Clear The Air News Tobacco Blog Rotating Header Image


WHO FCTC Article 12 commits governments to warn citizens about the harms of tobacco, the W in MPOWER. This is to help overcome decades of tobacco industry misinformation that encourages people— especially youth – to start and persist in using tobacco against the interests of their health and wellbeing and to de-normalize the social acceptability of tobacco use.

The most efficient way to quickly achieve the Article 12 objectives is to mount frequent, high impact, effective campaigns on media platforms that reach large populations such as television and radio, and increasingly, mobile and social media.

It’s true that signatories to the WHO FCTC are more likely to have implemented such campaigns than to have implemented sufficiently high tobacco taxes, but only one in five countries currently directs sufficient resources to media campaigns. Fewer countries again run campaigns with the frequency, intensity and duration required to drive rapid progress against tobacco use. This is problematic because low knowledge about tobacco’s harms and insufficient public education are key barriers to overall progress in tobacco control.

Constraints on health funding prevent greater investment in anti-tobacco campaigns, as do a lack of awareness of their efficacy and a perception that these campaigns are costly. In fact, there is convincing evidence that best practice mass media campaigns are highly effective in reaching consumers, helping to deliver behaviour change (for example, by prompting smokers to make a quit attempt) and to build support for policies such as smokefree public places.

Such campaigns are also highly cost-efficient and can be deployed rapidly, particularly when countries take advantage of the wealth of proven, best practice campaigns that can be adapted and broadcasted at relatively low cost.

For example, preliminary analysis of campaigns in three low- and middle income countries indicates that campaign awareness was associated with increased quit attempts among tobacco users, with related per-person costs per quit attempt of US$0.07 in India, US$0.21 in China and US$0.56 in Vietnam.

Countries are more likely to run campaigns at the optimum levels of frequency and duration when sustainable funding mechanisms are in place. Four good models are:

1. Transfer mass media campaign costs to the tobacco industry, as India has done. Warning messages about the harms of tobacco must be shown when tobacco is depicted in a film or TV program.
2. Dedicate tobacco tax revenue to mass media campaigns, as Thailand has done.
3. Require broadcasters to provide free air time, as Turkey has done. All broadcasters air at least 90 minutes of tobacco control content every month, including 30 minutes during prime time.
4. Agree and budget for upfront, multi-year funding commitments, as Australia has done.

Governments are advised to examine and emulate, where appropriate, these innovative funding, legislative and governance mechanisms to deliver an impactful anti-tobacco communication campaign strategy. This strategy should also seek to reinforce the graphic warnings printed on tobacco packs, to deliver maximum impact.

A position paper available at the Vital Strategies website (, goes into more detail on this topic.

Vital Strategies and other allies, including the Secretariat of the WHO FCTC, Framework Convention Alliance, and countrylevel organizations such as national health-promotion foundations, are available to provide advice and assistance to governments wishing to implement more sustainable funding mechanisms for tobacco control and improve their use of strategic communication campaigns.

Sandra Mullin
Senior Vice President, Policy,
Advocacy and Communication Vital Strategies

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>