By now, everyone has seen and complained about the asinine new line of “Reefer Madness”-style anti-drug propaganda ads that have been on TV lately. In case you need clarification, these are the ads that show a terrible tragedy happening as a result of marijuana use, followed by ominous phrases like “Marijuana can impair your judgement” or “It’s more harmful than we all thought.”

First of all, we have to talk about their catch phrase: “Marijuana can impair your judgement.” Is this news to anyone? That’s part of the reason people smoke – so they can make judgement-impaired decisions like eating an extra-large pizza in one sitting and constantly watching Cartoon Network.

Anyway, to sum up the series of ads, if you smoke pot, you will, in the near future, probably get cancer, get raped or rape someone, shoot your best friend, go to jail, run over little Susie with your car, kill your little brother while driving high, get knocked up and help fund terrorists (which, let’s face it, makes you directly responsible for Sept. 11).

The now infamous terrorism-themed ads, one of which premiered during the Super Bowl, are especially amusing and disturbing for one important reason. Forget the fact that the government spent $3.4 million on two 30-second ad spots, which ironically, were watched mostly by people who are too busy punishing their livers and brains with their drug of choice, good old legal American beer, to actually pay attention. And forget the fact that it is the War on Drugs and the illegality of drugs, not the use or even purchase of drugs, that help to fund terrorist activities. The real failure of this ad is that there is absolutely no way you are convincing a teenage kid that by buying a dime bag of crappy pot from his friend Steve, he is in any way contributing to terrorism or violence.

OK, OK, I’ll admit – if you are buying large quantities of heroin or cocaine from foreign sources, you might be somehow funneling money back to the bad guys, so all you naughty kingpins out there should knock it off.

What the National Youth Anti-Drug Media Campaign is completely missing is that to get to kids, you can’t try to use guilt, fear of punishment (legal or parental), or even death as incentives. Kids just don’t buy it. All you ad people, pay close attention to this next part: A few years ago, a company that manufactured a household cleanser found that a lot of kids were using their product as an inhalant despite labels bearing prominent warnings like “May cause DEATH,” “You will DIE INSTANTLY if you inhale this” and “Seriously, you will totally, like, melt like the Nazis at the end of ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark’ and die if you inhale this crap.” Despite their severe warnings, the huffing continued. When the company asked its lawyer what to do, he told them that they should change the label to include the warning “May cause hair loss and facial disfigurement” even though the product did neither of these things. As the phony warning appeared, reports of huffing immediately decreased.

To most adolescents, physical appearance and being sexually attractive are much more important than any idle threats of immediate death. Anti-drug ads should appeal to teenage narcissism, not lofty notions of responsibility and danger.

Well I’m sick of seeing the good people at the Anti-Drug Campaign fall on their asses when it comes to reaching out to the kids (D.A.R.E., I’m looking in your direction), so I have decided that instead of just criticizing their horribly, horribly ineffective ads, I will do my part and pitch some new, fresh ad concepts that are tailored to teen audiences and more, to use a phrase that appears on their website, “hip” (I challenge you to show me more concrete proof that they are painfully out-of-touch with their target audience). Here goes … I’m allowed to lie, right? Whew, thank God. This would be hard if I had to tell the complete truth.

The setting: a dimly lit bedroom. A woman lies on her bed, looking affectionate but disappointed. A man sits on the corner of the bed, head in his hands. Then, we see on the screen, “If you smoke pot, you won’t be able to get it up … Harmless?” It’ll work wonders.

You don’t like that one? Ooh, ooh, I’ve got a better one.

A teenage boy stands in a harshly-lit bathroom in his boxers, staring in the mirror. He pulls the waistband of his shorts forward, takes a peek down at his gear and screams. Then we see, “Smoking pot makes your penis small. Seriously, it’ll shrink right up like you just swam in Lake Michigan in February … Harmless?” That’ll knock ’em dead, I tell you, dead.

Not wild about that one either, huh? Well, the possibilities for preying on teen self-consciousness are endless, from decreased breast size to having to wear braces longer. (“Marijuana can keep your teeth from straightening.”)

No good? OK, I suppose that instead of using wild exaggeration and scare tactics to bully kids into obeying, you could try telling them the real harm of smoking pot. First, I don’t know how accurate the government’s figures on marijuana’s tar content are, but I’ll admit, any activity in which you inhale smoke into your lungs is somewhat bad for you. If you sat over a pile of burning leaves in your backyard on a regular basis, you would probably get a similar amount of crud in your lungs. The other major problem with pot was summed up nicely in an episode of “South Park” a few weeks ago: “Pot makes you feel fine with being bored … If you smoke pot, you may grow up to find out that you aren’t good at anything.” … Harmless?


– Andy Taylor-Fabe can be reached at andytayl@umich.edu.

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