The Food and Drug Administration is planning to spend about $600 million over five years to educate the public about the dangers of tobacco use. Declines in U.S. smoking rates have stalled in recent years.
Dr. Lawrence Deyton, director of the FDA's Center for Tobacco Products, told The Associated Press that the multimedia campaigns are aimed at reducing death and disease caused by tobacco, which is responsible for about 443,000 deaths a year in the U.S.
The first campaign will target youth, minorities and other groups including gays, the military and people with disabilities. Ads will run in print and on TV, and the campaign will also use social media such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.
Deyton said the FDA's investment reflects the significant health impact that tobacco use has on the nation. There are about 46 million adult smokers in the U.S. The share of Americans who smoke has fallen dramatically since 1970, from nearly 40 percent to about 20 percent. But smoking levels haven't changed since about 2004.
"One of the big lessons that I've learned is that we might have great public health programs, but they will fail if we do not adequately educate the public about them," Deyton said, adding that it wouldn't be helpful "if we just sat back and put out regulations and didn't say anything about them."
Tobacco companies will foot the bill through fees charged by the FDA under a 2009 law that gave the agency authority over the tobacco industry.
The FDA collected nearly $260 million in user fees for fiscal 2009 and 2010 combined, and should collect $450 million this year. User fees will grow to $712 million by 2019. Fees are collected quarterly and based on each company's share of the U.S. tobacco market.