Drug Policy Experts Criticize Anti-Drug Advertising Campaign

Press Release June 8, 1998
Media Contact

Tony Newman at 510-208-7711 x 1383

Facing a rise in teen drug use and growing criticism of U.S. drug policy, President Clinton and Drug Czar Barry McCaffrey rolled out a national advertising campaign today to discourage drug use. Funded by taxpayers, the $1 billion campaign aims to reduce illicit drug use among our nation’s youth. The campaign is being criticized by drug policy experts who say anti-drug media campaigns don’t reduce drug use, and that they may encourage drug use. They say the money should be spent on proven drug prevention programs, rather than unproven publicity campaigns.

“It’s a shame that the Drug Czar continues to ignore science and sound research in favor of ineffective ‘feel good’ campaigns,” said Ethan Nadelmann, director of The Lindesmith Center.

“The purpose of the ads is to deter drug use, but there’s a chance they make drugs more interesting and attractive to adolescents,” said professor Lynn Zimmer, a sociologist at Queens College in New York and author of the book Marijuana Myths, Marijuana Facts: A Review of the Scientific Evidence. “After all, it was the same young people who began seeing the Partnership’s anti-drug ads in the late 1980s who, in the 1990s, began using marijuana in greater numbers.”

Research evaluating the effect of anti-drug ads shows that while they harden anti-drug attitudes among some adults, they have no effect on adolescents. In fact, according to an article in Brandweek, Dr. Evelyn Cohen Reis, the lead author of the only published study evaluating the Partnership’s ad campaign, has since said, “You can’t tell, based on the paper, that it actually works.” She thinks respondents “were telling us what they wanted us to hear.”

A young woman holds a sign that says "End the Drug War."

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