New Grammy ad #LeftSwipeDat tackles teen smoking

FDA ads hope to scare teens from smoking
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Story highlights

  • An anti-smoking music video will capitalize on popularity of dating apps among teens
  • A 60-second spot was to be showcased during the Grammys
  • Survey: Teen cigarette use down, but teens don't view social smoking as very harmful

Kelly Wallace is CNN's digital correspondent and editor-at-large covering family, career and life. Read her other columns and follow her reports at CNN Parents and on Twitter.

(CNN)Just the other day, en route to school, my husband and daughters ended up walking behind a smoker on the street.

The three of them immediately talked about how "gross" they think smoking is. My younger daughter, who's 7, asked why someone would start to smoke in the first place, according to my husband.
Then, my nearly-9-year-old said she read a book in which a guy wouldn't kiss a girl because she smoked.
It's exactly that sentiment -- that smokers may be considered less attractive, appealing or desirable -- that a provocative new music video hopes to capitalize on to persuade teens never to start smoking in the first place.
The video plays off the term "left swipe," which with the popularity of dating apps like Tinder and OKCupid has come to define someone as unattractive.
If you like someone on a dating app, you swipe them right. If you don't like them, you give them a "left swipe." (Full disclosure: I had no idea what these terms meant until I reported this story!)
And so, in the video, featuring musical performers Becky G, Fifth Harmony and a host of Internet stars including Grace Helbig, Harley Morenstein and King Bach, each time a profile picture appears with someone smoking, there is a call to #LeftSwipeDat.
"Yeah, you work out, you are in shape, OK. I like the six-pack abs, not the six packs a day," sings Becky G.
The video is part of the "truth" campaign, one of the largest national youth smoking-prevention initiatives in the country, and is directed and funded by the national public foundation Legacy.
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"We wanted to debunk a few things here," said Robin Koval, chief executive officer and president of Legacy. "One, (smoking) doesn't make you more attractive, and we know the thing that young people care about most is connecting with other people, especially for romantic opportunities, and that social smoking, whatever you call it, light smoking, intermittent smoking, is smoking.
"From our perspective, if you light it, you should left-swipe it. It's just a bad idea."
Some research shows how dating profiles featuring smoking get less traction than those that do not.
The anti-smoking group Action on Smoking & Health conducted an experiment. It created two identical profiles -- "Heather" and "Sara" -- on the dating app Tinder, each featuring the same attractive woman. Heather was smoking; Sara was not.
Heather and Sara then both swiped right on 1,000 men over a week, again meaning they liked them. Fifty-four percent of the men chose Sara, the nonsmoking profile, while 29% selected Heather, the profile with a cigarette, according to the group's findings.
The campaign comes as cigarette smoking has reached historic lows among teens, according to the latest Monitoring the Future survey by the University of Michigan, released in December.
Among eighth-, 10th- and 12th-graders who were polled in 1997, 28% said they smoked in the prior month. That number dropped to 8% in 2014, according to the report, which is amazing.
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But there are reasons to be concerned, including how teens seem to have dramatically different perceptions about the impact of social smoking versus being a regular smoker.
"One of the things we see is a belief among young people that if you only smoke occasionally, light smoking or intermittent smoking, that somehow that's not as dangerous," Koval said.
In a recent study, though most teens said they believe that heavy smoking is harmful, only 64% said light smoking, consuming a few cigarettes a day, was very harmful. Nearly 25% believed that intermittent smoking caused little or no harm, according to the survey of nearly 25,000 teens in the United States and showcased in the Journal of Pediatrics.
E-cigarette use among teens is also on the rise: Seventeen percent of 12th-graders, 16% of 10th-graders and 8% of eighth-graders said they had used them in the past month, according to the recent Monitoring the Future survey.
And 23% of 12th-graders said they smoked tobacco using a hookah in the past year in 2014, up from 17% in 2010. In addition, 19% said they smoked small or little cigars, often called cigarillos, in 2014, down from 23% in 2010.
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"Young people just don't understand that a little cigar is just as dangerous as a regular cigarette," Koval said. "It's very concerning and really, really dangerous. ... We know for sure that combustible tobacco will kill you."
The video marks a departure from other ad campaigns, including some by the FDA last year, that try to graphically show teens the health risks associated with smoking.
Koval says those ads are effective too, but this approach may have more impact when it comes to changing perceptions.
Young people think they are "never going to get old. They are never going to get sick. They don't even really think their social smoking, if you will, behavior is really real smoking or that dangerous," she said. "Doing it when they're out with others, believing that it makes them more attractive, that it helps them connect with others is an increasing trend."
Koval would not reveal the cost of airing the 60-second version during the Grammys but said the move clearly represents a "significant" investment.
"It's very hard to aggregate live audiences of young people, the moments when you can do that are far and few between, so we want to take advantage of them," she said.
"We know that youth will be watching."
And the hope is that they won't just watch but will share the video on social media along with the hashtag #LeftSwipeDat.
Do you think this new anti-smoking music video will impact teens? Share your thoughts with Kelly Wallace on Twitter or CNN Living on Facebook.