Unless urgent action is taken to reverse this global epidemic, tobacco will kill as many as one billion people this century, making it the greatest single source of preventable death and disease.
This deadly product is linked to the onset of all four of the most common noncommunicable diseases: cancer, heart and lung disease, and diabetes. In addition to the high costs of treating diseases caused by its use, tobacco often kills people at the peak of their wage-earning capacity. This deprives families of their breadwinners, robs nations of a healthy and productive workforce, and contributes to the cycle of poverty that exists in many countries. It threatens global development.
As a partner in the Bloomberg Initiative to Reduce Tobacco Use, Vital Strategies supports the adoption of lifesaving policies that reach hundreds of millions of people around the world. Since 2007, we have worked with 44 countries to deliver evidence-based population-level campaigns and build local capacity to raise awareness about the dangers of tobacco. Our campaigns encourage quitting, delay initiation and support policy goals, such as smoke-free environments and tobacco tax increases. Over the long term, this helps to change behaviors around the acceptability of smoking and attitudes about the tobacco industry. Much of our work is focused in Asia and Latin America. Most recently we are also working in the Eastern Mediterranean region. To date, our campaigns have been seen by more than 2 billion people.
In countries with the largest populations and highest smoking rates, we team up with government and civil society partners to create a winning combination. Over the years we have mounted more than 425 campaigns and contributed to 70 policy wins, including national comprehensive tobacco control in Türkiye, Russia, Senegal, Mexico and Ukraine.
Our campaigns have evolved from traditional broadcast outlets to employ digital-first campaigns that use social media, online mobilization and buzz-marketing that help propel the agenda. Among our achievements in 2022: Multiple tax increases in Türkiye and Pakistan and new smoke-free/e-cigarette-free regulations in Mexico and Ukraine, as well as in cities in China, Indonesia and the Philippines.
In 2022, Vital campaigns contributed to 18 policy wins, achieved through 94 digital and broadcast media campaigns across priority countries. Our work was covered in more than 11,000 media stories. Our energized base of social media supporters grew to 1.9 million, a result of having digital campaigns running most months of the year in half a dozen priority countries. Our materials were seen by about half a million people. Governments partners contributed US$32 million to support these media campaigns.
We also recently expanded our social marketing work to the Eastern Mediterranean region, into Egypt, Jordan, Iraq and Palestine in partnership with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and EMPHNET. Culturally appropriate, message-tested, high-impact campaigns on tobacco harms reached an estimated 50 million people there.
Our work extends beyond screens to the cigarette packs themselves. Vital advises governments in designing culturally appropriate and effective graphic pack warnings to influence public opinion and behavior. We have been tapped by governments to help create evidence-based graphic health warnings for tobacco products in India, Mexico, Ukraine and in the Philippines, which now address the harms of e-cigarettes[KS1] . We worked with the Turkish government to create warnings that cover 92.5% of tobacco packs. A graphic pack warning resource we created for Africa, at the behest of the World Health Organization, has been used in a more than a half dozen countries in Francophone Africa.
Our Media Beacon site offers campaign materials that support cessation, fight initiation, encourage behavior change and push tobacco control policy.
We believe deeply that public health is local and must be locally led. To this end, Vital teams up with governments to embed sustainable mechanisms for social marketing campaigns. These government mechanisms have resulted in as much as 45 million dollars to keep tobacco’s deadly toll front and center in people’s minds. Mechanisms now exist in half of our priority countries. These mechanisms include:
- A film rule in India that shows anti-tobacco messages whenever tobacco use is shown in movies, on television or online, including on streaming services.
- A broadcast mechanism in Türkiye that provides advocates with up to 90 minutes a month of airtime on tobacco’s harm.
- A dedicated tobacco control fund that pays for tobacco control campaigns in Viet Nam and a health surcharge in Bangladesh.
Additionally, Vital has led more than 125 workshops in the last five years, training thousands of people from government to civil society, to students to become more adept at strategic communication planning to creating effective digital content. The aim is to create leaders who are better at achieving the change they seek.
