Drug ads could trigger tokers

Rating: NNNNNDo anti-pot ads just make folks want to spark up? Health Minister Tony Clement better find out.

Rating: NNNNN

Do anti-pot ads just make folks want to spark up? Health Minister Tony Clement better find out before he launches that no-nonsense anti-drug campaign he’s been threatening.

“Canada has not run a serious or significant anti-drug campaign for almost 20 years,” Clement sniffed at a speech to the Canadian Medical Association last month.

But now he’s ready with a multi-departmental two-year $64 mil effort involving Health Canada , the Department of Justice and maybe even the prime minister’s office . The multi-pronged initiative includes a crackdown on gangs and illicit drug production as well as money for treatment. And, says Christian Girouard, spokesperson for the Department of Justice , there’s $10 million for “preventing illicit drug use.’ According to Clement, these measures would include public health messages — namely, an ad blitz, part of the “plain truth’ Clement wants young people to hear.

Problem is, anti-drug media campaigns have been a flaming flop south of the border, and maybe even an actual incentive to pot-puffing.

In 1998, the U.S. kicked off its five-year National Youth Anti-Drug Media Campaign aimed at scaring kids away from drugs, particularly weed, with a series of TV ads linking casual marijuana use to terrorism, sexual violence and unplanned pregnancies.

But the U.S. 2005 National Survey on Drug Use and Health reported that while past-month drug use among 12-to-17-year-old Americans had declined slightly (from 11.6 per cent in 2002 to 9.9 per cent in 05), it was rock-steady among 18-to-25-year-olds (20.2 per cent in 2002 versus 20.1 per cent in 05).

An August 2006 report by the United States Government Accountability Office (GAO) sounded a similar alarm. The Anti-Drug Media Campaign “was not effective in reducing youth drug use,” states the report, which goes on to recommend that Congress stop funding the program.

But it was the work of Dr. Harvey Ginsburg and Maria Czyzewska, of the psychology department at Texas State University in San Marcos that reached the most stunning conclusion. “Our preliminary study revealed that college students generated more negative comments to televised anti-marijuana ads than anti-tobacco ads, often perceiving them as exaggerated and unbelievable,” Ginsburg writes in a report published May 2006.

More than that, students in their study reported that the pot spots actually made them more likely to spliff up.

Ginsburg tells NOW this is called the “boomerang effect,” a phenomenon that occurs when “the message is perceived as weak, inconsistent with prior knowledge and when the source’s credibility is suspect,’ he writes. He says he hopes the Canadian government treads carefully.

The feds can’t say they weren’t warned.

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