ST. PAUL, MN: The Minnesota Department of Health is trying to prevent youth from using e-cigarettes and commercial tobacco by letting the target audience shape the campaign.
The state has hired marketing agency Haberman to develop a youth-led initiative. The Minneapolis-based firm this year worked on an anti-tobacco usage campaign aimed at state residents outside the Twin Cities, African Americans and the Hmong community.
The new campaign comes after reports of a recent decline in the number of high-school students who vape, following concerns about an epidemic of teenagers becoming addicted to nicotine. About 11% of high-school students, or 1.7 million, and 2.8% of middle schoolers, or 320,000, use e-cigarettes, according to 2021 data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Still, one in five Minnesota high-school students used e-cigarettes, and 70% of high-school and middle-school users reported signs of nicotine dependence, according to the state’s 2020 Minnesota Youth Tobacco Survey.
“We are really focused on developing youth engagement and having youth be at the forefront of not only working in their communities but also working with Haberman hand-in-hand to create those messages and what that counter marketing campaign will really look like,” said Jen Cash, acting manager for the health department’s Commercial Tobacco Prevention and Control Program.
The youth engagement campaign is part of the state’s $8 million effort to curb youth and young adult tobacco usage. The health department hopes to launch it in early 2023.
In developing the campaign, the state is following Centers for Disease Control and Prvention guidelines on best practices for youth tobacco prevention and control.
Those include an emphasis on youth engagement.
“Young people naturally challenge the traditional attitudes that may limit how adults think and act,” the report states. “They can add innovation and creativity to any program, making it more attractive to other youth and community leaders. Their novel ideas for tobacco control strategies can help push efforts forward.”
Haberman will conduct consumer research to learn more about youth e-cigarette usage via surveys and potentially, focus groups, Cash said.
The state will also work with ACET, a Minnesota evaluation firm, to form a youth advisory committee that will review the consumer research and shape the campaign.
This is not the first time the state has turned to youth for help in curbing tobacco usage. For the past two years, the Health Department has conducted the Escape the Vape contest in which local middle-school and high-school students compete to create a public service announcement about the dangers of vaping and the tobacco industry’s marketing tactics.
“Anything targeting youth needs to be led by youth,” Cash said. “We're really interested in creating messages that youth will respond to, and we know that that changes quickly.”