By Seth Freedman – Guardian columnist – 5th June 2009.
A simplistic advertising campaign masks the corrosive, corrupting nature of narcotics
Yesterday afternoon, I met Release’s spokeswoman Claudia Rubin outside Old Street station in London. In a perfect piece of vehicular choreography, the first bus to veer past us at the roundabout bore the slogan “Nice People Take Drugs”, the phrase Rubin coined for Release’s latest campaign to kickstart a drug-policy debate.
The advert’s minimalist design was, she told me, inspired by the atheist bus campaign which caused such a stir last year. Release’s version dispenses with pictures or logos, relying instead on bold, orange lettering to convey the four-word mantra to street level. As marketing strategies go, it is a stroke of genius – guaranteed to achieve maximum impact, and luring viewers towards Release’s website to pique their curiosity.
However, the brilliance of the way the message is marketed does not automatically render brilliant the message itself. The intention behind the campaign is to attempt to break the societal taboo on drugs. According to Release, “the public is tired of the artificial representation of drugs in society” – informing passers-by that “nice people take drugs” will help “de-stigmatise drug use”, says Rubin.
Which is all well and good, but the fact that “nice” people have their faults doesn’t mean that their failings should be decriminalised and tolerated by everyone else. Nice people also break the speed limit, download pirated music, and commit any number of apparently minor misdemeanours, but the law isn’t meant to bend to accommodate such immoral behaviour just because a critical mass of people partake in a certain activity.
Defining what makes a nice person is, of course, an utterly subjective matter – as Release knows full well – as is determining at what point a person’s misdeeds turn them from nice to nasty. On one level Release is right: Rubin and I have been friends since we were 12, and the circles in which we mixed would definitely have passed the “nice” test, despite the vast majority of us having done drugs throughout our teenage years.
That we all came, saw and conquered our own mini-addictions and vices without turning to crime or violence is testament to our triumph over temptation, but to pass off our drug use as simply part and parcel of life is to gloss over the darker side of our experiences. Using drugs as an escape route, or a quick fix to our problems, was not a “nice” way to behave. Implying that drug abuse is socially acceptable, as Release are doing via their adverts, is not a noble message to hurl at impressionable children and teenagers who are unable to spot the nuance and meaning behind the stark sloganeering.
To claim, simplistically, that “nice people take drugs” masks the corrosive, corrupting nature of narcotics, as well as the underlying void they fill in users’ lives. The desire to get wasted – to blot out reality and allow substances to numb one’s senses to the present – is a desperate urge, and one which has held vast swaths of society in a vice-like grip since time immemorial. Ridding people of that impulse would do wonders for both their mental and physical health; bowing to so-called public demand and sugar-coating the truth about the dangers of drugs simply passes off as acceptable a wholly insidious behavioural streak.
Release believes that “the current [proscriptive] system has brought us powerful drugs like crack cocaine, skunk, and methamphetamine”, suggesting that the ban on the underlying narcotics has prompted cartels to invent stronger and deadlier variants of the original product. Such a theory is backwards: the demand for more potent strains is what spurs suppliers into action, not the other way round. I smoked skunk with my friends to achieve a deeper and darker haze: the legal status of cannabis was neither here nor there, just as those addicted to high-grade whisky or vodka couldn’t care less whether or not 3% lager is authorised for sale or not.
Addiction is a disease that affects tens of thousands of people in every generation. Allowing greater access to drugs will, as with alcohol and tobacco, only put more vulnerable citizens in temptation’s way – which neither Release nor anyone else should want to happen. Just as speeding laws shouldn’t be changed despite their impact on those drivers able to safely handle a car at 100mph, so too must drugs remain illegal to prevent risking the lives of the majority of the population.
Of the four words in Release’s advert, two leave too much open to interpretation: “nice” and “drugs”. “Good people smoke crack” would be a far more blunt and direct way to make the same point, but whether their message would be so blithely tolerated by the advertising authorities or the public is another matter – highlighting the essential error of drugs campaigning in the first place.
Source: Guardian.co.uk 5th June 2009Seth Freedman is a writer living in Jerusalem. He grew up in Hampstead Garden Suburb and worked as a stockbroker in the City for six years, before moving to Israel. Seth Freedman has written articles published in The Guardian and The Times – 81 articles published in 14 news websites since April 2008. No email address known for Seth Freedman.
Comment by NDPA:
The publicity provoked by the ‘Bus Slogan’ campaign by Release talks of ‘opening the drug debate’. This debate has been on-going for at least thirty years – and every time those who want to legalise drugs, or change the existing laws, lose the argument. They lie low for a few months. Then up they rise like a phoenix and declare ‘we must have a debate about drugs’. What they actually mean is ‘we must keep on debating about drugs until we get the answer we want’. Release and others of that ilk persistently turn a blind eye to the fact that the vast majority of the public (in the UK and worldwide) do not use illegal drugs themselves and they do not want their families impacted by the use of drugs by others. Drugs are unhealthy, unlawful, antisocial and unnecessary. Nice policies don’t accept drugs.