Can tobacco control programmes that include a mass media campaign help to reduce levels of smoking among adults?
Mass media programmes involve communication through television, radio, newspapers, billboards, posters, leaflets or booklets, with the aims of encouraging smokers to quit, and maintaining abstinence in non-smokers. It is difficult to establish their role in this process and they require strict methodological design.
To assess the effectiveness of mass media interventions in reducing smoking among adults.
We searched up until 30th November 2016, and found 11 relevant studies for this review. The numbers of participants varied between the included studies. All of the studies involved adults, although some studies also included younger people (14+ or 15+). Campaigns involved TV, radio, print media and billboard advertising. Studies differed in setting, duration, content of the intervention, length of observation, measures of smoking behaviour and the way of showing results. Two campaigns reported definite decreases in smoking prevalence, and some positive effects were observed in another three. Three large-scale campaigns reported lower tobacco consumption. Three studies showed some positive effect in abstinence or quit rates. One study did not show significant decreases but did demonstrate an effect of the intervention on smokers and ex-smokers combined.
Tobacco control programmes that include mass media campaigns may change smoking behaviour in adults, but the evidence comes from studies of variable quality and scale and often occur in an environment where there are other influences on smoking, making it hard to isolate the effects of the media campaign itself. No consistent patterns by age, education, ethnicity or gender were found.
Quality of the evidence
There were problems with the design and conduct of all of the studies, which clouded the evidence. It would help if future studies could include comparator communities where there are no mass media interventions taking place to get a better estimate of the effect of the mass media campaign.