth is working to expose how tobacco use disproportionately affects certain groups, including racial and sexual minorities and lower socioeconomic groups.

“We’ve always been about exposing the tobacco industry’s tactics,” Asche said. “We're not here to criticize people’s choices, or tell them not to smoke. We're here to arm everyone – smokers and nonsmokers – with the tools to make change.”

3. Empower collective action

Instead of exclusively focusing on the 6 percent of young people still smoking, the truth campaign enlists the other 94 percent to help change the social narratives about smoking.

The campaign produces provocative and original advertisements, delivers online engagement opportunities and creates in-person experiences that connect truth with youth and young adults. truth works to inspire them to use their creativity and social influence to spread the truth about tobacco and make this the generation that ends tobacco use.

“When you have a smoking rate in the single digits, it’s a winnable battle,” Asche said. “Together, we are bigger, louder, and more powerful than Big Tobacco.”


To see more of the campaign’s work, visit