Sept. 16, 2002 -- A new round of anti-drug ads that start running on TV today pack a tough message about the "terrible things" — from street violence to drug cartels — that drug users unwittingly support.
But the question that has haunted past anti-drug ad campaigns are expected to resurface with this batch. Will the ads actually work?
Going For Guilt
One of the ads introduces marijuana user "Stacey," hanging out with two friends. It then shows an image of her marijuana dealer, before moving up the drug chain to the person who supplies Stacey's dealer with pot. The next image is the kicker.
"This is Carla, who was hit by a stray bullet from Stacey's supplier and paralyzed for life," the voice in the ad says. The ad closes with "Drug money supports terrible things. If you buy drugs, you might, too."
John Walters, the new drug czar appointed earlier this year by President Bush, said his predecessor's expensive ad campaigns, featuring music stars like the Dixie Chicks, "flopped," and that there was no significant decline in marijuana use during their run. Walter's office now has a $1 billion ad budget for the next five years.
"These ads are different," Walters told Good Morning America. "We toughened up the behavior not only to look at the harm drugs do to young people but using their idealism, their drug buying to things they care about," he said.
In a similar ad, the focus is on the drug cartels: "This is Dan. This is the joint that Dan bought. This is the dealer who sold the joint that Dan bought. This is the smuggler that smuggled the pot to the dealer who sold the joint that Dan bought. This is the cartel that uses the smuggler that smuggled the pot to the dealer who sold the joint that Dan bought. And this is the family that was lined up by Dan's cartel and shot for getting in the way."
Some young adults say they find the ads offensive. Elisa Roupenian, a college sophomore, told Good Morning America that her peers objected to linking the violence of the drug trade in other countries to drug use here.
"It made people mad because they pointed the finger at teenagers," Roupenian said. "Some people think that if the government didn't create the war against drugs that made it such a huge black market, the terrorists and drug cartel wouldn't be able to make such a tremendous profit," she said.
Roupenian's comments reveal a troublesome side to the anti-drug movement. When it comes to marijuana, young Americans often blame the government for the problems that result from the high demand for it.
Getting the Message?
Dr. Drew Pinsky, an addiction expert, said the new anti-drug ads were well executed, but some viewers could interpret the ads' depiction of a dangerous black market of drug dealers as support for the argument that marijuana should be legalized.
"I will say, unfortunately, a lot of young adults and college students will say 'you are right, this does support a crime network; if the drug was legal, you wouldn't have that,'" Pinsky said.
Pinsky said that many young people simply tune out when anti-drug ads focus on marijuana. "There's a lot about the drug and its legal issues," he said.
Also, the "scare tactics" used in the ads tended to be ineffective, Pinsky said. "Social norm messages are better, like looking at how few of your friends are really partying and smoking pot regularly, he said.
In the past, the drug office didn't test ads before running them, but testing has shown that children and parents who watch the ads get the message, Walters said. The ads also target older children, ages 14 to 18, rather than those ages 11 to 13.
Highschool freshman Kadeem Coopers doesn't think the new ads will influence self-absorbed teens to think of others.
"I don't think the ads will have any affect on teenagers," Kadeem said. "When someone buys marijuana, they are not thinking of Colombian cartels or little girls getting shot."
Kate Farley, a high school senior, says she thinks the new ads do a good job of revealing other lesser-known areas of the drug dealing business."It does give another view point, aside from the 'it gives you brain damage' one," Farley said. "This shows the other side of things."