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Youth Partnership Studies Tobacco Marketing in Oakland

A new study published in Sage Open highlights the results of a unique community-based participatory research project for youth journalists to study electronic cigarette marketing in Oakland, California.

A team of young journalists used cameras and narrated videos to reflect their observations of tobacco marketing tactics taking place in their neighborhoods.  The study showed that colorful flavored tobacco products were sold ubiquitously in Oakland, appearing in convenience stores, as trash on the streets, and in social media.  This included menthol cigarettes, e-cigarettes, and flavored little cigars and cigarillos and their brightly colored packaging which was frequently littered in public.

This partnership between the California Adolescent Health Collaborative of the Public Health Institute, and the Center for Tobacco Control Research and Education at the University of California San Francisco trained and supported a cohort of adolescents who were interns at Youth Radio to conduct the research using Photovoice and Geonarratives.

Photovoice is a well-known method where participants use digital photography and narratives to identify needs and assets in their communities.  The study also used a novel method, spatial video geo-narrative, in which participants record and narrate a video as they walk or drive through their neighborhoods, which elicits spatially specific, spatially fuzzy, and spatially inspired conversations related to tobacco marketing or use.  The combination of youth narrators and digital technology resulted in vivid portrayals of the impact of tobacco marketing in the community, illustrating needs for community education and to protect youth.

The paper also presents several lessons learned from this youth partnership for future community-engaged research projects.  The youth co-researchers presented the results of the study at the Youth Tech Health Conference in May 2017 (photo), through a webinar available online, and their photos were displayed in a local gallery show. 

In 2018 both San Francisco and Alameda counties passed policies to end the sale of flavored tobacco products including menthol cigarettes.  Research projects such as this help to highlight youth voices in support of such policies.


This research was funded through TRDRP’s pilot Community Academic Research Award (CARA) grant type (23BT-0009). Equitable community and academic research partnerships strengthen the quality, reach, and impact of tobacco-related prevention and treatment research and regional policy efforts.  In addition, this grant support’s the Tobacco Education and Research Oversight Committee’s research policy recommendation to “Counter the Tobacco Industry.”

selfie of META Oakland participants