Nerds have their place in this world, but serving as models of tobacco prevention isn't one of them.
Or so says 25-year-old Jeff Jordan, who believes this burden is a better fit for the shoulders of the cool kids.
And he should know.
Just seven years out of high school, the Peru native and longtime San Diego resident has built a multi-million-dollar business out of making risky behavior -- smoking in particular -- positively un-cool.
Jordan's for-profit business, called Rescue Social Change Group, contracts with state public health departments, school districts, non-profit organizations and foundations around the country to thwart the tobacco industry's attempts to get its meat-hooks into fresh young customers.
To do this, Jordan believes health advocates need to beat the tobacco industry at its own game: Selling their brand as hip and trendy. This means he must get young people to associate hating tobacco with "edgy," which can require being, well, truly edgy.
The approach can be controversial, and occasionally produces unintended consequences. Police, for instance, have raided well-attended parties organized by Rescue Social Change Group -- parties that were underwritten by state public health agencies. Once, a bathroom-humor-inspired TV commercial produced by the group comparing cigarettes to fecal matter was widely condemned in Las Vegas -- and thus praised by radio shock jock Howard Stern.
One thing you won't see at a Rescue Social Change Group event is any mention of the state public health agency that is picking up the tab. That would be un-cool.
For his part, Jordan first noticed the follies of traditional tobacco-prevention programs while volunteering for one in high school.
"A lot of it was just preaching to the choir," he told HispanicBusiness.com. "Kids who hated the tobacco industry got together and talked about how they hated the tobacco industry. ... I personally felt there was a better way to go."
Rescue Social Change Group currently has clients in about a dozen states, and also works to eradicate other societal ills, such as binge drinking, obesity and violence.
But the bulk of the business -- at least 60 percent -- is dedicated to preventing people ages 18-26 from lighting up.
In recent years, Jordan's nine-year-old company has generated its share of buzz.
For one thing, it's profitable. In 2008, Rescue Social Change Group, which employs 30 people, brought home $3 million, more than tripling its $810,000 revenues in 2005. (Jordan declined to divulge his salary.) In September, it was named the 13th fastest growing company in San Diego by San Diego Business Journal, and the 21st fastest growing company in the San Diego area by Inc Magazine.
Even more important, public health officials say, the company's often-controversial approach to combating the tobacco industry works.
"He's brilliant," Maria Azzarelli, tobacco control coordinator for the Southern Nevada Health District, told HispanicBusiness.com. "I've done this my whole adult life, since graduating college in 1999. Meeting Jeff transformed everything."
Azzarelli gives Jordan's company most of the credit for a dramatic plunge in teen smoking in the Las Vegas area. From 1999 to 2007, the proportion of high schoolers in the region who smoke has plummeted from 33 percent to 13.5 percent. It's the second-biggest drop in the nation.
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