Pubdate: Mon, 27 Oct 2003
Source: Sidelines, The (TN Edu)
Copyright: 2003 Middle Tennessee State University
Author: David Cotton


Speaking of Which

I remember when public service announcements were innocent. They provided 
useful advice on what to do if your house was on fire or if you fell off a 
boat. It was good, practical information offered politely without any 
attempt to frighten, shock or intimidate.

These days the public service announcement has taken a dark turn toward the 
absurd with the Office of National Drug Control Policy's anti-marijuana 
campaign, a supposedly youth-oriented campaign that has come to dominate 
the agency's agenda. For more than a year, we have been treated to a series 
of ads that ran the gauntlet from the speculative, the ridiculous, to the 
downright dishonest. These ads are expensive and cost the taxpayers at 
least $2 billion.

Here are a few highlights in case you missed them.

There's the one that ran during the Super Bowl that somehow linked 
marijuana and pregnancy. Depending on the couple, that may be an advantage.

There is the one that shows two boys in a den apparently smoking, who find 
a gun that then goes off. This may have been an attempt to squeeze two 
topics into one commercial, since it is a more effective gun control 
statement than anti-marijuana statement.

There is a disturbing one where some kids at a fast food drive-thru hit a 
little girl on her bike with their car. What profound statement accompanies 
such gruesome imagery? Marijuana can slow your reaction time. That's true, 
but so could the food, the radio, cell phones and idiotic banter.

The most realistic one goes for a more subdued approach. In it, a boy 
complains of his older stoner brother whose only addiction affliction is 
being a coach potato.

In a country where sitting around watching TV is viewed as a God-given 
right, this spot doesn't so much denounce marijuana as raise the question 
of why it is illegal in the first place.

The most insidious one was a shameless lie that attempted to blame 
terrorism on marijuana. This kind of ridiculous statement questions not 
just the effectiveness of the government to speak to the nation's youth but 
its moral ability to do so as well. While it would take some time for a 
dollar spent on North American produced marijuana to reach al-Qaeda, it is 
common knowledge that American dollars spent every day on oil and gas, have 
a direct route.

If we are to be concerned with drugs supporting terrorism, we might note 
that the United States, by scattering the Taliban and empowering Afghan 
warlords, has reinvigorated the opium trade. It is a problem the U.S. 
government has, perhaps prudently, chosen to ignore at this time. If any 
drug profits fund terrorism, these would be the ones.

Unless people have stopped getting hooked on heroin and crack, marijuana - 
which has yet to record its first overdose - hardly seems worth all the 
attention. So why all the heavy-handed tactics on such a soft target?

Throughout the country, various states have proposed legislature limiting 
the prohibition of marijuana, most concerning the medical use issue. These 
ads sensationalize the issue in an attempt to discourage intelligent debate 
and to interfere in a state's legislative process.

Now it's nothing new that the federal government is willing to strong-arm 
states into compliance.

However, there is something more sinister about a governmental agency using 
taxpayers' money and questionable material simply to provide for and 
justify its own existence.

A study conducted for the National Institute on Drug Abuse showed the ads 
to have no effect on youth drug use. Even after admitting the lack of 
results, the head of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, John 
Walters, still requested $1.8 billion more from Congress to continue the 

There is certainly an argument to be made that any money spent on this type 
of advertising is a waste, but I don't necessarily have a problem with the 
government offering a little helpful advice now and then. Just make sure 
the info is practical, not politically tainted and, most importantly, honest.

Don't destroy the ad's credibility with groundless claims. Instead, present 
the very real and serious dangers out there. If you're ever on fire, 
remember to stop, drop and roll.

Now there's a public service announcement you can use.
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MAP posted-by: Keith Brilhart