A recent study has exposed tobacco companies paying young and popular social media influencers with large online followings to advertise their cigarettes as a part of a marketing strategy to target youth (Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids 2018). These influencers are told what brands to promote, when to post pictures for maximum exposure, and how to take “natural photos” that do not look like staged advertisements (refer to figure one). In response to this study, the FDA (an agency within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services) initiated the Little Lungs in a Great Big World campaign to deal with tobacco control among youth in the U.S.
Figure one: One example of a young social media influencer promoting cigarettes as a paid advertisement (Kaplan 2018).
Little Lungs in a Great Big World is a digital campaign including five short animated advertisements (refer to figure two) targeted at teens aged 12 to 18 who are open to smoking, are already experimenting with cigarettes, have a lower socioeconomic status, are surrounded by smokers, or live in a chaotic home environment (Shorty Awards 2019). Addressing and reducing teen tobacco use is essential as “nearly nine out of 10 adult daily smokers started smoking before they were 18 years old” (Scott 2018). The top-down initiative is designed to resonate with a teen audience (Jardine 2017) and target them on the same platforms as the tobacco companies, including YouTube, Facebook, Snapchat and Instagram (Oster 2017).
Figure Two: One video of five from Little Lungs in a Great Big World campaign (The Real Cost 2017).
As this campaign was released across social media, the engagement levels of the videos determine its success. Little Lungs in a Great Big World has currently been viewed over 65 million times on YouTube, and additional 8 million times on Facebook and Instagram (Shorty Awards 2019). The campaigns success was aided by its design as the visual style and humour engages youth whilst still educating them on the consequences of smoking. In addition, the number of youth using tobacco products has shown to decrease after the time the campaign was released. In 2013, about 17.7% of middle school students and 46% of high school students reported current use of some type of tobacco product. This has decreased to 7.2% of middle school students and 27% of high school students in 2018 (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention 2019), however it is not determined whether the Little Lungs in a Great Big World campaign has any influence in these figures.
Although the campaign didn’t receive any criticism, it still faces the challenge of fighting the influence of tobacco advertising on social media. “Posts advertising tobacco products on social media have been viewed more than 25 billion times globally and 8.8 billion times in the U.S.” (TakeAPart 2019). With the FDA continuing to make anti-smoking campaigns similar to Little Lungs in a Great Big World, the number of U.S. teenagers using tobacco products should continue to decrease.
Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids 2018, New Investigation Exposes How Tobacco Companies Market Cigarettes on Social Media in the U.S. and Around the World, Washington D.C., viewed 13 January 2019, <https://www.tobaccofreekids.org/press-releases/2018_08_27_ftc>.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention 2019, Youth and Tobacco Use, Atlanta, viewed 13 January 2019, <https://www.cdc.gov/tobacco/data_statistics/fact_sheets/youth_data/tobacco_use/index.htm>.
Jardine, A. 2017, The FDA Targets Teen Smokers With Animations Featuring Unfortunate ‘Little Lungs’, AdAge, viewed 13 January 2019, <https://adage.com/creativity/work/little-lungs-pool/51220>.
Kaplan, S. 2018, Big Tobacco’s Global Reach on Social Media, New York Times, News, New York, viewed 13 January 2019, <https://www.nytimes.com/2018/08/24/health/tobacco-social-media-smoking.html>.
Oster, E. 2017, FCB New York Introduces ‘Little Lungs’ to Show ‘The Real Cost’ of Smoking for the FDA, Adweek, viewed 13 January 2019, <https://www.adweek.com/agencyspy/fcb-new-york-introduces-little-lungs-to-show-the-real-cost-of-smoking-for-the-fda/127638>.
The Real Cost 2017, Little Lungs in a Great Big World: Birthday, Animation, YouTube, viewed 13 January 2019, <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fmKply2PfmI>.
Scott, J.E. 2018, ‘17th World Conference on Tobacco or Health’, Tobacco Induced Diseases, vol. 16, pp. 178, viewed 13 January 2019, <http://www.tobaccoinduceddiseases.org/-8220-Little-Lungs-8221-using-digital-platforms-innovative-creative-and-audience,84281,0,2.html>.
Shorty Awards 2019, Little Lungs in a Great Big World, New York, viewed 13 January 2019, <https://shortyawards.com/2nd-socialgood/little-lungs-in-a-great-big-world-2>.
TakeAPart 2019, Resources & Media, Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, Atlanta, viewed 13 January 2019, <https://www.takeapart.org/wheretheressmoke/resources/>.