White House targets teens with $100m anti-pot push

WASHINGTON - The White House Office of National Drug Control Policy will invest nearly $100m (£65m) over the next year to convince 14- to 16-year-olds not to smoke marijuana.

The ambitious effort seeks not just to deliver an anti-marijuana message, but to effect comprehensive change in a young teenager's environment, countering what ONDCP officials call an increasingly pro-drug culture. Schools, youth-orientated publications, parents, and even popular TV shows and movies are being recruited for the initiative.

"Look at the environment of these kids," said ONDCP director Alan Levitt. "Turn on the TV or go to the movies, and you see all kinds of drug humour or actual drug use that trivialises or normalises the use of marijuana."

Influences such as these, Levitt claimed, coupled with a lax attitude by parents, have led to a dangerous environment of marijuana acceptance among young teenagers.

In order to turn the tide, the ONDCP and its agency of record, Fleishman-Hillard, have launched the multi-front National Youth Anti-Drug Media Campaign. Much of the nearly $100m price tag is devoted to advertising, but media relations and grassroots initiatives lie at the heart of the effort.

The ONDCP has been briefing film and TV writers on the issue over the past two months.

Writers have long been able to visit Drugstory.org, a site maintained by the ONDCP, to learn more about drug issues, to contact experts, and hear first-hand accounts. The site has been refitted with anti-marijuana content to facilitate the drive.

So far, schools in eight major cities have participated in "Wake-Up Call" rallies in which students stage a '60s-style march, complete with picket signs and giant alarm clocks, encouraging parents to "Wake up and talk to their kids" about marijuana.

Levitt also estimated that journalists in "about a dozen" cities in the US have received ONDCP briefings on the issue since October -- a pace he looks to maintain throughout 2003.

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