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Culture Change

The only way to eliminate a young person’s desire to use tobacco is to make it uncool. But that’s easier said than done. Changing cultural norms among young people requires penetrating their peer crowd in an authentic manner. To do this, VFHY first has to identify and understand the most common peer crowds in Virginia and determine which of these niche youth cultures are most likely to use tobacco products.

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Peer Crowd:
Groups of youth who share a combination of fashion, music, language, culture, mannerisms, media consumption habits and other behaviors to define their social identity and differentiate themselves from other groups of youth.

With the help of its contractors Rescue Social Change Group and Market Decisions Health Care Research, VFHY has collected ongoing data on the most common peer crowds in Virginia. Five peer crowds are present in nearly every high school and each has a different tobacco use rate. The figures below come from a study conducted in 2011 that combines past 30-day cigarette smoking and Black & Mild smoking into an overall “smoking rate.”



< 10.8% Chew Tobacco Rate
< 27.5% Smoking Rate
100% of Virginia Teens


< 6.4% Chew Tobacco Rate
< 18.7% Smoking Rate
20.2% of Virginia Teens


< 14.5% Chew Tobacco Rate
< 30.7% Smoking Rate
8.9% of Virginia Teens


< 11.6% Chew Tobacco Rate
< 27.8% Smoking Rate
25.1% of Virginia Teens

Hip Hop

< 10.5% Chew Tobacco Rate
< 37.8% Smoking Rate
8.6% of Virginia Teens


< 10.5% Chew Tobacco Rate
< 37.8% Smoking Rate
8.6% of Virginia Teens
syke video

How SYKE Works

Syke is VFHY's campaign to reach the Alternative peer crowd by delivering messages at rock concerts as well as direct mail and social media. When Syke began in 2009, the smoking rate amongst teens at rock concerts was 37.6%. In 2011, the smoking rate had fallen to 27.7%. Syke continues to work to reduce tobacco use in this unique population.

Changing the norms within each of these peer crowds requires strategies that are tailored to the unique images, language and media that define their culture. Using Rescue Social Change Group’s Social Branding model, VFHY reaches these high-risk teens in their own social venues to associate being tobacco-free with the situations where tobacco use is most likely to occur. In addition, Social Branding campaigns recruit influencers from each peer crowd and train them on tobacco control facts and messages, creating change agents within each high-risk culture. VFHY has begun this strategy with the Alternative peer crowd, which has the highest chew tobacco rate, and the Hip Hop peer crowd, which has the highest smoking rate. SYKE and 2UP2DOWN target the Alternative and Hip Hop peer crowds, respectively, by hosting youth events, conducting social media campaigns, sending direct mail and training influencers. Collectively, these strategies strive to create change from within each peer crowd, reducing the pressure for current and future teens within that peer crowd to use tobacco products.

Syke is the campaign to reach alternative peer crowd youth. Supporting a Smoke-Free Scene.

Two Up Two Down: The campaign to reach hip hop peer crowd youth.