Boomerang Effect: Anti-Marijuana Ads May Lead to Marijuana Use
Ads might appeal to rebellious teenagers by giving them something to rebel against
Birds chirp as a fully dressed toddler wanders toward her backyard pool. With no one else around, she drags her pool toy behind her and places it inside of the pool. Leaning over the edge of the pool, the little girl tries to get her toy back. A narrator starts to speak: "Just tell her parents you weren't watching her because you were getting stoned. They'll understand." The screen fades to black.
This ad is similar to the prior spots which compare marijuana smokers to terrorists. Others claim smoking marijuana will lead to rape or make people go crazy. These commercials have the clear aim of preventing marijuana use. The purpose might be clear, but the results measuring the effectiveness of these ads are shrouded in controversy.
Numerous government evaluations of the anti-marijuana media campaign have shown the advertisements as ineffective at reducing drug use among teens. Two of the five studies concluded that the ads might lead to an increase in teen use of marijuana. These conclusions including a more recent study published in the May edition of "Addictive Behaviors" magazine are leading drug war critics and taxpayer groups to call on Congress to slash funding for the ads.
"I don't know what's more outrageous; that our government wastes hundreds of millions of dollars on ineffective ads calling marijuana smokers terrorists, or the fact that the White House ignores study after study that shows that their drug control strategy is misguided and unsuccessful, yet it continues to fund this unproductive ad strategy," said Bill Piper, director of national affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance.
The most recent study in "Addictive Behaviors" entitled "Explicit and Implicit Effects of Anti-marijuana and Anti-tobacco TV Advertisements" concluded that the exaggerated fear-based and inaccurate advertisement creates a "boomerang" effect. Instead of getting teen viewers to take the position offered in the ads, this "boomerang effect" causes teens to rebel against the stated message since it is counter to the knowledge teens already possess regarding marijuana.
"Exposure to anti-marijuana advertising might not only change young viewers' attitudes [positively] toward the substance, but also might directly increase risk of using marijuana," warns the study surveying the reactions of 18 to 19-year-old college students after viewing the Whitehouse's anti-marijuana commercials.
Created by President Reagan nearly eight years ago, the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) was established to define national priorities and objectives regarding drug control programs. The goals of the programs are to reduce drug use, manufacturing, and drug related crime.
The anti-marijuana commercials are part of ONDCP's National Youth Anti-Drug Media campaign at a cost of $119 million dollars for the fiscal year 2005. Together, the ONDCP partners with organizations such as Partnership for a Drug Free America to create the ads.
The Partnership for a Drug-Free America did not return requests for comments regarding the most recent and prior studies evaluation the effectiveness of the anti-marijuana ads.
The ONDCP does confirm the independent evaluations within the "National Drug Control Strategy: FY 2006 Budget Summary" report calling them "reliable data sources."
"The results of the independent evaluation (managed by National Institute on Drug Abuse) detected no connection between the program advertisements and youth attitudes and behavior toward drug use," the report reads.
Drug war critic groups such as the Drug Policy Alliance are using this information as a rallying call for Congress to eliminate funding of these anti-marijuana ads. Using their website, www.drugpolicy.org, the group is urging supporters to contact congressional representatives to transfer the funds to drug treatment instead of advertisements.
"From the start, the Bush Administration's ad campaign has been about taxpayer-funded propaganda, not prevention," said Piper. "Congress needs to eliminate this ineffective program and shift the funding to drug treatment which has been proven to work."
The Drug Policy Alliance is one of the leading organizations working on alternatives to the war on drugs. The mission statement states "a drug policy based not upon fear, prejudice and punitive prohibitions but rather science, compassion, public health and human rights."
By Jospeph W. Bateman