FDA Depends on Smile Vanity to Keep Teens from Smoking

March 4, 2014

Everyone knows that smoking is bad for you—even teens who famously know everything. However, it’s also this age group that’s known for succumbing to peer pressure, resisting braces and has a knack for starting bad habits that can extend into adulthood. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has steered clear of PSA-style warnings for years, opting instead to oversee black box warnings on prescription drugs and sticking to the facts. But that just changed.


FDA Commissioner Dr. Margaret Hamburg explained to media outlets in February 2014 that, “While most teens understand the serious health risks associated with tobacco use, they often don’t believe the long-term consequences will ever apply to them.” Unveiling the agency’s first ever anti-smoking campaign, Dr. Hamburg revealed that the FDA is focusing on one big short-term side effect of smoking: An ugly smile.

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Vanity vs. Looking Cool: What Matters Most to Teens?


In an effort to tap into what really matters to teens, the FDA’s campaign is all about how lighting up a cigarette negatively impacts a teens looks. It ruins their skin—and destroys their teeth. There’s a series of images, but one in particular sticks out. A teen buys a pack of cigarettes at a dingy shop and pulls out his tooth with pliers as a form of payment. According to the narrator, “What’s a pack of smokes cost? Your teeth.”


“Smoking can cause serious gum disease that makes you more likely to lose them.” Now that’s a bold statement. Granted, well before tooth loss occurs from smoking, teeth are more likely to get stained and yellowed, which isn’t much more attractive than missing teeth. However, the ads are getting early rave reviews. Costing $115 million and targeting teens aged 12 to 17, the ads are expected to run for one year.


An Open Can of Worms


Whether or not the ads will be successful has yet to be determined, but the FDA may be onto something. The teenage years are rich with blows to the self-esteem. Years ago, the only smile-centric concern teens had were when they’d ditch brace face status—but those concerns have gone by the wayside as options like Invisalign and customized colored braces have become rampantly available (and affordable). Even teens have jumped on the teeth whitening bandwagon, and it’s easier than ever to get straight, white teeth without the stigma of being a metal mouth.


Is the threat of rotting teeth enough to make kids veer away from being smokers? Who knows, but if even one teen doesn’t develop a habit because of these ads, it’s a worthwhile effort. After all, vain and dying to fit in are two attributes that many teens have. However, if they can only choose one, what are the odds that they’ll go with a good looking smile? Given the surge of celebrities with blinding white smiles, it’s one physical attribute that anyone can achieve with a little TLC from a reputable dentist. This might be one time when pandering to teen vanity is a good thing.

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