Positive Youth Development

Definition: an approach or process to working with youth in which educators and other youth-serving professionals provide support and opportunities for youth to enhance their interests, skills, abilities and actions.

All five strategies include opportunities to learn and practice skills, practice leadership, work with others, plan and see the results of action, and feel a sense of empowerment and influence.

Click on a strategy to begin

Service Learning

Social Media and Other Campaigns

Partnerships with Law Enforcement


Peer and Near-Peer Programs

Readers' Note

The authors and funders of this Toolkit have provided numerous examples of programs that meet certain criteria of effectiveness. However, the list, while extensive, is not exhaustive, nor are we endorsing specific programs. The intent of this module is to increase understanding of PYD and provide strategies, rather than programs, that effectively engage youth in tobacco prevention activities, with the ultimate goal of decreasing and preventing tobacco use. Readers should judge the appropriateness of the material provided in light of their unique circumstances, as well as those of the population of young people who are being engaged.

In these times when everyone is stretched to do more with less, there is a temptation to grab a curriculum designed and evaluated to address a specific issue. We encourage you to think beyond curriculum to the larger strategies. Strategies that are appropriate for your specific circumstances, population, and community will result in the biggest impact.

Download Complete PYD Module

Service Learning


The National Youth Leadership Council (NYLC), a leader in the service-learning movement, defines service learning as, “An approach to teaching and learning in which students use academic knowledge and skills to address community needs.”

Service learning is a cyclical process, which includes initial thinking about issues youth care about, service and action to address these issues, and post-service reflection that includes an assessment of the experience and areas for additional action. Because of its classroom orientation and use of teachers to guide the process, the service-learning framework is often the most feasible approach to engaging youth in tobacco-related projects.

Video by Amara Lewis


This video is an example of a service learning project conducted by Students Working Against Tobacco. To learn more about SWAT and their work, click the button!
Work Against Tobacco!

Service Learning and PYD

Service learning is a method that, if followed based on commonly accepted standards, incorporates many elements of positive youth development. NYLC describes key features of service learning as: experiential learning; youth voice and choice; critical thinking through ongoing reflection; and partnerships and relationships with adults in the broader community. Service learning also allows for a wide range of flexibility in the duration, intensity, and adult support necessary to support tobacco-focused projects, making it a great way to try new projects and learn from the process of taking small steps.

Project Ideas

  • High-school adoption of K-8 school for Red Ribbon Month
  • Tobacco waste clean ups at schools, parks, beaches
  • Student produced videos on myths and realities of e-cigarettes and other tobacco products
  • Construction of signs instructing parents and caregivers not to smoke near playgrounds
  • Classroom based fundraising campaign to support grassroots tobacco prevention organizations in developing countries
  • Student-led assembly on smoking and health

Social Media and Other Campaigns


The tobacco industry spends millions of dollars every day getting their message out through various types of media (e.g., print, movies, Internet ads, point of sale ad, etc.) and social media (through ads, sponsored posts, and payments to popular users) because it is effective. They continue to target youth in various and subtle ways even though it is not legal to advertise most tobacco products to youth (a notable exception being e-cigarettes).

Though tobacco commercials are no longer legal, the tobacco industry has found new and creative ways to channel a multi-billion-dollar marketing and advertising budget to promote smoking and its particular brands through a variety of other media. Product placement in movies, social media, promotional items (caps, jackets, key chains, other “freebies”), event sponsorships, and eye-level advertising in stores are just some of the media channels tobacco companies use to great effect to encourage teens to start lighting up. Tobacco companies like Altria are also donating funds to national prevention programs to get their name associated with positive youth development programs and then create their own media attention to highlight their “goodwill.” The California Department of Public Health is clear that projects funded by DPH cannot accept funds from tobacco companies, helping assure the messages are not diluted.

While the tobacco industry still aggressively markets to youth, young people can also utilize the effectiveness of media to fight back with their own messages.

