Skip to main content


Hall, Marissa G.; Saffer, Adam J.; & Noar, Seth M. (2019). A Secondary Audience's Reactions to "The Real Cost" Advertisements: Results from a Study of U.S. Young Adult Smokers and Susceptible Nonsmokers. American Journal of Preventive Medicine, 56(2 Suppl. 1), S57-64. PMCID: PMC6373760


INTRODUCTION: Exposure to "The Real Cost" campaign has prevented smoking initiation among its target audience (U.S. youth aged 12-17 years). This study examines reactions to "The Real Cost" advertisements among a potential secondary audience: U.S. young adults.
METHODS: An online convenience sample of young adult (ages 18-29 years) smokers (n=225) and susceptible nonsmokers (n=339) participated in a within-subjects experiment in 2017. Participants viewed three TV ads from "The Real Cost" campaign and reported their past exposure to, conversations about, and reactions to the ads. In 2017, analyses examined message-level and person-level predictors of perceived message effectiveness using multilevel modeling.
RESULTS: About half of smokers (47%) and susceptible nonsmokers (51%) had seen at least one of the three ads in the past 3 months. About one in four smokers (23%) and susceptible nonsmokers (24%) had at least one conversation about the ads in the past 3 months. Susceptible nonsmokers rated the ads higher on perceived message effectiveness than smokers (p<0.01), but lower on message relevance and negative affective reactions to the ads (both p<0.05). In both samples, ads that elicited higher negative affective reactions and message relevance, and lower message reactance (i.e., resistance) received higher perceived message effectiveness ratings (all p<0.05).
CONCLUSIONS: "The Real Cost" ads have reached and generated conversations among a convenience sample of young adult smokers and susceptible nonsmokers. Increasing the perceived relevance and emotional reactions of campaigns may increase their impact. Future studies should examine reactions to "The Real Cost" campaign and effects on smoking behavior using nationally representative samples of young adults.
SUPPLEMENT INFORMATION: This article is part of a supplement entitled Fifth Anniversary Retrospective of "The Real Cost," the Food and Drug Administration's Historic Youth Smoking Prevention Media Campaign, which is sponsored by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.


Reference Type

Journal Article

Year Published


Journal Title

American Journal of Preventive Medicine


Hall, Marissa G.
Saffer, Adam J.
Noar, Seth M.