Youth tobacco use is a serious issue with long-term health consequences: almost 9 out of 10 smokers start smoking by age 18. According to the 2009 Maine integrated Youth Health Survey, Lincoln County had the state’s highest prevalence of youth tobacco users (29%), with half of these youth starting to smoke before age 13. Smoking is the leading cause of preventable death in the U.S. and harms nearly every organ in the body. Smoking is a contributing risk factor for cancers, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), coronary heart disease, and stroke.
Working with Lincoln County Healthcare and MaineHealth, Perch designed and developed the Sidekicks campaign, which trains young adults to have difficult conversations, such as with a friend about his or her tobacco use. The methodology behind the campaign, developed by the Center for Tobacco Independence based on other precedents, teaches participants reflective listening skills and conversational prompts, while emphasizing a “when you’re ready, I’m here for you” approach to peer support. Perch created the campaign brand, designed the supporting materials based on CTI content, and created promotional and instructional videos starring teens from Lincoln County.
While Sidekicks is currently focused on conversations about tobacco, the skills it teaches can be applied to any conversation. The campaign has received high marks from educators who have integrated Sidekicks into their curriculum, but the most satisfying compliment has come from the students, who have identified Sidekicks as an important set of skills to learn, and volunteered to participate in the campaign.
By focusing exclusively on conversations and avoiding all mention of tobacco, the Sidekicks campaign emphasizes teen-to-teen relationships, rather than pre-scolding young adults about their tobacco use. All imagery and video features real teens having real conversations, and often lightly pokes fun at the difficulty of these conversations, with one video being comprised exclusively of “umms” and another depicting a pink spandexed character dancing around the difficult topic.