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National Institute on Drug Abuse - NIDA NOTES
Research Findings
Volume 16, Number 4 (October 2001)

Television Public Service Announcements Decrease Marijuana Use in Targeted Teens

By Kimberly R. Martin, NIDA NOTES Contributing Writer

NIDA-supported researchers have helped clarify the necessary elements in effective anti-drug public service announcements (PSAs) directed at high-sensation-seeking adolescents.

NIDA researchers have previously shown that high-sensation-seekers–individuals characterized by their need for new, emotionally intense experiences and the willingness to take risks to obtain these experiences–are at greater risk for using marijuana and other drugs and for using them at an earlier age than
other individuals.

Using a prevention approach developed from previous NIDA-supported studies, the researchers produced five anti-marijuana PSAs. The dramatic and attention-getting PSAs were aired during programs that appealed to high-sensation-seekers such as action-oriented television shows. The media placement was supported by paid as well as donated advertising to ensure the most effective outreach to the target audience.

“To appeal to high-sensation-seekers, a PSA must be dramatic, intense, and highly original,” says Dr. Philip Palmgreen, the research team leader at the University of Kentucky in Lexington. “An effective PSA needs to show the negative consequences that can occur as a direct result of drug use. For example, high-sensation-seekers need to see that they can end up in a wheelchair, lose their job, or lose their girlfriend or boyfriend as a result of drug use. We found that the threat of death is not a deterrent because high-sensation-seekers do not believe that death is a real possibility,” he says.

The PSAs were aired from January through April 1997 in Fayette County, Kentucky, and from January through April 1998 in Fayette County and Knox County, Tennessee. One hundred students in 7th through 10th grade were selected each month by random phone calls and asked to participate in the study. The students were interviewed to determine whether they saw the PSAs and their attitudes toward and whether they used marijuana and other drugs. Questions also were asked to determine their degree of sensation-seeking. More than 70 percent of the targeted age groups watched at least three PSAs per week, the researchers say.

Marijuana use declined substantially among teens during the campaigns in both counties and residual effects of the campaigns were evident for several months. According to Dr. Palmgreen, the second campaign in Fayette County had a “booster effect,” resulting in further declines. Overall, marijuana use decreased by 38 percent in Fayette County. In Knox County, marijuana use declined among high-sensation-seeking teens by 26.7 percent.

“We have shown that, for PSAs to be effective, they must be designed for a specific audience and must air frequently during programs watched by that audience,” says Dr. Palmgreen. “PSAs typically are shown during donated airtime. However, the trend toward paid placements of PSAs, as in various campaigns across the country, is a very positive approach.”

Palmgreen, P.; Donohew, L.; Lorch, E.P.; Hoyle, R.; and Stephenson, M.T. Television campaigns and adolescent marijuana use: Tests of sensation seeking targeting. American Journal of Public Health 91(2):292-296, 2001. [Abstract]


NIDA NOTES - Volume 16, Number 4

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