Campaigns: Teenagers and the sniff of death - Public Awareness

The solvents abuse campaign launched by the Health Education Authority in June last year followed previous campaigns on the misuse of various drugs.

The solvents abuse campaign launched by the Health Education

Authority in June last year followed previous campaigns on the misuse of

various drugs.

An integrated communications package was developed for the 14 October

launch of the solvents abuse campaign with advertising in magazines

aimed at parents of the ’at risk’ group, and PR targeted at parents and

teenagers through national and youth media.


To spread awareness of the dangers of solvent abuse, promote the

National Drugs Helpline and other resources as a source of information

and support, and encourage parents to talk to their children about the



Prior to launch day the HEA formed links with independent medical

experts and local groups involved with solvents work prepared to speak

on its behalf. Twelve regional case studies were developed and

statistics gathered from St George’s Medical School, the national

authority on solvent-related deaths. Five in-house spokespeople were

selected who could give interviews.

A press release was written with a hard-hitting headline that ’solvents

kill more teenagers than heroin’, supported by death statistics for


The youth PR strategy focused on providing carefully picked case studies

for use in features or on problem pages and promoting a teenage guide to

drugs and solvents, Dmag.

Radio PR specialist the Market Tiers was commissioned to produce a

feature package aimed in particular at small commercial radio stations

and intended as a safety measure in case interest was not as great as


Radio interviews were set up the week before the launch and the Market

Tier’s London studio booked for the launch day. The five in-house

spokespeople were available for interview on the day.

A national press conference was thought to be unnecessary as the media

strategy depended on co-ordinating dozens of people around the


The main PR effort was focused on the launch day, although advertising

will contine until March. Besides this specific push, general news

stories are continually being fed to the media. In early December, for

example, a story about the dangers of mixing substances made national



’The ’more deaths than heroin’ line really captured the media

imagination,’ says HEA drugs campaign press and PR manager, Andy


As well as the expected radio coverage - Radio Four Today Programme,

Radio Five Live, Radio One Newsbeat, BBC World Service and a host of BBC

and commercial local stations. The campaign gained news coverage on ITN,

Sky, Granada, Central News and HTV West News. BBC Midlands showed a

half-hour documentary based around one of the case studies. 999 is also

considering running an item on solvents.

Press coverage was also extensive, including pieces in the Daily

Telegraph, Independent, Daily Mirror, Manchester Evening News,

Birmingham Evening Mail, Western Daily Press and the Brighton Evening

Argus. Coverage was straightforward, with little or no negative


Youth press coverage was equally impressive, including Smash Hits, Big,

Just 17, Mizz, Sugar, Minx, Informa, 19 and Clothes Show Magazine.


Solvents abuse is often overlooked compared to more high profile drugs

abuse, and this campaign succeeded in getting it back in the media

spotlight, if only for the week of the launch.

One of the main reasons for such extensive coverage was undoubtedly the

regional case studies and the success in getting local agencies


The effectiveness of the campaign in human terms is yet to be


However evidencethat the message is getting across is that calls to the

National Drugs Helpline rose from 700-800 per day to 1,000-1,200 per day

during the week of the campaign.

Client: Health Education


PR Team: In-house; freelance consultant Debbie Harris; youth PR

RedRooster; radio PR Market Tiers

Campaign: Risks of Volatile Substance Abuse

Timescale: June to October 1996

Cost: pounds 8,500 (PR)

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