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Arizona Anti-Smoking Campaign Signals Shift in Youth Messaging

February 26, 2009
by Gary A. Enos, Editor
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Can young people truly understand the concept of addiction and why it should keep them away from harmful substances? Arizona health officials are trying to answer that question as they roll out a revised tobacco prevention and education campaign targeting youths ages 12 to 17.

The “Brought to you by addiction” campaign will not focus on the health effects of smoking, since research has found that most teen smokers expect to quit in a few years and therefore not to experience tobacco’s health harms. Instead, it is the very accuracy of that expectation among young people that health officials will attack.

“[Addiction] got me early and it’s hard to quit,” says Kirin Meza, a 17-year-old who served on a teen consultant group for the campaign. “I think everybody thinks that they can control their own will, but it’s not their choice that they need to smoke. It’s the chemicals that drive them to want to have their fix.”

The Arizona campaign, funded by a voter-approved tobacco tax in the 2002 elections, will focus on the concept of forfeiting control to addiction—a concept that admittedly is still one addiction experts struggle to bring to life for a public that often sees harmful substance use as a choice.

The multimedia campaign will feature an online effort to personify addiction, through a youth website (www.Venomocity.com) that will offer “a dark satirical take on the `voice’ and `personality’ of addiction,” according to the state Department of Health Services’ Bureau of Tobacco Education & Prevention.

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