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The Virginia Foundation for Health Youth (VFHY) recognizes that not all youth are the same. Some youth will never use tobacco products no matter VFHY’s efforts.  Others are very likely to use tobacco products unless someone intervenes. The latter are our target audience. Reaching these youth requires that we change their knowledge, their environment and their culture. VFHY’s goals in each of these domains are as follows:

Teen peer crowds
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Peer Crowd:
Groups of youth who share a combination of fashion, music, language, culture, mannerisms, media consumption habits and other behaviors to define their social identity and differentiate themselves from other groups of youth.


Educate teens on the health, social and global consequences of tobacco use and encourage them to choose to live a tobacco-free lifestyle.


Encourage community stakeholders and institutions, such as parents, schools and community leaders, to reject youth tobacco use, tobacco marketing to youth and tobacco sales to youth and create an environment that encourages tobacco-free lifestyle choices


Promote cultural change within the “peer crowd” of every Virginia teen to ensure that living tobacco-free is perceived as a socially desirable and celebrated lifestyle choice, no matter which peer crowd a youth identifies with.

Rather than try to address all three of these domains through a single approach, VFHY recognizes that culture, environment and knowledge are three uniquely important domains for change that each require unique strategies. Consequently, VFHY has worked with its social marketing and advertising contractors to identify three separate strategies that address the factors affecting each domain, as illustrated below.

Chart showing culture change achieved by social branding


No other strategy reaches as many people as efficiently and comprehensively as mass media advertising. Through TV, radio, outdoor and interactive media, VFHY reaches youth in every corner of the state. In addition, advertising campaigns have been proven by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) to reduce youth tobacco use. Consequently VFHY uses a mass media advertising approach to spread knowledge to young people statewide.

Youth Engagement

Some youth are proud to be tobacco-free and want to help make their world more tobacco free. These leaders can contribute significantly to the health of Virginia’s youth if their passion can be channeled towards tangible change. Through a hands-on, six-year process of trying different models of youth engagement, VFHY discovered strategies to engage youth in projects and events that achieve tangible contributions towards environmental change. This includes reaching parents, community leaders and other stakeholders who have the power to change the environments where youth live and make them more conducive to tobacco-free lifestyles

Social Branding

Adults often cite “peer pressure” as the reason youth begin to smoke. But in reality, the reasons are more complicated than that. Few youth experience an isolated incident where one youth pressures him or her to smoke a cigarette. Instead, youth are more likely to experience an internalized pressure to adopt tobacco use from their peer crowd as a whole. When they believe smoking is norm in their culture, they begin to feel the pressure to adopt the behavior. But peer crowds aren’t all bad; some promote tobacco-free norms. Consequently, VFHY has focused on identifying the peer crowds that are associated with tobacco use and utilizes Social Branding strategies to change the tobacco norms within those peer crowds.

Research & Evaluation

Together, these three separate but concurrent efforts contribute to continuing the reductions in youth tobacco use already achieved in Virginia. Ensuring these efforts are effective, however, is just as important as implementing them in the first place. VFHY develops and improves these strategies overtime using comprehensive research with current and likely tobacco users. Then, VFHY tracks and evaluates each effort through a comprehensive evaluation model that monitors statewide youth tobacco use.