THE MASS MEDIA AND DRUG ABUSE PREVENTION
The Anti-Drug Authority,
in coordination with the
Ministry of Education, Culture and Sport
Since the Israel Anti-Drugs Authority (ADA) was founded in 1989 it has used the mass media to fight against the spread of drug abuse by awakening the public to awareness of its dangers. But it has not done so without checking afterwards, by means of independent surveys, that the publicizing effort has been effectively registered by the target audiences. As a result, the ADA has a sequence of attitude and response surveys, from 1989 to 1994*, that can be used to measure
(a) trends over that period in the attitudes, and to some extent in the behavior, of Israeli youth and adults (ages 12 to 40+) in the matter of drugs and drug use, and
(b) the influence of mass media publicity on public thinking and actions.
The Publicity and the Surveys
Since 1989, there has been a twice-yearly ‘day of broadcasts’ on radio and television in late June, to coincide with International Anti Drug Abuse Day, and in December. Each day of broadcasts was immediately followed up by evaluation research (an independent research agency conducted a telephone survey of the target audiences) to assess the effect of the broadcasts. In 1989, 1990, 1991 and in the Winter of 1993-94, ADA ran a five-week publicity campaign by press, radio, television and posters. Reaction was gauged by three surveys, before, during and a month after.
In two of the four years, 1991 and 1994, the target population (youths, aged 12-18) was the same and the publicity went out on radio and all television channels. The following analysis will, therefore, concentrate on the findings of the surveys in those two years and bring in the results of the two earlier years where they are pertinent and comparable.
The Use of Drugs
Consistently in 1991 and 1994, the large majority of the youths denied any personal experience with drugs, 99% labelling the use of drugs "harmful or very harmful". Only 1-2% expressed willingness to try drugs if they were offered.
In 1990 and 1991, about 55% of youths believed that the use of drugs had a positive side as a source of pleasure and relaxation from anxieties, and in the 1994 pre-campaign survey the percentage thinking so was the same, but after the 5-week campaign it had fallen to 38%.
In this context, it is noteworthy that in 1991 television viewing as against radio listening was associated with a more Positive view of drugs as a source of pleasure, both among the youngest age group, the 12-13 year-olds and the oldest, the 16+. That viewers so young should so perceive drugs is of the greatest importance for planning the strategy of the fight against drug use.
The most effective deterrents are the fears of damage to brain functioning and consequent deterioration. Less threatening was rejection by society and moderately deterrent were decline in educational ability, impairment of sexual performance and the loss of any chance of getting into an elite Israel Defence Forces unit.
Over the five years, and most markedly after the 1994 campaign, there was a steady rise in the proportion of youths accepting that drug abuse endangered one’s freedom, in all senses of the word. This is explained by the key slogan of that campaign which was "Drugs Endanger Your Freedom".
Exposure to the Media
In 1991, 64% said that they had seen or heard something of the broadcasts on television or radio compared to 47% in 1990. This was presumably because, in the second year, more broadcasts had been screened, especially on Educational Television. In 1994, 80% of survey respondents had caught at least something of the publicity campaign on one of the media.
The numbers of people who watched and heard the broadcasts that formed part of the publicity campaign were no different to the numbers that watched and heard regular broadcasts. All those who had seen or heard something of the broadcasts were more extreme in their opposition to drugs than those who had caught nothing.
In 1991, the television programs were deemed by more respondents to be very, very helpful" or "very helpful" in understanding the war on drugs than the radio broadcasts. Both the radio and television broadcasts were evaluated as most positive by more of the youths who took in both media than by those who heard only radio or saw only television.
As with television viewer ratings, so the amount of time spent listening to the radio varies with the readiness to take part in local anti-drug activity. However, unlike television viewing ratings, the variation in time spent listening to the radio is associated with approval of such activity. Those who listened more, expressed more willingness to participate in such activity than those who listened to the radio very little or not at all.
Higher Risk Groups v. Lower Risk Groups
In 1991, the groups at higher risk of using drugs the older youth and those not in any educational setting displayed uniformly different results to the rest of the respondents. They considered the damage caused by hashish less and even thought it a source of pleasure and were less willing to take part in local anti-drug activity. On the other hand, they estimated higher the damage caused by hard drugs.
Although, overall, far more youths watch television than listen to the radio, to catch the age groups most vulnerable to drug use, radio cannot be ignored since, as age rises, so the proportion who watch only television drops and the proportion who only listen to the radio rises slightly. Moreover, far fewer youths who have left all educational settings watched only television. So it seems that radio remains an effective way to catch those not in the educational system.
Two somewhat disconcerting findings are:
* In 1991, about half of the youth who had left all educational settings, both the employed and the unemployed, saw and heard nothing of the broadcasts on either medium, as opposed to 28% of those who were still in the educational system.
* The older the respondent, (within the youth group) the smaller is the percentage that admit to the influence of any form of publicity on their thinking about drugs.
As against these findings, more of those, of all age groups, who had caught something of the 1994 campaign thought that drug use was "very harmful" than of those who had not registered its presence at all.
The Cumulative Effect and Long-Term Effect of Publicity
ADA finds in the results of the sequence of surveys evidence for both these hoped-for effects. Regarding the first, the more the respondents had heard or seen of anti-drug abuse publicity, the more negative were their attitudes to the practice. Regarding the second, the survey that followed up the 1994 campaign discovered that the campaign had not only reminded respondents of other contemporary anti-drugs slogans not in the campaign but had recalled slogans from the past that had gone out of use. Six months after exposure to the campaign, those who remembered the broadcasts continued to oppose the use of drugs more than those who were surveyed before the broadcasts began and those who had caught nothing of the broadcasts. This is further evidence for the long-term effects of mass media on the target audience.
The overall results of the surveys convince the ADA that the continued publicity has not "awakened dogs that were better left lying" but, on the contrary, has helped raise the level of public awareness of the harm done by drugs and stimulated the willingness to do something against the spread of the abuse, such as participation in local community anti-drugs activities. The Authority draws encouragement from the cumulative survey findings and is determined to pursue its publicizing efforts.