Using mass media campaigns to reduce youth tobacco use: a review

Am J Health Promot. Nov-Dec 2015;30(2):e71-82. doi: 10.4278/ajhp.130510-LIT-237. Epub 2014 Nov 5.


Objective: This review synthesizes the published literature on using mass media campaigns to reduce youth tobacco use, with particular focus on effects within population subgroups and the relative effectiveness of campaign characteristics.

Data source: A search of PubMed and PsycINFO conducted in March of 2014 yielded 397 studies with 34 suitable for inclusion.

Study inclusion and exclusion criteria: Included were quantitative studies that evaluate an antitobacco media campaign intended to influence youth cognitions or behavior or explore the relative effectiveness of campaign characteristics among youth.

Data extraction: An automated search and assessment of suitability for inclusion was done.

Data synthesis: Study outcomes were compared and synthesized.

Results: Antitobacco media campaigns can be effective across racial/ethnic populations, although the size of the campaign effect may differ by race/ethnicity. Evidence is insufficient to determine whether campaign outcomes differ by socioeconomic status (SES) and population density. Youth are more likely to recall and think about advertising that includes personal testimonials; a surprising narrative; and intense images, sound, and editing. Evidence in support of using a health consequences message theme is mixed; an industry manipulation theme may be effective in combination with a health consequences message. Research is insufficient to determine whether advertising with a secondhand smoke or social norms theme influences youth tobacco use.

Conclusion: Our recommendation is to develop antitobacco campaigns designed to reach all at-risk youth, which can be effective across racial/ethnic populations. Research priorities include assessing campaign influence among lower SES and rural youth, disentangling the effects of message characteristics, and assessing the degree to which this body of evidence may have changed as a result of changes in youth culture and communication technology.

Keywords: Campaign; Health focus: smoking control; Manuscript format: literature review; Media; Message; Prevention; Setting: state/national; Smoking; Strategy: education; Target population age: youth; Target population circumstances: education/income level; Tobacco; Youth; culture change; geographic location; policy; race/ethnicity; skill building/behavior change.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Behavior Therapy / methods*
  • Health Communication / methods*
  • Humans
  • Mass Media*
  • Tobacco Use / prevention & control*