Fleeced by Anti-Drug Ads

jon ludlam seraphina at compuserve.com
Tue Jun 17 02:31:03 EDT 2003

I wonder how many citizens could get well with $2 BILLION worth of


Fleeced by Anti-Drug Ads

by Paul Armentano

[Posted June 16, 2003]

It's often said that Congress has never met an anti-drug program it didn't
like. The White House's "National Youth Anti-Drug Media Campaign" is no
exception. To date, the campaign has spent some $2 billion in taxpayer
dollars and matching funds since 1998 to produce print, television, and
radio advertisements urging "America's youth to reject illegal drugs,"
specifically marijuana.

Nevertheless, a series of federally funded evaluations of the program have
consistently shown that the ads fail to discourage viewers from trying pot
or other drugs, and in some cases actually foster "pro-drug" beliefs among

These evaluations include:

  a.. A May 2002 review by the research firm Westat Inc. and the Annenberg
Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania that found "no
statistically significant decline in marijuana use or improvement in
and attitudes about marijuana use" attributable to the ad campaign. Authors
also acknowledged that there was "no tendency for those reporting more
exposure to Campaign messages to hold more desirable beliefs" about the
dangers of illicit drugs.
  b.. A January 2003 Westat and Annenberg evaluation reaffirming that there
is "little evidence of direct favorable Campaign effects on youth."
Moreover, the authors conceded that "contrarily, there are some unfavorable
trends in youth anti-marijuana beliefs" attributable to the ad campaign.
(Following this critique, the White House abruptly severed its $35 million
contract with Westat and Annenberg to conduct biannual reviews of the Media
  c.. A February 2003 performance assessment by the White House Office of
Management and Budget criticizing the Media Campaign for failing to achieve
any tangible goals or objectives. There exists  "no evidence that paid
messages have a direct effect on youth drug-related behavior," the report
concluded. As a result, its authors recommended Congress restrict funding
for the campaign pending further evaluation.
  d.. A Spring 2003 study published in the Journal of Health Communication
examining the impact of a series of federal anti-marijuana advertisements
youth attitudes and behavior. The researchers reported "no clear persuasion
or priming effects ... for any of the ad sequences" among a sample of 418
middle and high school students assigned to view the ads. Authors further
warned that the ads' message could potentially have a "boomerang" effect on
its target audience.
It should come as no surprise to researchers or lawmakers that the Media
Campaign is having the opposite effect on America's teens than the one
intended. Teenagers know the difference between factual information and
government propaganda, and the fed's ad campaign clearly falls into the
latter category. For example, take the White House's ad spot linking
recreational drug use and international terrorism. "Where do terrorists get
their money?" asks the ad, which debuted during the 2002 Super Bowl
broadcast at a cost of some $3.4 million. "If you buy drugs, some of it
might come from you."

 Please!  While a small portion of black market profits may theoretically
fund certain terrorist groups around the globe, this outcome is not the
result of drugs per se, but the result of federal drug policies that keep
them illegal--thus inflating their prices and relegating their production
and trade exclusively to criminal entrepreneurs. Therefore, if the federal
government legitimately sought to break the alleged link between illicit
drugs and terrorism, it would amend its policies to permit the legalization
and regulation of such drugs in a manner similar to those already in place
for other intoxicating substances such as tobacco and alcohol.

Of course, anyone waiting for such a policy change--or, in this case, truth
in advertising--shouldn't hold their breath. In Washington, the drug war
continues unabated regardless of the outcome. As such, despite the Media
Campaign's consistently poor performance (only a preliminary review by the
Partnership for a Drug Free American [a partner in the Media Campaign]
reports any positive correlation between the ads and teens' decisions on
drugs), lawmakers are nonetheless set to refund the ad program with a new
five-year appropriation, which includes a $90 million funding boost!
Nevertheless, it's painfully apparent that the public isn't buying what the
government is selling. Sadly, were just the ones footing the bill.


Paul Armentano is a senior policy analyst for The NORML Foundation
(www.norml.org) in Washington, DC, a think-tank which lobbies for the
liberalization of marijuana laws. See his Daily Article Archive. He may be
contacted via e-mail at: paularmentano at aol.com

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