Near the start of this year’s elementary and high school football season, a video warned parents and students about the hazards of starting tackle football too young.

The ″Tackle Can Wait” public service announcement (PSA), released for TV, online and social media, compared tackle football to smoking. Earlier exposure of a child to either one means more damage that the child will suffer, according to the campaign.

Commercial connects tackle football and smoking

The commercial features preteen boys, uniformed for football, thrown to the ground as a coach hands out cigarettes to the kids. A woman probably meant to be a mom flicks her lighter to fire up a smoke for one of the boys in football gear.

“Tackle football is like smoking. The younger I start, the longer I’m exposed to danger,” claims a young voiceover actor.

New research helps inspire PSA

The campaign highlights new research in the Annals of Neurology looking into the likelihood of suffering from a kind of brain-damage (chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE).

The study found the chances for CTE doubled for every 2.6 years of playing football. Available on the campaign’s website with other studies on the effects of smoking tobacco, the study justifies comparing smoking and playing tackle football while too young, according to the campaign.

Mixed response to a safety message

The response to the campaign has included jokes online and a strong response from the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) in an article signed by Dr. Karissa Niehoff, its executive director.

Dr. Niehoff, who earned a doctorate in educational leadership, agrees that limiting contact football for young students is “certainly a positive” and says USA Football is already doing so. She points to another study showing declining rates of concussions among high school sports in recent years.

Notably, “repeat concussion rates across all sports declined from 0.47 to 0.28 per 10,000 exposures” between the 2013-14 and 2017-18 seasons. Because eight million American students play high school sports each year, this would translate to about 225 students with multiple concussions from high school sports per year.