The antidrug advertising campaign just launched by Washington will run into its share of criticism. For some, the ads themselves, with their predictable scare tactics, may be off-putting. For others, convinced the drug war has been lost, the ads will seem a waste of money.
But those arguments miss the point. This ad blitz represents a nationally coordinated, well-funded effort to attack the "demand" problem at its heart - the life-changing decisions made by young teenagers.
There have been ad offensives before, such as the "Just Say No" campaign of the '80s. But when funds dwindled they fell out of prime-time broadcasting. The new ads, aimed at parents who fail to talk with their children about drugs as well as at kids themselves, will be embedded in prime-time TV.
The nation's broadcasters will match with donated time the $2 billion put up by the federal government. Top-flight advertising firms have developed the spots free of charge. The nonprofit Partnership for a Drug-Free America worked closely with the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy to plan the campaign. TV ads will be joined by radio messages, school-based programs, and antidrug sites on the Internet. Drug hot lines will be expanded.
All this will try to alter national thinking and reiterate, as never before, that drug use is a dead end. Will kids listen? Will parents listen? Will the message be overwhlemed by all the other high-volume pitches on TV? Will it reach the impoverished corners of America where the drug trade is most ingrained?
A "yes" to these questions will come as Americans follow up at all levels, from the Oval Office to the class room to the living room to the essential realm of individual thought and prayer. Antidrug ads can help, but only as part of a much larger effort.