Pubdate: Tue, 08 Mar 2016
Source: Chattanooga Times Free Press (TN)
Copyright: 2016 Chattanooga Publishing Company, Inc.
Note: Paper does not publish LTE's outside its circulation area


Former first lady Nancy Reagan hadn't been dead for hours Sunday when 
the knives came out.

Her "Just Say No" to drugs campaign, one left-wing organization said, 
had a "disastrous legacy." Another one opined that the slogan "helped 
America lose the war on drugs."

"The problem was," an article on said, "'just 
saying no' to drugs didn't actually work." Really? It's a simplistic 
statement, to be sure, but, in fact, actually just saying no to drugs 
works every time it is tried. Each time someone refuses an offer of 
drugs makes it easier to just turn down an offer the next time out. 
Eventually, refusing drugs - always the right thing to do - becomes ingrained.

What became Nancy Reagan's campaign began not as some have suggested 
in a high-priced Madison Avenue advertising firm but in the type of 
meeting with children that every first lady has at some point.

"A little girl raised her hand," the first lady recalled, "and said, 
'Mrs. Reagan, what do you do if somebody offers you drugs?' And I 
said, 'Well, you just say no.' And there it was born."

Mrs. Reagan was no idiot. In fact, she is being given credit today as 
President Ronald Reagan's most influential adviser and for help in 
pushing him toward his drive for nuclear weapons agreements with the 
former Soviet Union.

In the genesis of the "Just Say No" campaign, she was trying to give 
a little girl who wouldn't understand the implications of gateway 
drugs or the cost of addiction an answer she could understand.

Prior to her husband becoming president, according to the Ronald 
Reagan Presidential Foundation and Library, Mrs. Reagan was aware of 
the children of her friends - perhaps even her own biological 
children - abusing drugs. Thus, she knew that telling adolescents not 
to do something probably encouraged them to do it.

So "Just Say No," she always maintained, was a precursor to more 
pertinent information about drugs or the drug culture, information 
that would be dispensed on a proper level as children aged.

But it was the right message for situation comedies such as 
"Diff'rent Strokes" and "Punky Brewster," on which she appeared and 
where impressionable younger children might be encountering the issue 
for the first time.

If the first lady of the United States tells me not to do it, the 
hoped-for message was, I won't do it. It's not unlike current first 
lady Michelle Obama's encouragement of children to eat more 
nutritiously. If she tells me I should eat better, I will.

Yet, it had a payoff among adolescents, according to the Reagan 
Foundation. Cocaine use in 1987 - at the height of the "Just Say No" 
campaign - dropped to the lowest level in a decade, and high school 
marijuana use by high school seniors dropped by 7 percent between 
1978 and 1987.

"Just Say No" was never meant to be the last word on drug use. But, 
then and now, every time the n-word - "No" - is used, it works.
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