From research to reality: How understanding a vaping epidemic unleashed public relations innovation
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Taruni Singh, Associate Consultant
Canadian youth are facing an epidemic threatening their health, quality of life, and ability to thrive. Instead of looking forward to their future, many are looking for their next vape — and risk a lifetime of addiction.
Between 2017 and 2018, vaping among 16-19- year-olds increased by a staggering 74 per cent. Last year alone, the 2019 Canadian Tobacco and Nicotine Survey found that 15 per cent of young adults aged 20-24 vaped in the last 30 days. 48 per cent had vaped at some point in their lives. Combine this research with the devastating impacts of COVID-19 on respiratory health, it’s clear vaping presents a real health crisis – one that decades of anti-tobacco advocacy and action should have prevented.
I discovered these harsh truths this past year after joining Argyle’s public health and social marketing team.
As someone still in my early 20s, I too have an “I’m invincible” mentality. Coming face-to-face with the evidence about the harms of vaping was jarring. My friends and I had thought of vaping as a casual activity we would partake in during parties or at a club — a bit of harmless fun. At least it wasn’t cigarettes, right? We all know that cigarettes are awful for you.
After doing research into vaping for Argyle, I was horrified about my casual view on a substance I knew so little about. While I hadn’t formed a habit or an addiction, I had friends who constantly vaped, inhaling significantly more nicotine than you would ever find in just one cigarette.
I was starting to understand the magnitude of the problem, all while working with the team at Argyle on an innovative solution.
Enter VapeFree.me. Born from a partnership between Argyle and Amira Health, VapeFree.me is a text-based cessation program and online platform providing free, 24-hour access to tools, messages, and an online community to help guide youth through their journey to becoming vape-free.
By texting VapeFree to 123456, young people can instantly set up their account, discuss their goals and set a “quit” date. Built on the success of similar programs for tobacco cessation, VapeFree.me provides online access to the text program, community support, health information, and tips for use-reduction and quitting. While the program messaging is geared to Gen-Z and young millennials, the platform is open to benefit anyone.
As a member of the target demographic (without a personal attachment to vaping), the opportunity to co-facilitate a focus group for the Argyle team was an exciting, eye-opening experience.
I invited my friends to participate, both to share what I had learned and to learn from their experiences. We gathered feedback that helped improve the program. Many in the group came to realize that vaping is not a casual activity, and that those who do it become addicted and can’t quit without support.
We learned that to be successful when targeting a generation where attached to devices and constantly scrolling, the program really had to grab the attention of young people in an authentic and relatable way. And it does.
Why is a public relations firm — best known for engagement, communications and reputation — investing in this innovation?
Our CEO, Daniel Tisch, summed it up best by saying,
“Argyle and Amira are partnering on this project because we see an opportunity to act. By using our experience and expertise in tobacco cessation, public relations, building brands, dynamic marketing, and digital communications, we can help young people take control and quit vaping.”
John McDonald of the Manitoba Tobacco Reduction Alliance said,
“This is exactly what we need. Everyone is online today, and we all have technology at our fingertips. Having access to support when you need it, wherever you are, is a huge step in cessation support.”
Check out this short video to learn more about VapeFree.me:
To hear more about how the VapeFree.me tools can be customized to suit the needs of your organization and support vaping cessation for youth, or anyone struggling with a vaping addiction in your area, contact us at [email protected].