Media hold the real smoking gun in anti-drug campaign

    In 1998, the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy launched the National Youth Anti-Drug Media Campaign. Aimed at youth aged nine to 18, the goal was to prevent drug use through education and advertising. In the process, the campaign has led to some extreme claims and illogical connections that may miss its mark completely.

    Kenrick Leung

    The immediate result was a sophisticated, strategic media campaign that uses — exploits, even — television, the Internet and written materials as vehicles for aggressive anti-drug advertising. Commercials depicting “”real-world”” situations imply that marijuana use is the root of every evil.

    But, of course, no major media crusade is built on smoke and mirrors alone. There is some backbone element of government data, no matter how shaky it is; hence, the partnership between the ONDCP’s Youth Anti-Drug Campaign and the Direct Marketing Association (founded in 1917, it is the largest trade association for businesses interested in direct, database and interactive marketing).

    The DMA promotes the media campaign, based on government statistics on drug use, and offers participation opportunities to its 4,700 member companies. Of these thousands of member companies, there are some media giants who have jumped on the bandwagon to profess the anti-drug message, like AT&T, Blue Cross Blue Shield Association and Borders Group, Inc.

    This campaign is no rinky-dink operation. Media giants, smart-marketing companies, government statistics and parental fears that children will morph into blunt-smoking potheads means a lot of sponsored commercials.

    Commercials with extreme claims and questionable logic, that is.

    One such commercial is a snapshot of a middle-class white family in pregnancy peril. Their teen-something daughter’s got a bun in the oven after a supposed night of marijuana-induced debauchery.

    The campaign’s connection: smoking marijuana and partying will lead to pregnancy.

    The campaign’s omission: information about the extent of sex education, use of birth control and protection against STDs the girl used. A girl does not become impregnated by a good batch of chronic alone.

    Another commercial worms its way into a party that has teenagers and smoke clogging up the screen. A male teen pursues a female teen, but it is not until the girl is properly buzzed that the boy gets to practice unhooking her bra.

    The campaign’s connection: marijuana use results in passive women who become submissive to unwanted sexual advances.

    The campaign’s omission: sexual assault happens without marijuana use and the absence of parents. Plus, it manages to exploit the gender stereotype that women are for the men’s taking.

    A third commercial portrays two male youths handling a gun in their home. Once they inhale marijuana, one is shot.

    The campaign’s connection: holding a gun and smoking marijuana means bullets will fly.

    The campaign’s omission: why a loaded gun is easily accessible to minors in the home, why the youths are brash enough to smoke in their home and why the parents are not present.

    Nearly a year of research went into the design of the campaign, according to the ONDCP. They are designed to specifically target “”parents, tweens, urban, ethnic and general market youth.”” More than 2,250 media outlets in 102 local U.S. markets during a five-year period are broadcasting messages such as these.

    Though the messages the campaign is trying to spread are valid, the lapses of logic and outside influences might make the advertisements less successful.

    So, back to the data; are these commercials working?

    According to the 2001 National Household Survey on Drug Abuse, between 2000 and 2001, marijuana use for Americans 12 or older increased from 4.8 percent to 5.4 percent. In 2000, 31 percent of youths ages 12 to 17 who used marijuana once in the past month felt their parents did not strongly disapprove of their drug use. Between 1991 and 2001, the number of eighth graders who used marijuana doubled from one in 10 to one in five.

    Think back to eighth grade. Remember all those kids who smoked marijuana? According to the data, double that.

    Despite the increased anti-drug spending each year, drug use increases. The Youth Anti-Drug Media Campaign could be seen as a distant cousin of such anti-marijuana propaganda as “”Reefer Madness.””

    The 1930s flick chronicled the evils of marijuana use, claiming that the drug was so detrimental to one ill-fated smoker that he was sentenced to life in a mental hospital for what it did to him. Madness induced by reefer. Though a campy, bad movie, its obvious anti-marijuana message was plain.

    Now, “”Reefer Madness”” is a joke, evidence that anti-drug propaganda can be utterly ridiculous. Historical data analysis reveals that it did not alleviate drug use.

    The future of today’s anti-drug propaganda is hazy. Whether or not it goes down in history as a joke or not is yet to be seen, but it’s safe to say that the advertisements that aim to prevent drug use draw more concern regarding their extreme positions and stretching of logic.

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