Video by acoewellness1

Making PSA's

This video is the winner of the 2012-2013 Alameda County Office of Education PSA contest. To create your own PSA's, click the button!
Make PSA's!

Media Projects and PYD

Media campaigns, especially those that use new media and social media channels, offer opportunities for young people to actively and immediately counter the tobacco industry’s messages while building mastery of skills that are both appealing and useful in a later career. These skills may include: message development, technology, public relations, writing, editing, public speaking, and planning/scheduling.

Developing strong messages helps build critical thinking skills, as students learn how to analyze and deconstruct media messages. Because the tobacco industry has developed sophisticated and effective messaging strategies to entice and deceive youth, their ads and marketing materials are uniquely effective in helping youth understand the power of media.

Also, media/social media projects require planning and scheduling—vital life skills to gain. Planning and scheduling provides roles for all of the students in the group at different levels of engagement, expertise and commitment.

Finally, media/social media campaigns provide youth opportunities to use and build writing skills, and get feedback on areas for improvement in a more positive environment than that found in most classrooms.

Effective messages tell a story, and good media projects create a chance for youth to think about and reflect on their own story. Mainstream media continues to tell a negative story about young people. When young people develop their own media, they get a chance to reframe their story and help the public and peers understand them in a different, more complex, and more compassionate light.

Storytelling – a powerful and meaningful tool to connect youth with their communities and peers, for example, by youth creating a story in which they tell about how they have been personally affected by tobacco, either themselves or someone in their family. Youth working as part of the Chicago-based Coalition for Asian Substance Abuse Prevention created two strong examples of storytelling on a digital platform. Their website hosts two youth-created videos, combining character arcs with relevant facts about tobacco. The development of these videos combined hands-on digital editing training with strong anti-tobacco education and messaging.

Sample Projects

Commonly, media/social media is used as a tool for educating peers about the consequences of smoking. But media is more powerful than that, and if used effectively, can get people excited about an issue, change a norm or belief, or push an individual, decision maker, or community to do something you want them to do. Media/social media projects allow students to focus on areas other than the typical health effects of smoking, such as addiction, industry practices and manipulation, and the controversy over e-cigarettes.

  • Public Service Announcements (PSA’s)

    Public service announcements (PSAs) are brief audio- or video-based advertisements used to convey positive public messages to a broad audience. More traditionally shown on television as ad spots, PSA’s are increasingly shared through social media. PSA’s communicate health messages, promote a tobacco-free culture, or push back against the tobacco industry’s marketing manipulation or sales tactics.

    While formats are varied, PSA’s are approximately a minute long— a length that makes writing, directing, editing and producing these pieces a manageable task with basic computer skills. The process of research, writing, filming, editing and seeking venues to show PSA’s is a powerful learning experience. Before embarking on a PSA project, youth leaders and adult allies should consider:

    • The audience and message it wants to convey before determining the medium—while a PowerPoint/Keynote presentation might be good for one group, a video may be better matched to a different group
    • The availability of technology such as computers, smart phones, video/photography camera and software available for production and editing
    • The timing of planning and production so completion aligns with public events or similar activities that allow for the PSA to be shown to live or virtual authentic audiences
    • Where the final product will be placed
    • Funds available or means of fund raising.
  • Posters, Banners, and Other Outdoor Advertising Campaigns

    For youth who enjoy visual art and digital design, use of posters and banners in school and community settings can be a powerful creative vehicle capable of reaching large numbers of people with a simple and effective health message that can counter pro-tobacco marketing.

    A major question to consider in undertaking these kinds of projects is how do we secure outdoor ad space? Billboards are usually owned by outdoor advertising companies like Clear Channel and CBS Outdoors; bus shelters and sidewalk kiosks are usually city property. Both groups use outdoor advertising to make money, but they are open to giving youth and nonprofit groups space for free or reduced cost. Just as a local business is often willing to provide free or discount food or space for a charitable event, so are outdoor advertisers with their billboards. You just have to ask.

