DAVID GREENE, HOST:
The federal government is getting into hip-hop - all right, well, sort of. The Food and Drug Administration is trying to convince black, Hispanic and other minority teens not to smoke, and they're doing this using music. Here's NPR's Maanvi Singh.
MAANVI SINGH, BYLINE: The FDA's latest campaign features dancers, DJs, beatboxers, rappers and also just an array of incredibly attractive, fashionable, multi-ethnic young people posing while empowering music plays in the background.
(SOUNDBITE OF AD)
SINGH: In one of the TV ads, California-based artist Jessica Williams does a spoken-word piece about her grandfather's battle with lung cancer.
(SOUNDBITE OF AD)
JESSICA WILLIAMS: Pain, disease, death - cigarettes were to blame. But I overcame the block and the shock when my grandpa's lung cancer caused by cigarettes was caught.
SINGH: The campaign is a result of lots and lots of focus group testing. It's costing $128 million, paid for by fees on the tobacco industry. The FDA's Kathy Crosby, who helped develop the campaign, says Williams and all the other up-and-coming hip-hop stars featured in the campaign are spreading a simple message.
KATHY CROSBY: They are actually helping us to kind of seed the whole notion that you can be hip-hop and still be tobacco free.
SINGH: Studies show that teens, more so than any other age group, care a lot about their social groups. And to really get to teens, you first have to understand their scene or their subculture. Are they hip-hop, goth, preppy?
MEGHAN MORAN: Oh, it's so embarrassing. I was probably, like, the punk-indie subculture.
SINGH: Meghan Moran from Johns Hopkins School of Public Health - she's not as punk as she used to be - led a study on tapping into teen subculture.
MORAN: And we found that when youth were exposed to messages that targeted their particular subculture or crowd, they were much more likely to respond favorably to that message.
SINGH: Moran wasn't involved in the development of the FDA campaign. But she says it could be key to driving down rates of smoking among minority youth. Smoking-related illnesses are the number one cause of death in the black community, though a slightly higher percentage of white Americans smoke. Dr. Pam Ling, who specializes in health communication at the UCSF School of Medicine, agrees. She says cigarette companies spend millions marketing to hip-hop fans, buying up product placement spots in music videos and sponsoring concerts.
PAM LING: The campaign does a good job of competing with the kind of commercial marketing we see that targets young people of color.
SINGH: But can the government pull off hip-hop?
BRIAN MOONEY: My own impression of it was that it was kind of corny and forced and trying too hard to, like, appeal to urban youth.
SINGH: That's Brian Mooney, a teacher at High Tech High School in North Bergen, N.J. He often incorporates hip-hop into lesson plans. What did his students think?
OLIVIA RUIZ: They got swag, yeah. They're cool.
SINGH: Wait, really?
JAHVEL PIERCE: It kind of drawed me in, like I said, because of the spoken-word. It was, like, really impactful. Like, it really, like, drew me in.
AMIRAH JOHNSON: And especially with, like, the music in the background and the fashion and everything, I think that's, like - it's really cool.
ANA GUZMAN: That's what I'm saying. Like, I feel like I could relate more to it because it's more of the things that we do, more of the things that we listen to, more of the things that, like, we daily live by.
SINGH: Not all the videos were hits. Like this one, which starts with a guy picking up his girlfriend in a car.
(SOUNDBITE OF ADVERTISEMENT)
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Hey, yo, can I ask you something?
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Yeah, what's up?
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Do you smoke cigarettes?
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Cigarettes? No.
MELINA SORIANO: He didn't even say hello when he walked in the car.
SINGH: Yeah, no. I wouldn't except that from my boyfriend either. But overall, the kids clearly related to the campaign, especially when the message hit close to home. Ana Guzman is 15. Her uncle died of lung cancer.
GUZMAN: When he passed away I made a promise, like, I made a promise to myself and to him. Like, I wouldn't smoke because I don't want to give more to a company that kind of just killed my uncle.
SINGH: Now, that's a powerful anti-smoking message. Maanvi Singh, NPR News.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.