A campaign aimed at lowering smoking rates in the Gem State is spending thousands of dollars on ads for race cars, motocross events, and rodeos, according to records obtained by IdahoReporter.com.
Two officials with the department overseeing the effort says the dollars are funds well-spent.
The campaign, formally Project Filter, is funded through three different sources: federal dollars from the Center for Disease Control, cigarette taxes directed to cessation campaigns, and the state’s Millennium Fund, derived from the master settlement made with tobacco companies. There are no state general fund dollars going to the effort.
Tom Shanahan, the spokesman for the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare, which administers Project Filter, said the effort is spending $75,000 on ads at race car events, $45,000 on motocross, $115,000 on rodeos, $25,000 on hockey, and $22,000 on county fairs.
Photos of some of the events appear on the project’s Facebook page.
Project Filter has a total budget of about $3 million, of which Shanahan says less than $1 million goes toward “counter-marketing.” That number, the spokesman explained, pales in contrast to the money spent on pushing tobacco products on Gem State residents. “In comparison, tobacco companies spend about $58 million a year on marketing and promotion in Idaho,” Shanahan said.
Project Filter spends approximately $300,000 annually on sponsorships of various sorts, including little leagues and certain festivals around the state. Shanahan said that sponsorship amount can range from $400 to $5,000 annually, depending on the event.
Project Filter chief Jack Miller says that his entity decided long ago to target smokers where they are, instead of hoping for results from television and radio advertisements. The change was spurred by fewer inquires for cessation products and tips during the summer months.
“We’re in Idaho,” Miller said, explaining why the project decided to go after these types of events. “We’re an outdoor state. People aren’t probably going to be home very much during the summer months. “
Miller told IdahoReporter.com Wednesday that race car, rodeo, and motocross attendees have higher rates of smoking than other demographics. Shanahan agreed and explained that the project has sought not to be in the face of event attendees, but rather to stand ready when people are ready to stop smoking. “People are noticing that we are there,” Miller added.
But how effective has the project been in achieving the goal of persuading Idahoans to stop smoking and to prevent teens from ever starting the habit? According to the latest figures, about 16 percent of Gem State residents admitted to smoking in 2009, down from a high of 22 percent in 2000.
Shanahan says “much of the credit” for the drop in the smoking rate should go to the project, but another force might have been at play as well. During the time period of the drop in the smoking rate, the Idaho Legislature hiked the cigarette tax from 26 cents per pack to 57 cents.
While tax hikes are generally seen as a way to increase money for government programs, they often serve a dual role in forcing some smokers to kick the habit. Earlier this year, for example, advocates for a $1.25 hike in the tax said the move could cut teen smoking by as much as 19 percent.
Miller understands the role tax hikes play in the cessation process, but says that they alone are not sufficient in keeping people from returning to the habit. “You have to have programs ready,” Miller warned. “Raising the tobacco tax is obviously going to affect the smoking rate.”