FDA’s New Anti-Smoking Campaign Uses Hip-Hop to Target Youth

Matthew Perrone, Yahoo! News, October 6, 2015

Government health officials are betting they can adapt the sounds, style and swagger of hip-hop culture to discourage young African Americans, Hispanics and other minority youths from using tobacco.

The Food and Drug Administration said Tuesday that it will spend $128 million on the “Fresh Empire” campaign, which incorporates advertisements, local events and outreach to try and curb smoking among minority teenagers.

FDA officials say research shows young people who identify with hip-hop are more likely to use cigarettes and other tobacco products than their peers.

To be sure, hip-hop’s origins as an anti-establishment, urban movement seem to clash with the federal government’s buttoned-down image. But FDA officials predict they can convincingly pitch their message to hip-hop fans, based on focus group testing.

“We know from our research that remaining in control is an important pillar of hip-hop culture. But smoking represents a loss of control, so tobacco use is actually in conflict with that priority,” said Mitch Zeller, director of the FDA’s Center for Tobacco Products.

Zeller, who oversaw the anti-tobacco “Truth” campaign while working at the nonprofit American Legacy Foundation in the early 2000s, said the hip-hop audience “is often hard to reach, has been underserved by tobacco education efforts and may be at higher risk for some of the most serious negative health outcomes.”

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One print ad for the campaign features a young black woman with dyed green hair seated at a large, mahogany desk with the caption: “CEO of Independence.” The same woman–identified by the FDA as California-based artist Jessica Williams–appears in a TV ad rapping about her grandfather’s battle with lung cancer. The ad concludes with the tagline, “keep it fresh, live tobacco free.”

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