PEKIN — A new breed of anti-smoking advertisements roll out as part of a national pilot program this month in 35 markets where smoking rates far exceed averages, including one central Illinois county with twice as many tobacco users as the national norm.

Logging a smoking rate of 31 percent of residents 18 and older, Tazewell County's average more than doubles the 15 percent national rate and nearly doubles Illinois' 15.8 percent.

Those figures made the 15th most populous county in Illinois a fertile target for the "Every Try Counts" campaign engineered by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, according to Mitch Zeller, director of the agency's Center for Tobacco Products.

"Tazewell County was a winner for this campaign because of the incredibly high rate of smoking rates for people ages 25 to 54," Zeller said. "We're very optimistic that smokers who are exposed to these messages will make more quit attempts."

The ads differ from previous anti-smoking materials in both content and context — designed with a positive message to counteract negativity associated with previous failed attempts to quit smoking, and placed in locations near points of sale where cigarette ads dominate.

Messages directly addressing smokers who have already tried to quit will adorn prominent spots in and around gas stations and convenience stores, the types of retail-tobacco locations where current and former smokers face a multitude of triggers such as advertisements for cigarettes.

"There has never been a campaign with a positive message aimed at the point where people buy cigarettes," Zeller said, noting that research has shown that affirmative messages are effective at initiating attempts to curb negative behavior. "Statistically, it puts them closer to succeeding."

The campaign will last two years and be evaluated for its effectiveness before possibly launching in other markets.

As part of the campaign, the FDA also partnered with the National Institute of Health's National Cancer Institute to create a website — EveryTryCounts.gov — as a clearinghouse of resources to assist smokers with quitting, including a free text message program, a mobile app and trained coaches available online or by phone.

Matt Buedel can be reached at 686-3154 or mbuedel@pjstar.com. Follow him on Twitter @JournoBuedel.