Press Release  | 05/12/2006

New Study Finds White House

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Previous Studies Also Found Ad Campaign to Be Ineffective at Best, Harmful at Worst
Drug Policy Alliance Calls on Congress to Cut the $100 Million a Year Program

A new study appearing in the May issue of Addictive Behaviors finds that 18- to 19-year-old college students who view the White House's anti-marijuana TV ads develop more positive attitudes towards marijuana than those who do not view the ads. The researchers warn that, "exposure to anti-marijuana advertising might not only change young viewer's attitudes to more positive toward the substance, but also might directly increase risk of using marijuana."

Over the last five years, the Bush Administration has wasted hundreds of millions of dollars on anti-marijuana TV and print ads that researchers, drug war critics and taxpayer groups say are ineffective at best and harmful at worse. Numerous studies have found that the controversial ads, which range from comparing marijuana users to terrorists to claiming that marijuana will make you crazy, have had no impact on marijuana use.

"From the start the Bush Administration's ad campaign has been about taxpayer-funded propaganda, not prevention," said Bill Piper, director of national affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance. "Congress needs to eliminate this ineffective program and shift the funding to drug treatment which has been proven to work."

The authors of the study, entitled "Explicit and implicit effects of anti-marijuana and anti-tobacco TV advertisements," speculate that, by using inaccurate and exaggerated fear-based arguments that are not consistent with the prior knowledge of viewers, the government may be creating a "boomerang" effect that enforces attitudes opposite to those intended by the campaign's creators. Previous research came to similar conclusions.

  • Five government evaluations of the media campaign's effectiveness in preventing and reducing drug use have found it ineffective. None have found it effective.
  • A May 2002 study of the program overseen by the National Institute on Drug Abuse found that the media campaign may be backfiring by increasing marijuana use among certain youth, especially teenage girls.
  • A follow-up study in November 2002 found, "there is little evidence the Media Campaign has a direct, favorable effect on youth" and "where there are any effects, those who were more exposed to the Campaign at Round I tended to move more markedly in a 'pro-drug' direction as they aged than those who were less exposed."

Congress has significantly cut the program in the last several years as opposition to it continues to grow.

  • In a 2003 appropriations conference report members of Congress warned, "The conferees are deeply disturbed by the lack of evidence that the National Youth Anti-Drug Media Campaign has had any appreciable impact on youth drug use...;If the campaign continues to fail to demonstrate effectiveness, then the Committee will be compelled to reevaluate the use of taxpayer money to support the Media Campaign."
  • According to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and the President's budget submission for FY2004 (Appendix, p. 1053), "The National Youth Anti-Drug Media Campaign has not demonstrated the results sought, and does not yet have adequate performance measures and related goals."
  • In a bulletin on government waste, Taxpayers for Commonsense urged the U.S. House Government Reform Committee to eliminate the Media Campaign noting, "The White House's Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) has spent more than $1 billion on an anti-drug ad campaign whose only measurable effect has been that the ads may cause some teens to smoke more dope."
  • In an open letter to the U.S. House Government Reform Committee, the National Taxpayers Union urged the Committee to return the amount spent on the Media Campaign every year to taxpayers noting, "It only makes sense that when government spends taxpayer money, taxpayers should see results...;It is our belief that the Media Campaign has not proven itself effective and that it should not be reauthorized."
  • Last year the Republican Study Committee, which is composed of the most conservative Republicans in Congress, called for terminating the program in their "Operation Offset" report. The RSC found that, "There is no solid evidence that media campaigns are effective in either preventing or reducing the use of illegal drugs."

"I don't know what's more outrageous; that our government wastes hundreds of millions of dollars on ineffective ads calling marijuana smokers terrorists, or the fact that the White House ignores study after study that shows that their drug control strategy is misguided and unsuccessful, yet it continues to fund this unproductive ad strategy," Piper said.


Tony Newman at (646) 335-5384 or Bill Piper at (202) 216-0035

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