"Let the Anti-drug Ads Continue"

By Cary Tennis

By Salon Staff
Published February 12, 2002 8:07PM (EST)

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Mr. Tennis, I can't do better than Arianna Huffington to refute most of the points you tried to make. I refer you, in particular, to the examples of diamonds and oil. Illegal? No. Still able to provide plenty of money for terrorism? Absolutely. Target of U.S. propaganda? No.

You say that the ads "used powerful rhetorical devices to make a valid moral point." What you neatly avoid is that, without the government's help, the "valid moral point" wouldn't be there to make in the first place. Why do terrorists use drug money? Because drugs are incredibly profitable. Why is that? Because they're illegal and producers can charge whatever the market will bear AND add a premium for the risks of production (arrest, legal fees, etc.).

There are all sorts of other byproducts of the fact that recreational drugs are illegal: the violence you decry, the vast, needless public expense of fighting the drug war and imprisoning its victims.

You could have made these points; you chose, instead, to skim over them and relegate the whole problem to your second-to-last paragraph.

The problem isn't the drugs themselves; the problem is the North American attitude toward them. Most illegal drugs have been around (and were legal, if frowned upon) for millennia. Making them illegal simply made them more attractive and profitable to sell.

-- Wilson Fowlie

These new ads are quite possibly one of the most brilliant pieces of advertising that I have ever seen. Did they make you angry? Did they make you feel bad about drug use? Good, that is exactly what they were designed to do. The point of these ads is not to show how immoral these teenagers are; it's to show them the consequences of their actions. If the terrible events of Sept. 11 can be used to encourage children to stay away from drugs, then why should the government hold back? These ads are not calling drug users terrorists, they are showing them that their actions have the potential to aid terrorists. And that is a pretty effective message.

-- Lorraine Verchot

Cary Tennis is sadly mistaken in his analysis of the new drug war ads. While I applaud his grudging admittance to the culpability of many government decisions in the past, and his call for legalization, his belief that more propaganda will serve a positive purpose in this farce is misplaced.

I work with students every day and have talked to many of them about these ads. They generally thought they were some of the funniest ads in the Super Bowl.

Kids today have grown up their entire lives with government rhetoric and propaganda regarding the drug war, and it is a mistake to think that they are so dumb as to believe any of it. What they have never gotten from our government is the truth. Numerous students have said they wished they knew more about the drugs they were taking, but that kind of talk is forbidden. Now we're spending millions for just more propaganda.

Regarding the morality of purchasing illegal drugs: Again, young people know that the entire burden of moral bankruptcy falls on government drug policies, which are arbitrary and racist, and which make drug dealers, drug warriors and terrorists rich, while taking away financial aid and freedom for young people who make a mistake. The government's had decades to correct its moral mistakes, but has lacked the will because of its greed and fear of political repercussions. And so they meet over three-martini lunches paid for by our taxes to figure out how to spend millions to put the moral blame on a kid who smokes a joint.

The federal budget for the drug war next year (including advertising) is $19.2 billion. With that money, you could put 1.5 million students through a year of college (including tuition, room, board, books and expenses at a state school). You want to affect kids positively? Educate them. Don't insult them.

-- Peter Guither

I am a health educator and support anti-drug advertising, but for prevention to be effective, it must be more than just shocking, hip or timely -- it must also ring true for the target audience. My objection to the ads as described by Cary Tennis (I haven't seen them) is that they strive to make the debatable point that drug users support terrorism, while ignoring the much more plausible statement that every time you fill up your SUV you send money to Saudi Arabia and the financiers of terrorism. Also, Mr. Tennis calls the image of the Marlboro Man with cancer "exaggerated;" I call it honest, accurate and easily understood by young people. Every three days, as many Americans die from tobacco-related diseases as died in the Sept. 11 attacks. I'd call that genocide on a grand scale.

-- Ray Sharp

If the Bush administration were serious about restricting the flow of funding to terrorists, it would not be attacking the drug trade, it would be attacking gas-guzzling SUVs.

We have heard much about how wealthy Saudis are funding al-Qaida and other terrorist activities. This is far more important than revenues from drug trafficking. So the next step should be to inquire where these wealthy Saudis got their money from.

But that would interfere with the oil trade and -- Enron or no Enron -- that is a no-no for the Bush administration.

Instead, we target drugs. And yes, apparently, this rhetoric is for the "children."

How sweet.

-- Duncan Kinder

As an advertising professional who has worked on cause campaigns, and at Ogilvy and Mather Worldwide where the ONDCP ads are produced, I can tell you these ads are not for drug users. They push none of the right buttons, the do not appeal to young people. They are therefore useless, or intended for someone else.

The ads clearly have affected Mr. Tennis. He is a Baby Boomer, and not a current drug user. I believe it is a waste of money making ads for him, as the only goals accomplished would be political ones. My guess is this is the point -- make people like Mr. Tennis, the soccer moms and other key voting demographics link the expensive and floundering drug war to the war on terrorism effort, the same way we are linking the space-based defense system to it.

Ads to prevent drug use have to be effective, or they are simply moralizing. I'm afraid these may serve a darker purpose. Make no mistake about it, though, this is not an effective strategy.

