The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has launched a new campaign to prevent tobacco and e-cigarette use among American Indian and Alaska Native youth. The agency’s “Next Legends” Youth E-cigarette Prevention program was announced June 8 as part of the FDA’s, “ongoing efforts to protect youth from the dangers of tobacco use.”

According to the announcement, the campaign will seek to educate the estimated 400,000 Native teens in the U.S. about the harms of smoking or vaping tobacco products through tailored messaging and unique branding. According to the FDA, more than 50% of Native teens are at-risk of becoming tobacco users. Studies have demonstrated that Native American youth are at a disproportionately higher risk of using tobacco products and subsequently becoming addicted compared to non-Native teens.

Studies have demonstrated that American Indian and Alaska Native youth are twice as likely to be frequent users of e-cigarettes compared to all other high school students. Additionally, 47.3% of American Indian or Alaska Native high school students surveyed reported using some kind of “electric vapor products” in the last 30 days and 19.9% reported using those products for at least 20 of the last 30 days. By comparison, the average rate of high school students overall for 30-day use and frequent use are 32.7% and 10.7%, respectively.

According to the acting director of the FDA’s Center for Tobacco Products, Michele Mital, “E-cigarettes are the most used tobacco product among youth, and they pose serious health risks if used during adolescence when the brain is still developing. Next Legends builds on the success of previous youth e-cigarette prevention campaigns while also addressing health disparities among Native Americans and Alaska Natives associated with tobacco use.” 

By using the Next Legends campaign to speak to American Indian and Alaska Native youth in a more relatable way, this “important and creative way to educate Native youth” can help them “make informed decisions about healthy behavior, including being vape-free.”

In order to make the advertisements as culturally relevant as possible, the FDA has undertaken extensive research and partnered with members of the Native American and Alaska Native communities. The FDA consulted American Indian and Alaska Native community members as well as experts in Native culture, media, and public health research. When developing their video ads, the FDA tested their efficacy with focus groups made up of American Indians and Alaska Natives as well as surveys of Native youth online. 

Finally, in order to ensure that the messages were presented and handled correctly, the Next Legends campaign uses American Indian and Alaska Native presenters and the FDA’s media contractor, Rescue Agency, has partnered with G+G, a Native-owned advertising agency that has worked with American Indian and Alaska Native communities for over two decades.

The FDA and G+G intend to tailor the Next Legends campaign to Native youth by utilizing digital advertisements on social media platforms like Instagram, Snapchat, and TikTok, as well as video platforms like YouTube and Twitch. The Next Legends campaign will attempt to cover as many digital spaces frequented by Native youth as possible. 

In places where the internet may not be as universally accessible, the agency is utilizing billboards, radio, and TV broadcasting in order to reach as many Native youths as possible about the negative health consequences, addiction risk, and toxic chemicals and metals found in tobacco products.