The Public Awareness and Education Campaign of the Oregon Health Division’s Tobacco Prevention and Education Program has achieved remarkable recall and bonus weight but, most importantly, has helped reduce tobacco use among adults by 21 percent, among 11th graders by 21 percent and among 8th graders by 41 percent over three years.  All of this with a budget that is small compared with other states that state funded tobacco use prevention programs.  As the lead agency for the Public Awareness and Education Campaign, Pac/West Communications combined forces with Asher/Gal and Rogers and Associates to form the Oregon Tobacco Prevention Alliance.  The Alliance is responsible for all public relations and paid media aspects of Oregon’s tobacco use reduction program.  The program kicked off in March 1998, achieving remarkable statewide earned media coverage for the newly released television, radio, print and outdoor elements of the paid media program. Since that time the program has achieved excellent earned media coverage and the incredible life saving results keep getting better.


The challenges associated with this social marketing effort are significant.  The behavior we are trying to change is rooted in addiction.  Promotions by the tobacco industry make the problems much more difficult since pro-smoking messages are constant.  With a relatively modest budget of only $2 million per year, the public relations and paid advertising component of Oregon’s $8.5 million anti-tobacco campaign had a large load to carry.  To begin with, Oregon had too little money to even think about producing its own creative.  Pressure to address only youth resulted from the attorneys general Master Settlement Agreement with the stated goal to protect kids from tobacco.  

But the literature was fairly clear that programs focusing solely on youth fail.  Together, OHD and Pac/West Communications argued for and kept the program targeting both adults and youth.  We chose ads that appealed to both youth and adults, that made people stop and think and that provided new information. The success of the program in reducing both youth and adult tobacco use as well as the passing of multiple local ordinances demonstrates how broad targeting works to achieve results. The most important component of Oregon’s program is to pass local ordinances protecting people from secondhand smoke and reducing the ease with which youth obtain tobacco products While there was wide public knowledge of the effects of tobacco, we needed to emotionalize and denormalize tobacco use so Oregonians would become eager to take action.  Until 1998 only two local tobacco ordinances had been passed in Oregon.  

Since the start of our program 15 more cities and counties have adopted local anti-tobacco ordinances.  OHD considers this an outstanding success.  Over and over we hear that the television, billboard, radio ads and our public relations efforts helped set the stage for these important policy changes.


Some national research was conducted prior to the Oregon kick off.  It mirrors the research conducted in Oregon. We conducted three sets of focus groups, one in fall 1997 and one in spring 1998 and one in spring 1999.  Our findings: Teens know the general effects of tobacco, but have little emotion attached to it.  Adults showed much more specific knowledge of the risks of smoking and have some emotional attachment to it.  Parents want help to prevent their kids from smoking.  Kids find many anti-tobacco spots to be incongruous with entertainment programming.  They think anti-tobacco spots should be shown with the other PSA’s on late night television.  The teens frequently spoke of stress in their lives and the desire to “fast forward their lives” right into adulthood where they will encounter less anxiety.

With regard to advertisements, those spots selected by parents and teens as the strongest, focused on the deadly impact smoking has directly on the smoker. The spots all featured real people suffering as a direct result of using tobacco.


Prior to submitting a proposal, the Alliance, led by Pac/West Communications, reviewed the literature related to social marketing and tobacco reduction programs and also carefully investigated the experience of California’s anti-tobacco social marketing program.  The strategic approach suggested by the Alliance included media messages emphasizing the dangers of secondhand smoke combined with messages about the dangers of addiction and the need for cessation.  Woven throughout these approaches would be moderate but discernable anti-industry messages.  

This approach showed excellent results in other states and in reviews published in scientific literature. Extensive focus group research conducted in 1998 and 1999 demonstrated that Oregonians did not appreciate humor in anti-tobacco advertisements and they responded exceedingly well to personal, emotional stories of loss due to tobacco use.  From the public relations perspective, our efforts were focused on developing messages to be delivered by representatives of the program, keeping them on message through media training, teaching them how to work with the press, and ensuring that available stories received widest possible coverage.


A combined paid and earned media kick off in March 1998 resulted in extensive coverage of the program given Oregon’s limited number of media outlets.

Four months after the campaign kick-off half of adults and teens could recall seeing an anti-tobacco advertisement.  Aided, 85% of teens and adults recalled one or more of the anti-tobacco advertisements.  This was an outstanding result given any budget, especially remarkable considering our modest budget.  It was obvious the ads and the public relations outreach hit the nerves of Oregonians.

Since the kick off, Pac/West Communications and the Alliance have provided untold hours of local and statewide coverage of issues as well as new media kick offs.  In addition to our March 1998 event we are particularly proud of our work on two other news events.  In January of 1999 we held a news conference featuring new paid media connecting smoking and impotence.  The other held in October 2000 featured the successes of Oregon’s acclaimed tobacco prevention program.  Both resulted in front page news coverage in many newspapers including the Oregonian, the only statewide newspaper.  In addition, both news conferences received top of the news treatment on radio and television.  
Of course we didn’t just do news conferences to fulfill the public relations aspects of the program.  We also did more than 10 radio promotions, we instituted a high school journalism outreach project, we produced print ads for community coalitions, we built and promoted the World’s Largest Ashtray for World No Tobacco Day in 1999, we promoted the Oregon Tobacco Quit Line which received more than 20,000 calls, we produced the first biannual report of the program, we consult daily with the county-based coalitions who need help with public relations outreach, we publish a monthly newsletter and provide many other services and products to the program.