Report Traces Broadcast Reach of States’ Anti-Smoking Commercials


An IHRP scientist has calculated the reach of state-sponsored anti-smoking ads broadcast to American TV audiences from 1999 to 2007. 

In a 46-page report now online, Sherry Emery, an economist in the Health Policy Center, shows the reach of such commercials peaked nationwide in 2003, when state-sponsored anti-smoking ads were broadcast so often that everyone in the top 75 U.S. media markets could see an average of 3.35 commercials each month.

That level of broadcast was not seen in every state. Illinois residents, for example, saw an average of 0.06 state-sponsored anti-smoking commercials each month in 2003 – and less in other years. For broadcast coverage of such commercials over the nine-year period, Illinois ranked among the four lowest states.

The report presents graphs comparing the national monthly averages with those of three dozen states, noting exposure to the anti-tobacco ads by the general population and for teens.

Research by Emery and others has shown that higher levels of exposure to state-sponsored anti-smoking ads are associated with drops in smoking among youth and adults, a rise in negative attitudes and beliefs about smoking among youth, and an increase in plans to quit among adults.

Emery produced this report as part of a project to code anti-smoking commercials for a database maintained by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which funded the study.

“The CDC is trying to set benchmarks for what states should do in terms of levels of exposure to media campaigns,” said Emery. “Our research shows that a state’s whole population, on average, must be exposed to at least one of these commercials every month over a year to see any reductions in smoking.”

Emery and her team are now determining what range of exposure to such commercials is optimal to reducing smoking in a state. They also are analyzing the broadcast exposures for 2008 and 2009 and detailing the characteristics of the ad messages.

Emery has studied the influences of TV, marketing and advertising on health using Nielsen media data for more than a decade. The datasets are far from easy to use for research, she said. In this study, she and her team had to view, characterize and code each of thousands of ads.

For example, she said, “the database will say ‘California Department of Public Health’ and we don’t know if it’s a breast cancer screening ad, a nutrition ad, or a smoking ad, so one of the labor-intensive parts of our research is just confirming that we’re looking only at smoking ads.” 

Thanks to the coding done by Emery and her team, public health professionals will search a CDC library of anti-smoking ads more easily. The CDC’s Media Campaign Resource Center will use the coding to catalogue their ads, such as by sponsor, target audience and primary message, Emery said.

“Every state contributes its ads to the library, but previously the CDC didn’t have a way to catalog the ads. Potentially it saves states money if they can borrow or at least just pay the licensing fees of an ad that’s already produced,” Emery explained.

With a grant from the National Cancer Institute, Emery purchased the advertising data from Nielsen Media Research to learn how exposure to smoking-related television ads is related to smoking behavior.

To see the report, titled “Anti-Tobacco Media Campaigns: A State-by-State Look, 1999–2007,” go to

This news release was written by Veronica Johnston, IHRP communications director.