No smoke and mirrors

At the tender age of 22, Jeff Jordan is leading a company that tries to show gay men they can be fabulous and rebellious without cigarettes

BY Todd Henneman

February 28 2006 12:00 AM ET

At age 14, Jeff
Jordan came out. At 17, he started a company focused on
getting people to quit smoking, curb drinking, and live
healthier. At 21, he is a business whiz—the
leader of Rescue Social Change Group, a company with
13 employees and revenues expected to reach $1.5 million
this year.

It all began when
a friend invited Jordan, then in high school, to attend
an antismoking youth group. “This young man came in
and basically took over the meeting,” says
Maria Azzarelli, tobacco control coordinator for the
Clark County Health District, which includes Las Vegas, thus
serving 70% of Nevada. “He was so intelligent,
so articulate, and such a leader. I was like,
‘Who is this kid?’ ” That kid,
deciding he could do the work of the county’s
high-priced consultant better and for less, soon
formed a company and landed his first contract.

Rescue Social
Change Group now has clients in 12 states, and Jordan is
blazing a new path in the decades-old field of social
marketing, which applies commercial-marketing methods
to social issues. Translation: He’s more likely
to suggest sponsoring smoke-free hip-hop parties than
filling billboards with statistics.

In an era when
retailers use shirtless models to sell clothes, many
public-health commercials still bet on logic to change
behavior. And that seems so old-school to Jordan.

“The
people who are most likely to be smoking or doing drugs or
drinking or whatever—they really aren’t
thinking about the future,” he says. “They
know that they could get sick and they could die.
They’re doing it because it makes them feel
something else: It makes them feel sexy, or it makes
them feel rebellious. It’s all about image.”

Rescue Social
Change launched a stop-smoking campaign called “Urban
Fuel,” which offers pictures of the smoke-free
“hottest hotties” of Las Vegas, T-shirts
to “turn your hot body into a hot statement,”
and the “young and sexy” calendar of
no-smoking parties. A related effort tells gay men
that not smoking makes them “taste better” and
have “smoother skin.”

It seems to be
helping: Youth smoking around Las Vegas fell to 18% in
2005, down from 33% in 2001. Jordan, meanwhile, was chosen
the Small Business Administration’s 2005 Young
Entrepreneur of the Year for Rhode Island and New
England.

But
Jordan’s story isn’t a story of an
entrepreneur born with a silver spoon in his mouth. A
self-described illegal immigrant, he was 3 when his
family moved from Peru to Florida, where his father drove a
construction truck. “Knowing that my dad was a
college-educated person in Peru with a great job, who
came to the United States and had to give it all up,
taught me so much about sacrifice and really putting your
priorities in order,” says Jordan, who became a
U.S. citizen when he was 10.

Coming out in an
old-fashioned Latino household was rough too. He first
told his mother, who initially hoped his sexual orientation
would change. His father found out when he stumbled
across a prom picture of Jordan with his
date—another man. His parents have since accepted his
homosexuality, and now they marvel at his success.
“He believes in what he’s doing,”
says his mother, Annarella Jordan. “It’s his
passion.”

Jordan hopes to
expand his work, especially among gay men who have other
serious addictions. “I have firsthand experience with
this: You meet a guy who could be the love of your
life, but he’s screwed up because he got into
drugs, he got into alcohol, he got into smoking, and
he’s not going to be fixed until he’s,
like, 30,” he says. “There’s enough
that we go through already. The best way to change
that is to understand who they want to be and show
them it is better achieved by not doing these things
than by doing them.”

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