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Sustainable funding of tobacco control communications would accelerate reductions in tobacco use

New Delhi, India and New York, USA – Global health experts Vital Strategies today launched a paper on Sustainable Funding Mechanisms for Population-Level Tobacco Control Communication Programs. The paper outlines the importance and cost-effectiveness of using mass and social media to change knowledge and behavior around the consumption of tobacco products, ultimately helping to reduce the health and economic burden of tobacco. Vital Strategies calls on governments to use the information in this paper to increase their use of best practice, tobacco counter-marketing campaigns.

The paper was released at an event on sustainability in tobacco control, held today at the seventh Conference of the Parties (COP 7) to the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC), in Delhi, India. WHO FCTC Article 12 commits governments to warn citizens about the harms of tobacco, to help overcome decades of tobacco industry misinformation that encourages people – especially youth – to start using tobacco against the interests of their health and wellbeing. 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.

Sandra Mullin, Senior Vice President, Policy, Advocacy and Communication, Vital Strategies said: “Our team is delighted to share this research, based on a combination of careful analysis of existing studies and our practical work across a number of low and middle income countries. Low knowledge about tobacco harms and insufficient public education are key barriers to overall progress in tobacco control. Sustainable funding and government commitment are essential to effect change, and we encourage governments to examine and emulate, where appropriate, the innovative funding, legislative and governance mechanisms that have been adopted by some countries to deliver an impactful anti-tobacco communication campaign strategy. We also encourage governments to ensure that these campaigns reinforce the graphic warnings printed on tobacco packs in their country, to reinforce key messages around tobacco’s harms. Vital Strategies and other allies, including WHO, the Framework Convention Alliance and country-level organizations such as national health-promotion foundations, stand ready to provide advice and assistance to governments wishing to achieve their goals under Article 12 of WHO FCTC.”

Research studies show that best practice mass media campaigns are highly effective in reaching consumers, helping to deliver behavior change (for example, by prompting smokers to make a quit attempt) and to build support for policies such as smoke-free public places. The paper notes that they 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 broadcast at relatively low cost. Preliminary analysis of campaigns in three low and middle income countries (LMICS) 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.

The paper also acknowledges the constraints on health funding that prevent greater investment in such campaigns and argues that countries should adopt sustainable strategies to meet this challenge. Only one in five countries currently directs sufficient resources to media campaigns and few of those run campaigns with the frequency, intensity and duration required to drive rapid progress against tobacco use. Vital Strategies recommends four main strategies to ensure more sustainable mechanisms for funding anti-tobacco communication campaigns, which can be adopted individually or in combination:

1. Transfer mass media campaign costs to the tobacco industry. For example, in India, the Cigarettes and Other Tobacco Products Act requires that whenever tobacco consumption is depicted in a film or television program, public service announcements and disclaimers about the harms of tobacco must be shown at various intervals.

2. Dedicate tobacco tax revenue to mass media campaigns. For example, in Thailand, 2 percent of alcohol and tobacco taxes go to a health promotion foundation that runs population-level marketing campaigns on tobacco use.

3. Require broadcasters to provide free air time. For example, Turkey’s national tobacco control law includes a requirement that all broadcasters air at least 90 minutes of tobacco control content every month, including 30 minutes during prime time.

4. Agree and budget for up-front, multi-year funding commitments. For example, in 2008 the Australian government signed a multi-year agreement to fund states to run campaigns that operated through 2014.

Mass media campaigns and large graphic pack warnings 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 envisions a world where every person is protected by a strong public health system.  Our team combines evidence-based strategies with innovation to help develop sound public health policies, manage programs efficiently, strengthen data systems, conduct research, and design strategic communication campaigns for policy and behavior change.  Vital Strategies is an affiliate of The International Union Against Tuberculosis and Lung Disease (The Union). To find out more, please visit or Twitter @VitalStrat

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