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Above the Influence Campaign Helps Reduce Teen Marijuana Use

New research shows that the federal anti-drug campaign “Above the Influence” seems to have reduced teenage marijuana use. In a study of more than 3,000 students from 20 communities in the United States, the researchers found that by the end of 8th grade, 12 percent of those who didn’t see the campaign started smoking marijuana compared to 8 percent of students who were familiar with the campaign.

The researchers said this is the first independent study to find evidence of the effectiveness of the campaign, which started in 2005 with funds of nearly $200 million per year.

Michael Slater, principal investigator of the latest study and professor of communication at Ohio State University, said that this evidence is exciting because the preceding campaign, “My Anti-Drug,” showed no evidence of success. Slater added that the “Above the Influence” campaign seems to appeal to teens who want to be independent and self-sufficient. For example, one television ad in the campaign states that “getting messed up is just another way of leaving yourself behind.”

Slater said that campaigns that don’t address this but only look at the dangers of drug use may not be effective with teens. Many teens aren’t afraid to take risks, and consider the risks of marijuana use to be small, he added, nothing that just emphasizing the already-known risks of marijuana use likely won’t reach teens who are more likely to experiment with drugs.

Slater explained that the study was originally going to look at the effectiveness of a very similar anti-drug campaign called “Be Under Your Own Influence,” which was developed a year before “Above the Influence” by study co-author Kathleen Kelly, a professor of marketing at Colorado State University. This campaign involved in-school media and promotional materials that were combined with community-based efforts, and emphasized that drug use can keep teens from achieving their goals and being independent.

Members of the research team presented preliminary results to the Office of National Drug Control Policy at Partnership for a Drug-Free America about the effectiveness of the first campaign about two years before “Above the Influence” was launched. The researchers did not have any direct input into developing “Above the Influence,” which uses a similar approach of targeting teens who want to be self-sufficient.

A 2006 study of “Be Under Your Own Influence” found that it reduced the number of students who started using marijuana and alcohol over two years by about half, compared to students who weren’t exposed to the campaign. The most recent study was designed to replicate the previous findings. Schools throughout the 20 communities received a combination of all, some, or none of the “Be Under Your Own Influence” materials.

When the study began in 2005, the researchers surveyed 3,236 students who were around 12 years old. The students were surveyed four times, starting in 7th grade and ending about a year and a half later. When this study began, the researchers were unaware that the Office of National Drug Control Policy was planning to launch its own “Above the Influence” campaign. When they learned of the new campaign, they asked students about their familiarity with the federal campaign during the second through fourth surveys.

The researchers found that “Above the Influence” seemed to reach many students, as about 79 percent said they had seen the ads. Slater said that the wide exposure to the national campaign took over the more locally focused campaign, and they didn’t see any independent effects for “Be Under Your Own Influence.”

They found that it was mostly the message of “Above the Influence” that helped reduce marijuana use among teens, not the fact that it was a national campaign, Slater said. In the 2005 study, the researchers found that “Be Under Your Own Influence” showed strong effects locally, regardless of the national “My Anti-Drug” campaign.

Slater concludes that “Above the Influence” has been more successful than its predecessor in reducing teen marijuana abuse. Teens who had seen the “Above the Influence” ads were more likely to say that marijuana use was inconsistent with being independent and that it would interfere with their aspirations and goals than those who didn’t see the ads. Slater says this suggests that the teens picked up on the campaign’s message.

Source: Science Daily, National Anti-Drug Campaign in US Succeeds in Lowering Marijuana Use, Study Suggests, February 22, 2011
 

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