Fed’s Review of White House Ad Campaign Says $1.5 Billion Program Fails To Reduce Teen Drug Use “Thus far there is relatively little evidence for direct effects of the Campaign on youth,” Report Concludes

The Fed’s $1.5 billion anti-drug ad campaign fails to influence teens to refrain from using illegal drugs, particularly marijuana, according to an evaluation by Westat Inc. and the Annenberg Public Policy Center for the U.S. National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA).

“Kids know the difference between honest education and government propaganda,” said NORML Executive Director Keith Stroup. “They acknowledge the reality that marijuana is not the same as heroin, even if their government does not.”

According to the review, teens exposed to the government’s National Youth Anti-Drug Media Campaign are no more likely to refrain from trying drugs because of their exposure. “There [is] no pattern of significant association between exposure and target outcomes for youth,” the report says. “Neither the overall results nor the subgroup analyses show consistent evidence supportive of a direct Campaign effect.”

The report defined the primary objective of the government’s advertising campaign as “reduc[ing] the number of young people who try marijuana.” Since 1997, the campaign has purchased enough advertising time to expose adolescents to an average of 2.7 ads per week, including a pair of controversial 2002 Super Bowl ads costing some $3.4 million. However, the Westat and Annenberg review found “inadequate evidence to support a claim of change in marijuana use thus far.” In fact, the report states that the only significant association attributable to the ad campaign was an increase in marijuana use among 14- to 15-year-olds. The evaluation also found “some evidence” of an increase in marijuana use among suburban 14- to 18-year-olds.

“Despite spending billions in taxpayer’s dollars, it appears the government’s media campaign is having just the opposite effect on America’s teens than the one lawmakers intended,” Stroup said. Authors measured the campaign’s impact on marijuana use by surveying adolescent’s attitudes toward marijuana and evaluating their likelihood to avoid using marijuana if it’s available.

“In summary, thus far there is relatively little evidence for direct effects of the Campaign on youth,” authors concluded. “While there were scattered significant positive results [among 12- to 13-years-olds,] they were balanced by scattered significant negative results [among 14- to 18-year-olds.]”

The report is the third in a series reviewing the government program. The Westat and Annenberg report focused on Phase III of the ad campaign, a period that began in September 1999 and is planned to run at least until the end of this spring.

For more information, please contact either Keith Stroup or Paul Armentano of NORML at (202) 483-5500.