SensisHealth Does Public Health Without a Playbook to Take on Vaping


SensisHealth Does Public Health Without a Playbook to Take on Vaping

By Sharon and Lisa

Many of our modern public health campaigns rely on a large and well-codified body of knowledge based on decades of data, evidence-based messaging, and at least a shared understanding of how best to address the problem.

In other words, a playbook.

When Sensis was hired by The Office of the Los Angeles City Attorney, lead by Mike Feuer, to create a campaign to address the youth vaping epidemic in Spring 2019, there was little research or data available. Vape pens, pods, and accessories had been on the market for several years but were only recently being embraced, en masse, by teens. The products – most notably devices and liquids manufactured by Juul – represented such a drastic evolution from combustible tobacco products that much of the science didn’t apply. Many parents had no idea what they were up against – and neither did elected officials, which is why there was little public policy or industry regulation in place.

In part, Sensis won the assignment on the strength of our strikingly effective smokeless tobacco prevention campaign for the FDA’s ‘The Real Cost’ initiative in 2016. The two assignments shared similar research, narrow demographic focus, and multicultural components.

Shared Insights

With the vaping epidemic unfolding in real-time and primary research lacking, Sensis creatives harnessed insights from the ‘Smokeless Doesn’t Mean Harmless’ campaign. Combined with the agency’s robust qualitative behavioral research, these insights formed the basis for the creative strategy of ‘facts first.’

Teens don’t want stories: they want facts. Teens are incredibly perceptive and sensitive to when they’re being ‘sold’ something. Therefore, sticking to straightforward facts, news, and data, rather than stories or metaphors, will be more effective.

What made the campaign, titled ‘Disobey Vape,’ especially unique was that, unlike tobacco products that have been publicly maligned for years, vape products were not thought of as a serious health risk. In focus groups, parents seemed unconcerned about vaping. In fact, they praised vape manufacturers, singling out Juul for its role in tobacco harm reduction.

Campaign Elements

Our overarching goal was to compellingly present the facts that were most likely to change the narrative and expose the harms of vaping. We delivered high-impact data and the latest news to the right audience at the right time.

  • A :30 commercial, targeting LA County youth, that was run as a trailer in theaters, on broadcast and cable TV, as well as streaming video and TV channels
  • Two different versions of a website:
  • The teen version emphasized facts and the latest news
  • A parent/adult version highlighted the detrimental health effects, how to recognize the signs of youth vaping, and strategies for having productive conversations with kids and family members
  • A Facebook page aimed at educating adults about the risks and available resources
  • An Instagram feed targeting teens and serving up the latest news on health effects as well as highlighting vape manufacturers’ deceitful marketing tactics
  • A presence at community events to focus on raising awareness


'Disobey Vape,' one of the first comprehensive anti-vape efforts, is still live and more relevant than ever, as public health officials scramble to understand the link between vaping and severe cases of COVID-19.

We’ve already seen a positive response. The ‘Disobey Vape’ Facebook page has hundreds of comments from parents and adults who didn’t realize the magnitude of the problem, thousands of teens joined the conversation at local events where ‘Disobey Vape’ had a presence. Other advertising agencies and health departments have been in contact with Sensis to learn more about our approach and leverage our insight and strategy.

Since we launched the campaign, there has been a profound sea change in public opinion, resulting in intense scrutiny and focus. This has spurred tougher and farther-reaching legislation designed to protect our children and hold vape manufacturers, sellers, and distributors accountable.

We are proud to have helped provoke conversations that could save millions of lives and untold billions of dollars in health care costs.