    For a gallery of inspiring ads that use this approach, click here.

    Project Ideas
    • Billboard design contest focusing on counter-advertising of tobacco
    • Campaign to secure two months of free billboard space for student-created anti-tobacco billboard across the street from the local high school
    • Art contest with prevention or cessation messages

  • Social Media and Other Campaigns

    Let’s face it—adults know less about social media than the youth with whom they work. But all of us know that social media and social networks are now the fastest, most far-reaching and cheapest way to get any message out, including anti-tobacco messages. What’s really cool is the way that social media platforms already provide tools to assess the extent of the reach of your message and its impact —something that’s far harder to do with a TV PSA, print ad, or outdoor ad.

    As you see below, the sky’s the limit using social media, so whether it’s a tweet, a video, a photo, it's really about the quality of the message and the way you disseminate it. What we are finding is that many times we are marrying our old media campaigns to new social media. While you may be running a PSA media contest, students may be viewing, rating and promoting these ads using social media methods.

    The same is true for advocacy projects. Many times the advocacy projects will lend themselves to using social media. For example, social media can be used as a tool for advocacy to collect petition signatures, encourage people to contact decisions makers, educate individuals on issues being heard by local legislators, and sending emails or images to law makers.

    For young people, using social media for tobacco prevention is extremely useful. It takes advantage of skills and capabilities they already have with technology. Social media tools are great for educating youth on the realities of the products they may be tempted to experiment with.

    Not only is social media a great tool to reach a youth audience, it's also a dynamic method for engaging youth. Depending on the platform, social media offers opportunities to build additional writing and critical thinking skills. Social media gives youth a chance to see results of their efforts. Because of the way in which you can track and assess impact, social media allows a chance to see the results of their work in a way that other approaches might not offer.

Real World Examples

  • Anti-Tobacco Cartoons: Kern County has been working with Royer Studios, a private company, since 2003 to help students create animated anti-tobacco PSAs, incorporating their own perspective on topics such as smoke free public places, youth access to tobacco, and negative health effects on the body and environment.
  • Be Smart, Don't Start: Alameda County sponsors an annual PSA contest, open to entries from middle- and high-school students. To view 25 of these videos, click here. For more information about this program and their awards ceremony, click here.
  • Tobacco Free Kids: Check out a recent youth-made PSA highlighted by Tobacco Free Kids, one of the nation’s leading anti-tobacco advocacy organizations by clicking here.
  • The Truth Campaign: sponsored by the Legacy Foundation, The Truth Campaign is a “national youth tobacco prevention counter-marketing campaign with an advanced online/social media component, providing people with facts and information about the health and social consequences of tobacco and the marketing tactics of the industry that sells it, so that they can make informed decisions about its use. Nationally revered for its cutting edge approach, the truth campaign presents its life-saving public health messages in the form of a brand that young people can affiliate with instead of tobacco brands.” Truth PSA’s are fun, disturbing, and appealing to youth, offering interesting takes on prevention and a healthy contempt for the tobacco industry and its attempts to manipulate youth. Check out The Truth YouTube channel.
  • Not a Replacement: Florida’s Magi Linscott, 17, developed an innovative social media campaign that secured national recognition and an award from the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids. According to their website, “Magi has tapped into the power of social media to promote Florida’s new 'Not a Replacement' tobacco prevention campaign. Youth are encouraged to send 'selfie statements' to tobacco companies—photos of themselves with handwritten signs telling tobacco corporations that youth are not replacement smokers, but individuals." Linscott's materials are available free for download.


