Return to News
August 16, 2017

Media campaign on smokeless tobacco generated more than 17 million additional quit attempts and prevented 120,000 premature deaths

(New York, USA) – A new analysis by Vital Strategies has found that mass media campaigns represent a highly cost-effective way of reducing smokeless tobacco use in low-and middle-income countries (LMICs).  The analysis, “Cost-effectiveness of a smokeless tobacco control mass media campaign in Indiawas authored by Vital Strategies’ public health communication experts and has been published in leading peer-review journal “Tobacco Control.” Smokeless tobacco is widely used across a number of LMICs, and it is a significant risk factor for a range of cancers and heart disease, and related premature deaths and economic harm. In countries like India, smokeless tobacco is more widely used than smoked tobacco.

Lead author, Dr. Nandita Murukutla, VP, Global Policy and Research, Policy, Advocacy and Communication, Vital Strategies, said: “This paper proves that best-practice mass media campaigns that are graphic, hard hitting, culturally relevant and emotionally compelling are highly cost-effective in encouraging quitting and saving lives. They can play a significant role in helping governments to reduce tobacco use and preventable tobacco-related disease and death, in line with their commitments under the Sustainable Development Goals. We encourage governments to consider the costs of inaction, and move to implement impactful campaigns to reduce the use of these deadly products.”

The paper evaluates the impact of the “Surgeon” victim testimonial campaign, implemented by the Government of India with support from Vital Strategies (then operating as World Lung Foundation), in the lightly of newly available data on prevalence, quitting and harm related to smokeless tobacco use in India. The campaign was found to have generated an additional 17.26 million smokeless tobacco quit attempts at a cost of just US$0.06 per quit attempt. There were 431,479 more permanent quitters due to the campaign, at a cost of just US$2.60 per permanent quitter, and it is estimated that the campaign averted 120,814 premature deaths related to smokeless tobacco use, at a cost of just US$9.20 per death averted.   

Sandra Mullin, Senior Vice President, Policy, Advocacy and Communication, Vital Strategies and co-author of the paper said: “Tobacco use – both smoked and smokeless – is a significant threat to health and development in low- and middle-income countries. This paper is a vital contribution to building the evidence base around the use of anti-tobacco communication campaigns in these countries, and a world first in addressing the issue of smokeless tobacco use. The fact that less than US$10 can save a life further proves the strong economic justification for running these campaigns.”

Sustainable Funding Mechanisms For Population-Level Tobacco Control Communication Programs”, another paper published by Vital Strategies, shows that anti-tobacco campaigns can be even more cost effective when sustainable funding mechanisms are implemented and enforced – like policies obliging broadcasters to set aside free, prime-time slots to transmit public service messages, including anti-tobacco campaigns.

Mullin concluded: “The lives and livelihoods of hundreds of millions of people are at stake. We anticipate that this paper will encourage action among other countries facing a high burden from smokeless tobacco use. With tools like the Media Beacon resource of proven, low-cost mass media campaigns, we stand ready to help support that important work.”

Research has shown that mass media campaigns are among the most effective means to encourage people to stop using tobacco. Hard-hitting campaigns and images can compel tobacco users to quit, increase knowledge of the health risks of tobacco use, and promote behavior change in both smokers and non-smokers. They are featured in the World Health Organization’s M-P-O-W-E-R (W=Warn) strategies to reduce tobacco consumption. MPOWER strategies are endorsed and promoted by the Bloomberg Initiative to Reduce Tobacco Use, of which Vital Strategies is a principal partner.

About Vital Strategies

Vital Strategies is a global health organization that seeks to accelerate progress on the world’s most pressing health problems. Our team combines evidence-based strategies with innovation to help develop and implement sound public health policies, manage programs efficiently, strengthen data systems, conduct research, and design strategic communication campaigns for policy and behavior change. To find out more, please visit or Twitter @VitalStrat.

For further information or to arrange an interview with a Vital Strategies public health and tobacco control expert, please contact Tracey Johnston, Vital Strategies, at +44.7889.081.170 or

Back to top