"What are cigarettes costing you?"
That's the headline posed by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's first-ever public health education campaign titled "The Real Cost," aimed at preventing and reducing tobacco use among at-risk young people ages 12 to 17.
The answer to campaign's question? A lot of things. Literally, an average pack of cigarettes costs $5.51. Many Americans pay with tooth decay, lung problems, gum disease and bad breath. The list goes on.
Every day, more than 3,200 kids under the age of 18 smoke a cigarette for the first time. Around 700 of those become daily smokers. The FDA's program seeks to educate teenagers by highlighting the health hazards of smoking in a series of print, television, radio and online ads.
A large part of the campaign's message is the harmful impact of smoking on oral health. The central points include what your smile would look like if you smoked, had yellowed teeth and that smoking cigarettes triggers bad breath and gum disease.
One of the FDA's particularly poignant ads shows a young boy entering a store, asking for a pack of cigarettes and placing a few dollars on the counter. The cashier tells him the money is not enough, so the boy pauses, takes out a pair of pliers and yanks out his tooth. Despite the dramatization, there is plenty of truth in the consequences.
Smoking and other tobacco products plant at least two dozen toxic chemicals in the mouth that erode the soft tissue of your gums. If left untreated, the gum line begins to pull away from the tooth, leaving deep pockets that harbor even more plaque and toxins, which ultimately results in tooth loss. Those same stinky chemicals dry out the mouth and lead to smoker's breath.
The trick is stopping the problem before it starts. Dr. Margaret Hamburg, the FDA commissioner who's leading the charge, says that about 9 of 10 regular smokers had their first cigarette by the time they were 18.
"We can help these teens understand the real consequences of smoking, the real costs of smoking to them, so that they won't take up smoking if they're on the cusp and will stop smoking if they've already started," Hamburg told CNN.
American Dental Association spokesperson Robert Pick chimed in, adding that pro-smoking advertisements have been ruthless when it comes to targeting teenagers. To counter, the FDA is hitting home with topics that matter to them.
"When it comes to teenagers, their appearance is extremely important to them," Pick told DrBicuspid.com. "Teeth and how one smiles is also very important to teens - just look at any teen magazine and those that market to teens. Therefore the focus of these ads or messages is smoking affects and ruins their skin and messes up their teeth and their smile."
Where do e-cigs come into play?
While The Real Cost campaign does not spotlight the use of electronic cigarettes, which are the battery-powered devices that deliver nicotine vapors, this relatively new form of smoking is not in the clear. They have not been around long enough for studies to draw conclusive evidence, but they still contain irritants, animal carcinogens and genotoxins. Many people worry that they provide a new "condoned" gateway for youngsters to try their first puff. In any case, they're worth staying away from.
The FDA's $115 million campaign is funded by industry-user fees and was launched Feb. 11. Ads will run in more than 200 markets across the U.S. for at least 12 months. Make sure it's not your teeth on the counter of the corner store, in one form or another.
* These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. Please Note: The material on this site is provided for informational purposes only. Always consult your health care professional before beginning any new therapy.