  • Rock Your World: provides “multidimensional, project-based curriculum for middle and high school students that engages them in real-world issues, while leveraging the use of digital media to investigate, explore and act on causes of importance to them.” See
  • University of Kansas Community Toolbox guidelines and examples about how to create a PSA are available
  • Center for Applied Research Solutions: a simple and effective handout on developing counter-messages. Click here for a copy.
  • Curriki: a variety of free media literacy curricula by grade level are available through their Media Literacy library, a massive open source catalog of educational resources.
  • Media Literacy Project: a New Mexico-based program that has sponsored a long running counter-advertising contest for students and youth.
  • University of Kansas: a community toolbox with up-to-date compendium of tools and resources for using social media.
  • TX Say What: creates rich, content-heavy material for multiple social media platforms (YouTube, Twitter, Facebook). See here and here for presentations from TX Say What team members on using social media for tobacco control.

Partnerships with Law Enforcement


While numerous laws exist restricting access to tobacco products and advertising, these laws are rarely enforced. Industry/store profits are increased by tobacco retailers illegally selling products to minors, and using storefront and interior ads and signs that appeal to youth.

There exists a variety of formal programs that partner youth with law enforcement agencies to enforce laws, educate retailers, and encourage compliance to existing tobacco related laws. Many of these programs have been effective in lowering minors use of tobacco.

Video by Yolo DA

Tobacco Retail Monitoring Program

This video describes the tobacco prevention efforts in Yolo County, including decoy programs. To learn more about how to partner with law enforcement click here.
Work Against Tobacco!

Enforcement and PYD

Enforcement/youth partnering programs, particularly those that engage youth and the police, generate particularly positive developmental effects by helping young people build relationships with law enforcement and other adults through tobacco prevention work. Enforcement actions help youth improve confidence and self-mattering, seeing themselves as essential and useful. For young people who have had challenging relations or traumatic experiences with police in the past, care should be taken to ensure that experiences are positive and don’t result in further traumatization and increased negative perceptions of police.

Sample Projects

  • Decoy programs (aka Stake Act)

    Enforcement of age restrictions in tobacco sales requires the police to have a way to monitor retailers. The most effective way of doing this is through decoy programs. As a decoy, youth ally themselves with local law enforcement and work as "secret shoppers," making attempts to purchase cigarettes from various outlets. This results in both real-life knowledge of policy issues, and an immediate sense of impact on tobacco use in the community. While many local governments operate their own decoy organizations, youth can organize decoy projects independently for data collection and/or community education purposes.

    The Boys and Girls Clubs of Fresno County manages a statewide youth decoy program that engages teens through the state to help State Officials and local county health departments enforce state and federal laws regarding tobacco sales to minors. Teens are paid $25 if they apply, and receive $5 each time they visit a store as a decoy with a public health investigator. According to the Program Administrator, the program is structured using PYD and seeks to infuse positive self-identity, cultivate positive relationships, and help teens manage stress and cope with adverse situations.

  • Using California’s Lee Law to enforce restrictions on storefront Tobacco Advertising

    The Lee Law was named after Barbara Lee, a former California State Senator and United States Congresswoman who represented Oakland. The Lee Law advertising provisions address two critical community problems:

    "Youth exposure to alcohol, tobacco, and junk food advertising increases the risk of youth alcohol and tobacco consumption and problems associated with those risks; Large numbers of window signs on liquor stores contributes to crime, violence, neighborhood blight and other nuisance activities, particularly when they block a clear view into the stores." Read source.


Adult allies should be aware that individual youth can independently participate in this type of project without the affiliation of a specific youth anti-tobacco group. Youth and or groups considering participation should understand the benefits (reducing sales to minors and a stipend) and costs (the possibility that an employee who either deliberately or inadvertently sells tobacco to the decoy could be terminated).

While the State Decoy Program located in Fresno is the largest in the state, many county tobacco control programs sponsor their own decoy and buy programs. Check them out to see what your county is doing. For more information about the State Decoy Program and to help a student sign up as a teen decoy, click here.