This work translates into social media campaigns that draw more than 1.9 million followers from around the world, galvanized for creative actions from “die-ins” at shopping malls, to doctors championing tax increases that protect children from additive products.
Our research contributes to the scientific literature on the importance and cost-effectiveness of population-level tobacco control campaigns in low- and middle-income countries. This includes research that estimates how many lives can be saved if mass media campaigns are implemented and research which shows that population-level campaigns are a cost-effective way to change social norms and behavior costing only pennies a day in many of our countries. As with all of our campaigns, each is crafted for maximum impact using social science research and innovative digital strategy.
Recent initiatives include:
The Tobacco Atlas
Vital Strategies publishes research-driven materials that drive engagement on tobacco control issues. The most recent Tobacco Atlas, launched in partnership with the Tobacconomics team at the University of Illinois at Chicago, illustrated a first-ever global decline in smoking prevalence even as the industry targets poorer countries with weak regulatory environments and pushes novel products in untapped markets. This news was the one of the most widely covered global tobacco control story of 2022, reaching a billion people through more than 450 news outlets, including strong coverage in India and Indonesia, among the world’s largest countries and where tobacco prevalence is among the highest in the world.
The tobacco industry remains the biggest obstacle to reducing tobacco use. Vital Strategies is a partner in STOP, the world’s first tobacco industry watchdog, which was created to help address the industry’s global influence and dirty tactics. STOP conducts global monitoring, deep investigative research and timely analyses that expose and counter the tobacco industry’s efforts to undermine public health and its strategy to hook a new generation of tobacco users.
The tobacco industry remains the biggest obstacle to reducing tobacco use. Vital Strategies’ STOP is a tobacco industry watchdog, created to help address the industry’s global influence and dirty tactics. STOP conducts global monitoring, deep investigative research and timely analyses that expose and counter the tobacco industry’s efforts to undermine public health and its strategy to hook a new generation of tobacco users.
The explosion of e-cigarettes and novel products has provided the tobacco industry with a newly aggressive public relations spin and an ironic chance to brand themselves as harm reduction advocates. STOP takes on industry messaging that threatens public health and has emerged as a respected go-to resource. More than two million people have visited the website since it was launched in 2019.
Recent flagship reports from STOP include the Global Tobacco Industry Interference Index. When it published British American Tobacco Uncovered, STOP exposed potentially illegal payments and surveillance to undermine competitors across Africa. The story broke on BBC Panorama, achieving more than 270 media mentions with a potential reach of 600 million people. Our “Hooking You One Way Or Another” campaign was seen almost 23 million times and the unprecedented traffic temporarily overwhelmed STOP’s web site—a problem we were happy to have.
Our Tobacco Enforcement and Reporting Movement (TERM) is an AI-powered, expert-driven crowdsourced monitoring system built in response to the industry seizing on the power of digital platforms. TERM tracks and analyzes tobacco marketing using news and social media listening. It’s designed to uncover and counter insidious and often invisible online industry marketing practices designed to recruit young customers to replace their dying ones.
Special reports highlight tobacco marketing around the World Cup; luring youth with online e-cigarette marketing in Indonesia and selling bidis in India. TERM has caught the eye of the public and policymakers, from mayors in Indonesia to data analysts in Germany, generating deserved outrage and bolstering advocacy for stronger protections for online consumers. A recent op-ed on TERM’s work, was shared by a famous Brazilian influencer, with his 16 million followers.
Vital also led a six-year investigative reporting partnership with The Guardian, The Bureau of Investigative Journalism and Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP) that delivered more than 93 pieces of investigative journalism with real-world impact. For example, a legal firm filed suit against BAT on behalf of tobacco workers in Malawi, where children are exploited for tobacco farming. The Bureau of Investigative Journalism’s reporting on PMI’s “smoke-free future” in Indonesia forced the removal of outdoor advertising near schools. In the wake of reporting from OCCRP, Italian authorities demanded Japan Tobacco International and BAT reformulate or remove menthol products from the market.
For more information on our communication campaigns and to watch campaign videos visit Media