Health topic: Health Promotion Tobacco and Vaping

Strengthen tobacco and vaping prevention

What's it about?

This strategy helps students avoid or delay smoking and vaping through effective teaching practices. It shifts away from instructional methods that don’t work in substance use prevention, like scare-tactics or just say no approaches. Instead, it calls attention to three key areas: social competence, meaningful learning experiences, and media literacy.

At first glance, you may think these areas aren’t related to smoking or vaping prevention at all. In fact, research confirms they’re fundamental to keeping students smoke-free and vape-free into adulthood.


What's involved?

Strengthen tobacco and vaping prevention by focusing less on teaching about the harms of tobacco, and more on growing the practical skills students need to avoid smoking and vaping. Here’s what you can do:

Build social competence

Provide opportunities for students to learn and practice social competencies—personal and social skills that boost their ability and confidence to handle life’s challenges. These are skills to make decisions and solve problems, cope with stress, resist influences (like pressure from peers or the media), and maintain positive self-esteem, self-control, and assertiveness. Research shows that students with strong social competence are less likely to smoke or vape than their peers.

Nurture social competence by infusing skill building into classroom activities, and tap into real-time opportunities for students to apply and practice what they’ve learned. For example:

  • Use engaging, curriculum-aligned resources that bolster social competencies, like AHS tobacco and vaping resources for teachers.
  • Incorporate peer sharing activities (like think-pair-share), peer interaction activities (like role-play), and personal reflection into everyday classroom lessons and school activities.
  • Watch for ‘teachable moments’ for students to practice social competencies through school experiences, like when they interact with others in the hallways, at lunch time, or at recess.


Offer meaningful learning experiences

Engage young people in learning about smoking and vaping in ways that are relevant and meaningful to them. Try not to lecture or use scare-tactics. Provide them with opportunities to be seen, heard, and valued. Here are some practical ideas:

  • Get students thinking about how smoking and vaping affects what’s most important to them, like friendships, sport or fitness goals, or romantic relationships. Try not to dwell on the distant future. Instead, focus on what matters now—like having fresh breath, saving money, or being a role model.
  • Create safe spaces at school for students to ask questions and have respectful conversations about tobacco and vaping. Help them explore how it connects with their identity, values, and culture.
  • Explore norms. Some students—especially younger ones—falsely believe that everybody smokes. Current smoking rates are often lower than they expect. Open up conversations about how non-smoking is the norm.


Strengthen media literacy

Media literacy gets students active and engaged in using media, and empowers healthy decisions around substance use. Try these ideas: 

  • Show students how to spot tobacco industry tactics in the media, and analyze and critically evaluate them. Use teacher resources from Media Smarts' digital media literacy framework to really get them fired up.
  • Offer students hands-on experience in creating media. Challenge them to play with different tactics that influence an audience, like music, emotion, and imagery.
  • Help students find credible sources of information on smoking and vaping. Start with these sources:


How it connects

This strategy is about using effective teaching strategies to help students delay or avoid using tobacco and vaping products. It works in tandem with prevention strategies beyond school walls, such as:

  • Policy on smoke-free and vape-free public spaces
  • Minimum age laws for possession or use of tobacco and vaping products
  • Limits on tobacco industry marketing in public places and in the media
  • Taxes on commercial tobacco products
  • Advocacy on vaping products, like calls to limit nicotine concentration and restrict flavours
  • Mass media campaigns
  • Resources and programs to help people quit smoking or vaping

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