  • Using California’s Lee Law to enforce restrictions on storefront Tobacco Advertising

    The Lee Law was named after Barbara Lee, a former California State Senator and United States Congresswoman who represented Oakland. The Lee Law advertising provisions address two critical community problems:

    Youth exposure to alcohol, tobacco, and junk food advertising increases the risk of youth alcohol and tobacco consumption and problems associated with those risks; Large numbers of window signs on liquor stores contributes to crime, violence, neighborhood blight and other nuisance activities, particularly when they block a clear view into the stores. Read source.

    The law requires that any retailer with a permit to sell alcohol must ensure that at least two-thirds of any storefront window must be open and free of any signs or ads. Across the state, youth leaders have used this law to get storeowners to remove alcohol posters and neon signs, particularly in stores frequented by children and youth. The state law applies to any ad or sign, which often includes tobacco advertising. Thus, youth tobacco prevention advocates can use this approach to reduce the presence of storefront tobacco advertising as well.


    This project can be narrowly focused on one store, or use a broad approach that combines assessment and targeting of many stores. Regardless of the number of stores, this project requires direct observation and assessment of stores, potential involvement with law enforcement, and possible direct engagement with storeowners. Adults need to be prepared to help youth navigate possible confrontations with unhappy merchants, and to help youth consider approaches in which students first encourage store owners to voluntarily comply before involving law enforcement.

    It’s important to note that the California Tobacco Control Program coordinates a statewide campaign focused on healthy retail environments—the Healthy Stores for a Healthy Community campaign. Every county health department in California is required to participate in this campaign. Before doing any work with the Lee Law or in the store environment, check-in with the Tobacco Control Program at your county health department to learn what retail-focused initiatives they are leading. There may be an opportunity to partner with the County or get involved in their current campaign.


For a detailed toolkit on how to engage youth in store assessments and compliance negotiations with merchants, see Friday Night Live’s Lee Law Toolkit. While the focus is on alcohol ads, tools and resources are directly applicable to tobacco.



Advocacy is an organized effort to influence laws, policies, and practices, either through institutions (like schools or stores) or jurisdictions (like states, counties, cities or towns). Advocates seek change. Successful advocacy—that which results in substantive changes—has long-lasting transformational affects on the advocating youth, as well as the population in general.

Policy advocacy can prove daunting, as the decision makers with the power to pass laws and alter practices are often very resistant to change. Pushing people to make changes in the status quo may take a long time, require lots of people, and incorporate several different steps. That doesn't prevent young people from playing a variety of roles in advocacy efforts. Youth often provide the energy in adult-led organizations and groups seeking to build public support for changes in laws or policies.

Video by Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids

Youth Advocates Work Towards Tobacco Display Ban in Stores

This video highlights a successful group of young advocates who worked through the hoops of putting a ban on tobacco displays into law.
Work Against Tobacco!

Advocacy and PYD ideas

From a youth development perspective, advocacy to create policy and practice changes can be incredibly powerful for young people, with rich opportunities for development of communication, strategic and critical thinking skills, and opportunities to partner with committed adults. Being involved in changing laws, practices, and policies also can be a great way for young people to develop a sense of purpose, personal power, and gain and build self-confidence and connections. While the work of advocacy is very time intensive, the developmental impacts on young people are arguably the most significant. For a complete check-list of what adults need to think about before embarking on this kind of policy process, see page 5 of the introduction to Friday Night Live’s Guide to Engaging Youth in Policy Change.

Sample Projects

  1. Smoking in the Movies

    The tobacco industry can’t advertise its products through commercials on TV, but its found another effective way to get kids to start smoking—supporting smoking in movies, especially movies that appeal to younger audiences, and paying for tobacco product placement in those movies. According to the world-renowned UCSF Tobacco Researcher Dr. Stanton Glanz, tobacco smoking in the movies is one of the more powerful influencing factors on young people’s decision to smoke.

