Todd PortuneAdvertising works. It works in politics, it works when a local store promotes a big sale, and it also works when we focus on changing health behaviors through public health messaging.  For instance, study after study has shown that mass media campaigns aimed at reducing smoking rates are effective – but only when they are well funded enough to have a deep and sustained reach into the community.

According to the CDC, in 2011, the tobacco industry spent $8.4 billion on cigarette advertising and promotional expenses in the United States.  By comparison, our public health system spent less than 8% of that amount on anti-smoking campaigns. Quite simply, you cannot win a war when you are out-gunned 13 to 1.

Here’s why this is so important. Tragically, 13.7% of babies in Hamilton County were born preterm in 2011. One major driver of our high preterm birth rate is that 15% of local moms smoke during their pregnancy. Every month, babies are born too early – and many of them die – because of tobacco. But yet, somehow, moms are far more likely to see a message telling them to smoke than one that gives them resources to start quitting.

Cradle Cincinnati, a collaborative aimed at reducing our infant mortality rate, has identified maternal smoking reduction as a key strategy for saving our babies. We plan to hire health educators who can work one-on-one with moms to promote evidence-based techniques that help moms quit in prenatal care settings and to activate neighborhood leaders to drive change at the grass roots level.  But, if we want to fight an $8.4 billion marketing message, our society needs to get serious about funding anti-smoking messaging.

I encourage state policy makers to better fund the Ohio Department of Health’s anti-tobacco work.  And, I encourage businesses to follow the lead of CVS, whichhas taken a strong stance by refusing to sell cigarettes despite their profitability.

Finally, since you might not hear it elsewhere, I’ll leave you with a public health message. If you know a pregnant woman who smokes, take the initiative to call 1-800-QUIT-NOW with her today. The program walks moms through the process of quitting in a way that is proven to work. You might just save a life.

Todd Portune is a County Commissioner in Hamilton County and the Co-chair of Cradle Cincinnati. 

Expecting moms can also sign up for SmokeFreeMom to receive advice and tips via text messages. Simply text MOM to 2222888 or sign up online.