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New Research: Mass Media Campaigns Can Reduce Smoking Prevalence

Highest impact in low- and middle-income countries where
the tobacco epidemic is still growing.

Despite projected toll of 1 billion lives this century, most countries not investing in campaigns.

(Geneva, Switzerland and New York, USA) – New research proves that strategic, large-scale anti-tobacco media campaigns can lead to significant reduction in smoking prevalence and save millions globally, if countries will only invest in them. The simulation study from Dr. David Levy, Professor of Oncology at Georgetown University, and global health organization Vital Strategies demonstrates that campaigns are highly effective and efficient, particularly in low- and middle-income countries. Unfortunately, recent data from World Health Organization (WHO) shows that only 18% of low- and middle-income countries – 27 countries – are using this lifesaving tool to its full potential.

Effectiveness of Mass Media Campaigns in Reducing Smoking and Smoking-Related Deaths in High-, Middle- and Low-Income Countries” is a working paper that models the effect of mass media campaigns on populations, with the goal of helping governments decide how to invest in tobacco control policies.

Using the simulation, the study found that a prototype low-income country would see a 12.5 percent reduction in smoking prevalence over 40 years if mass media campaigns are broadcast according to best practices. A prototype middle-income country would see a 10 percent reduction in smoking prevalence and a high-income country would see a 7.5 percent reduction over 40 years. Campaigns should follow WHO-endorsed best practices for campaign development, including a strong message and adequate media air time and placement.

The research team’s model also shows that implementing mass media campaigns alone (without other tobacco control policies) would, over 40 years, avert 187,500 deaths of smokers alive today in a prototype low-income country. A projected 150,000 lives would be saved in a middle-income country and 93,750 in a high-income country in the same time period, according to the simulation using the abridged SimSmoke model.

“Our research shows that mass media campaigns substantially reduce smoking prevalence and help avert smoking-related deaths, especially when used in conjunction with other anti-tobacco policies,” said Dr. Levy. “We found these effects to be stronger in low- and middle-income countries, where the tobacco epidemic is at an earlier stage. With too few countries using campaigns effectively, investing in sustained anti-tobacco media campaigns represents a significant opportunity for global health and development, especially in countries where the health and economic costs related to tobacco use are still growing.”

“Armed with even more evidence about the powerful impact of media campaigns, ministries of health should act immediately to support a robust and sustained media program,” said Nandita Murukutla, co-lead author of the paper and Vice President, Global Policy and Research, Vital Strategies. “This is a strategy available to even the lowest-income countries. While campaigns can be high-cost, they are also highly efficient. In Vital Strategies’ experience mounting campaigns in more than 40 low- and middle-income countries, we’ve seen multiple successful mechanisms for supporting sustained media efforts. Countries can look to our previous position paper, ‘Sustainable Funding Mechanisms for Population-Level Tobacco Control Communication Programs,’ which sets out the strategies governments can adopt to make these campaigns even more cost effective.”

Estimates suggest that a billion people will die from tobacco-related disease this century. Governments are not on track to meet the WHO target of reducing smoking prevalence by 30 percent by 2025, nor the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals target of reducing premature mortality from noncommunicable diseases by one-third by 2030.

If mass media campaigns are implemented in conjunction with policies such as comprehensive smoke-free laws, smoking cessation programs and large graphic warnings on tobacco packaging, the model suggests that even more deaths could be averted. The model can be adapted for different population sizes and policy environments to determine the potential benefits for a specific country.

Effectiveness of Mass Media Campaigns in Reducing Smoking and Smoking-Related Deaths in High-, Middle- and Low-Income Countries” is being published in advance of the eighth session of the Conference of the Parties (COP8) to the World Health Organization Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC). Attendees at the COP8 meeting in Geneva are invited to speak with a member of the research team and collect a copy of the paper at the Vital Strategies booth. To access the paper via the Vital Strategies website, visit:

About Vital Strategies

Vital Strategies is a global health organization that believes every person should be protected by a strong public health system. Our programs reach into 73 countries and help prevent death and illness from noncommunicable disease, reduce harm caused by environmental factors, and support cities as engines for public health. We consult with governments on issues including restricting junk food marketing to kids, promoting smoke-free laws, improving indoor and outdoor air quality, and strengthening road safety. These are protections that add up to millions of lives saved. 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. Our tobacco control work is supported by Bloomberg Philanthropies as part of the global Bloomberg Initiative to Reduce Tobacco Use. To find out more, please visit or Twitter @VitalStrat.

For further information or to arrange an interview with a report author or public health and tobacco control expert, please contact