Arizona Targets Teen Tobacco Use with Comedy and Online Video

February 09, 2015|9:27 a.m.| John Skendall

Arizona's health department has upped the ante on its anti-tobacco messaging to teens. The weapon of choice? A staple of modern-day social life: humorous online video clips shared on social media.

Through its anti-smoking youth coalition, called Students Taking a New Direction (STAND), Arizona Department of Health Services (AZDHS) is reaching out to teens using a frequently updated Facebook page and website with messages that they hope will catch teens' attention and provide information and advice that doesn't sound like the dreaded parental lecture. That's where the Voyage Trekkers come in.

Fans of the locally-produced, sci-fi web series know the characters as a hopeless starship crew serving the Galactic Union. Described as a successful parody of sci-fi institutions like "Star Trek" and "Star Wars," the series now turns its aim on cigarettes and chew tobacco, in partnership with Arizona's Office of Tobacco Prevention and Cessation. How? By lampooning "stiff" public service announcements of the past in a ten-episode project titled, "Voyage Trekkers to the Rescue." One such episode can be viewed below.


"Our goal is to find new ways to reach teens and spread our anti-smoking message," said Courtney Ward, chief of the office of tobacco prevention and cessation at AZDHS. "Teaming up with Voyage Trekkers is the perfect way to entertain while we educate viewers about the dangers of smoking, and using social media platforms to do this makes them easily accessible to our target audience."

We contacted Ward to learn more about why they chose this medium to get the message out to teens about the dangers of tobacco use.

What led you to go "outside the box," so to speak, with your anti-tobacco messaging?

We have found that using social media platforms is the most successful way to get our message to youth. Youth live online, so we've created a hub of anti-tobacco efforts through our STAND website. In order to keep youth engaged in the site, we have to be constantly renewing our content in fun and topical ways that speak to youth. This is mostly done through video messaging. We also have a statewide coalition of about 400 youth, and all of them have stated that videos and pictures are the best way to keep them coming back and also attract new advocates. Voyage Trekkers is local to Arizona and we thought it was a great way to try something new and humorous, while also promoting our brand and effort.

Why do you think humor may be an effective approach to reaching teens in these tobacco messages?

STAND is about empowering and engaging youth. We have worked to establish partnerships with youth to assist in directing our efforts and not just tell or teach youth that tobacco is bad for them and they shouldn't do it. We found that through humor, we can have a serious message without being preachy. Also, we want youth to know more about STAND, visit the site, and join our effort. If they like the humorous message, they'll be more likely to check out the overall effort of STAND. Plus, when youth like something they tell other youth about it, both verbally and through the Internet either by social media sites or tweeting it. Sharing something funny is more fun for youth, so that's why we chose this approach.

The Voyage Trekker episodes presented in partnership with Arizona's anti-smoking youth coalition can be found at For more information about state tobacco cessation efforts, visit ASTHO's Tobacco page, which includes tobacco case studies.