ST PAUL, Minn. — The Minnesota Department of Health is getting creative in its effort to help teens stop vaping.
Communications and program planner Parker Smith says the health department first hired a marketing contractor, who found that youth are aware vaping is bad but don't necessarily feel it's their place to intervene when their friends do it.
That feedback led to the development of the Hey Norm campaign with ads resembling low-budget infomercials from the '90s. Front and center is the fictional character Norm Davidson, who is often compared to Better Call Saul's Saul Goodman and Bill Nye the Science Guy.
"He's a little goofy, a little dorky but definitely a well-meaning and caring father or uncle-like figure," Smith said. "We had actually thrown concepts out to some youth groups that we work with and this is the one that rose to the top."
According to the health department's 2022 Minnesota Student Survey, 14 percent of high school juniors and more than 2 percent of middle school students use e-cigarettes.
The campaign encourages teens to call or text 1-833-HEY NORM or visit Norm's website to receive automated responses about the dangers of vaping. Norm also offers advice on how to talk to peers about quitting.
"Love that look, super metal," Norm says to a teen in one of his videos online. "Hey, you know what else is metal? The chromium and nickel from these vapes."
In addition to sharing vaping facts, Norm points visitors to other existing resources.
"One of the great things about Minnesota is we have a service that's specific to teens called My Life My Quit," Smith said.
This year, MDH established a youth advisory council to ensure teens stay on top of the campaign. Advertisements can be seen on billboards throughout the metro and on social media platforms including TikTok. MDH also plans to get Norm out into the community this summer, which may include parade appearances.
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