-- James Dowd

Cary Tennis' argument is sound, that as long as illegal drugs are illegal, we should expose kids to the true ugly underside. However, conflating illegal drugs with the war on terrorism is an outrage.

First, I'd imagine that most drug lords would not want to sponsor activities that kill off their clients. That's bad business. It's in their best interests that the world continues to be structured the way it is so that their customer base expands.

Second, if illegal drugs were made legal, the profit margin would drop, and kids would not be supporting such "terrorists" by drug purchase.

Third, and this is what I am personally most outraged about, this ad does not address American activities that actually do support terrorists more directly.

Namely, everyone who buys an SUV supports the insane U.S. dependence on foreign oil. How about an ad that says "I bought an SUV," "My car gets 18 MPG," "Public transportation is for the poor and dirty." No, because that would hit too close to home.

If everyone would buy a car that got at least 30 MPG, we could reduce our reliance on the Middle East. We would be able to support democratic movements there, instead of propping up dictatorships that guarantee our oil supply. With people in the region getting our support instead of our hypocrisy, there would be fewer extremists, fewer terrorists. Why doesn't anyone ask the government why this is not our policy, instead of insisting that we have the right to guzzle away our future and our children's because we're American.

And, here's a radical idea: Let's stop exporting weapons. We're the only superpower left. Let's stop being the playground bully. The only reason we have them is to make money. Sure we should have a strong defense, but it's way too easy for exported weapons to fall into the wrong hands. Oh, but that would mean all the defense contractors would have to find something else to do.

And as for kids and drugs, we should give kids way more credit than we do. If kids saw a world in which they could make a difference, where the government wasn't corrupted beyond repair by broken campaign finance, where companies treated their workers with a care to their future, where life was about creating a better future instead of making a quick buck, and most important, where there were no TV ads telling them that their personality disorders could be fixed by a few pills, maybe, just maybe, they wouldn't be so quick to escape it through drug use.

-- Kathy Tafel

So the new anti-drug ads are supposed to introduce children to the moral and ethical ambiguities of giving money to not-nice people in exchange for things you want? This may work, but unfortunately, children are clever, and they will quickly realize that things you want aren't limited to drugs, and not-nice people aren't limited to terrorists.

By the same argument, your Happy Meal toy is supporting the torture of Tibetan nuns by Chinese government officials, your burger is devastating the rainforest and the ozone layer, your tofu sends money to giant agro-business conglomerates that bankrupt family farms and exploit migrant workers and so on. And this doesn't even count the various bits of ickiness funded by tax dollars--the new anti-drug spots among them.

Besides which, there's the logical conundrum, "If we don't shop, the terrorists win!" versus "If we shop for drugs, the terrorists win!" Drug dealers buy many flashy suits, fancy cars, diamond rings and other high ticket items, and if they have no income, what happens to that sector of the economy? Or would Bush have us believe that all drug money goes to terrorism and none of it goes anywhere else?

-- Kevin Andrew Murphy

Normally, Cary Tennis and I share the same views. Normally, I find him to be logical, witty, and insightful, if somewhat sardonic. I guess we don't live in a normal world any longer. Perhaps Mr. Tennis feels this issue too close to home; perhaps I'm not close enough, but whatever the moral justifications of this propaganda, it's just that. And, Mr. Tennis, you're a fool if you think that this ad campaign is anything more than another attempt for the Bush administration to advance their domestic agenda.

I agree that more should be done to keep kids from using drugs (including alcohol and tobacco), but it should not be done by lying to them. They'll see right through it, unless maybe they're recovering addicts themselves. Mr. Tennis writes, " the extent to which drug selling financed the Sept. 11 attacks is probably small, but why shouldn't the attack on the U.S. be used to remind Americans of the possible connections between drug purchases and terrorism?"

I agree with the first part of his statement, although I would add "or nonexistent," but the second is the worst kind of rhetoric dredged up by the 9/11 attacks. There is little doubt in anyone's mind that the major financier for the attacks was oil selling. Why not public-service spots equating the ownership of an SUV with supporting terrorism? That's not a possible connection, it's a proven one. Why not a soccer mom intoning, "When I drive my Suburban to the mall, I buy a fanatic an AK-47?" Oh yeah, because these ads serve a political agenda, not a social one.

If you're going to lie to them, at least make it good. Tell them that 10 percent of men who freebase have their penis rot off. Show them the results (no problem in today's CGI era). Say that women who do heroin begin having periods that last 3 and a half weeks. Untrue, you say? Mr. Tennis would have you believe the ends justified the means.

So where are the dealers implicit in these ads that sponsor terrorism? The only people I'm aware of who are in the drug trade for some reason other than just making money are governments. But then, governments aren't terrorists, unless they're an enemy of the US, in which case they are. This line of thinking is fraught with much bigger issues of it's own, so I'll abandon that.

Finally, in response to Cary's apparent assertion that the ends justify the means, I agree. Propaganda (or public service announcements) has not stemmed the use of illegal drugs in this country. Oddly enough, it has had some impact on the use of legal drugs here. There's no reason to think that this new wave (the "new" just say no) of rhetoric will have any more impact on the drug use of anyone, and every reason to believe it will help try to advance a seriously questionable Bush agenda. Let's all try to keep our eye on the ball and avoid slipping even further into a totalitarian state that we purport to abhor.

-- Michael Jeffery

Salon Staff

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