St. Louis County launches billboard campaign for students highlighting norms around substance use

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Public Health & Human Services Dept. • 320 West Second Street, Suite 605 • Duluth, MN 55802
Phone: (218) 726-2096 •

Linnea Mirsch




November 13, 2020

CONTACT: Stephany Medina, 
Public Health Educator – Substance Misuse Prevention

(218) 725-5144


St. Louis County launches billboard campaign for students highlighting norms around substance use

It's common to think that a trending activity or behavior is so popular that everyone is doing it. For young people in particular, this preconceived notion can create a peer pressure effect, encouraging more kids to participate in the behavior out of fear of being left out. In reality, the perception that “everyone is doing it” is often overstated. 


This is especially true for perceptions about substance use among youth in St. Louis County. Data from the 2019 Minnesota Student Survey (MSS), which surveyed 8th, 9th and 11th grade students, shows that youth perception surrounding substance use tends to overestimate the number of students who have used or currently use substances.


For students, it can often feel like a significant number of their peers drink alcohol, use marijuana, or vape; however, the reality is that most 8th, 9th, and 11th grade students do not consistently use these substances. In fact, the MSS data shows that in the 30 days prior to the survey, 85% of southern St. Louis County students did not use alcohol, 88% did not use marijuana, and 79% did not vape. Duluth and Duluth Public School Academy, Floodwood and Hermantown students participated in the MSS. In northern St. Louis County, participating schools include Chisholm, Ely, Hibbing, Virginia, Mt. Iron-Buhl, St. Louis County, and Mesabi East, with data showing that in the 12 months prior to the survey, 70% of students did not drink alcohol and 84% did not use marijuana.


New billboards highlighting some of these data and actual student substance use norms are now on display throughout St. Louis County. The billboards communicate that the majority of St. Louis County students do not drink alcohol, use marijuana, or vape, even though they may perceive others are doing so. By giving accurate information about usage, the messaging makes it clear to students that they aren't alone in choosing not to participate in these activities, while maintaining a focus on positive behaviors to change the influences of peer pressure.


According to The Montana Institute, which developed this type of messaging strategy, “The Science of the Positive is based on the core assumption that the positive exists in every community and culture, it recognizes that suffering, pain, and harm are very real.”


"While most youth are choosing to avoid drinking alcohol, vaping, or using marijuana, we recognize that not all youth in our region have that same opportunity," said Stephany Medina, St. Louis County Public Health Educator. "It’s important to talk with kids about substance use and to help them develop a strategy on how to say no to things like vaping if offered by a friend. While parents and trusted adults can’t change what a student ultimately does, they can help influence their thoughts about substance use and empower them to make informed choices. 


St. Louis County has developed resources and partnerships to assist youth and adults around substance use prevention and intervention. To learn more, visit


This billboard in Duluth is one of five that were posted this week throughout the County, highlighting for students that the majority of their peers do not use alcohol or drugs.