    To change these practices youth advocates can:
    • Write letters to Hollywood studios who produce, market, and distribute the films
    • Through letters, emails, or social media campaigns, encourage actors who are depicting smoking in films to no longer use tobacco on screen
    • Work with theaters that choose to show kid-oriented movies depicting smoking and tobacco brands to also show an anti-tobacco PSA before the movie
    • Present to city councils and ask them to sign a resolution that encourages the industry or the local theaters to stop creating youth-rated films with smoking or stop showing these movies to youth audiences
    • Hosting and publicizing “award” ceremonies for the movies and movie stars that continue to promote smoking in movies

    Advocacy of smoke free movies offers easy entry for budding tobacco prevention advocates through letter writing campaigns. Changing the practices of movie studios takes a broad-based movement, but there are lots of local actions that groups can explore, like working with local theaters or building support from elected officials. Fortunately, there is a national project, coordinated by the University of California at San Francisco, working on this information. To learn more about their work, visit smokefreemovies.ucsf.edu.


  • Youth Engagement Alliance: provides support for youth-oriented tobacco control efforts. Advocacy ready resources include webinars, event listings, and both national and state-by-state directories of anti-tobacco programs.
  • California Youth Advocacy Network: hosts webinars for youth, providing background in advocacy and community engagement.
  • Centers for Disease Control: developed an invaluable tobacco control best-practices guide dedicated to "Youth Engagement: State and Community Interventions Category".

Peer and Near Peer Programs


Effective peer resource programs require that young people deliver meaningful and relevant education, support, prevention, and intervention services to their peers. The preparation, practice, and delivery of these services is a powerful vehicle for positive youth development, offering opportunities for young people to develop essential core communication skills like listening, question asking, non-verbal communication, as well as more advanced skills such as group facilitation and workshop delivery. Young people must master content as well as delivery, thus creating conditions for young people to build competence and confidence in areas that translate well to other settings and experiences. The peer-to-peer approach, the intensity of training, and the use of peer partners to plan and deliver training also help create conditions for youth to build positive, healthy peer-to-peer relations with their peer leader teams.


Undertaking peer-to-peer programs requires significant resources and staff commitment depending on the extensiveness of the program. Peer resource experts know actual training of the peer educators is the critical factor in the success of these programs, and programs need skilled trainers to ensure that both skills and content are covered.

Sample Projects

  • Protecting Health and Slamming Tobacco (PHAST)

    The Stanislaus County Office of Education, Prevention Programs has collaborated with the Stanislaus County Health Services Agency for several years to bring grade 7-12 students in the county a youth-development-centered tobacco prevention education program. After launching the Protecting Health and Slamming Tobacco (PHAST) Coalition four years ago, the program now engages over 1,000 students from grades 7-12 in Stanislaus County.

    Each interested PHAST member is trained to conduct tobacco prevention education presentations to peers and younger students. Presentations involve lecture, but mostly group work and discussion. PHAST peer leaders deliver engaging presentations to their peers on subjects such as: negative consequences of tobacco use; why people start using tobacco; positive alternatives to using tobacco; advertising tricks used by the tobacco companies; and skills on how to refuse using tobacco. Through this effort PHAST has reached over 22,000 elementary and junior high students. During each presentation participants and peer educators learn something new about themselves and the world around them, and see these presentations as their favorite part of the PHAST experience.

  • Students in Prevention (SIPers)

    In the spring semester of sophomore year, selected students in the Stockton Unified School District are given the opportunity to complete a paid summer training program. As juniors, these students provide peer education presentations to grades 4-8 at neighboring K-8 schools. Allied Friday Night Live and Club Live clubs also sponsor peer awareness and prevention activities, including a health education fair. Together, SIP, FNL, and CL provide opportunities for service, leadership, health promotion, and positive peer-to-peer and near-peer examples and engagement.

  • Peer Leaders Uniting Students (PLUS)

    Alongside their forums and community strengthening efforts, PLUS leaders receive training to provide peer education in tobacco use, media literacy, and health promotion. PLUS participants then lead group discussions among peers and/or at feeder schools, as well as leading games, activities, role-plays, and advocacy projects to promote a tobacco-free youth.