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A Hole in Antidrug Ads

The White House recently launched a new series of antidrug television ads - to predictable criticism. The spots will only add to young people's appetite for this "forbidden fruit," said skeptics.

That may sell America's teenagers short. While some of the ads use time-worn fear tactics, and others might seem stagy and loud to adult audiences, they're all part of a bigger societal message: that the use of addictive drugs is neither smart nor cool. It's self-destructive behavior, and millions of teens understand that.

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Other messages in American culture contradict that one - not least the continued glorification of drug use in some movies and pop music. But the louder and more consistent the antidrug theme, the better.

Which brings to mind another line of criticism, voiced most recently by Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D) of New Jersey. The senator wanted the federal antidrug ad campaign to include alcohol, which, he noted, destroys more young lives than marijuana, cocaine, "speed," or heroin combined. He sponsored legislation to bring this about.

The beer and liquor lobbies on Capitol Hill quickly sprang into action, and Mr. Lautenberg's efforts were thwarted, for now. But there's a logic in the senator's bill that ought to prevail eventually.

Alcohol is at least as destructive as tobacco. Yet the same Congress that gives the Food and Drug Administration $34 million to combat youth smoking doesn't raise an eyebrow at TV beer ads aimed at young audiences. Both alcohol and tobacco are recognized as "gateways" to other, illegal drugs. The illogic of decrying the use of the latter while allowing the unchallenged promotion of one of the former ought to be obvious.

No, we're not angling for a return to Prohibition. But we are appealing for consistency in these matters. Alcohol richly deserves inclusion with other substances that warrant government-sponsored warnings. We hope Lautenberg keeps at it.

(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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