With frequent teenage marijuana users estimated at one in six, Los Angeles is spending $2 million on a social media campaign to educate youngsters about the dangers of weed.
The outreach campaign is called Bigger Choices and by employing innovative initiatives like rap videos, the LA County’s Public Health Department is making direct contact with their target audience on platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, Snapshot and Twitter.
The health department’s director, Barbara Ferrer, says the end-goal is to arm teenagers with enough information about cannabis-use for them to be able to make informed choices. Using teenagers as role models, the message being relayed in the videos acts as a warning: “You can’t use your brain if you’re always getting high”.
Health Department’s Smart Choices
Smart choices were made by the health department in its Bigger Choices campaign. They cast teenagers from Florida’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland to reach their target audience. These youngsters were selected because students at the school put gun violence under the spotlight in a recent nationwide protest. Videos featuring rap music, discussion groups and celebrities who talk openly about the dangers of using weed form the core of the campaign.
Students featured in the videos include:
- Lily – a 17-year-old who appeals to her fellow students not to crumble under peer pressure to experiment with cannabis, urging them to think about their future.
- Sophia – another 17-year-old who thinks that most teenagers are unaware that marijuana has harmful after-affects. She pleads with students to steer clear of marijuana while at school if they want to improve their chances of success after graduating.
- Elijah Gonzalez – this 18-year-old was one of the campaign team members who suggested that the Better Choicesvideos include anti-weed messages in the form of rap music.
Where You Can Access Bigger Choices
Apart from the social media platforms, videos from the campaign can also be viewed on www.LetsTalkCannabisLACounty,com and https://kroq.radio.com/teen-cannabis. There is also a series of videos featuring LA teenagers talking to Dr Drew Pinksy, a local media celebrity. These can be obtained from Entercom radio stations which include KROQ at https://kroq.radio.com/teen-cannabis.
Another innovation of the Bigger Choices campaign is the use of teenage celebrity icons, DJ Young and Savannah, who host roundtable discussions as part of aiHeart Media and public health department partnership. The campaign will continue until the end of November and is expected to attract 30 million viewings.
The legalization of marijuana for recreational use by adults 21 years and olderhas forced changes in the law and is steadily altering public opinion as more and more states move to decriminalizing weed. This has forced local government to introduce campaigns to educate the youth about drugs and at this time the emphasis is on marijuana.
Following in LA’s Footsteps
Taking a leaf out of LA’s trend-setting book are Oregon, Washington, and Washington, D.C. that have also launched similar social media campaigns. Hot on their trail is Denver which will introduce an anti-marijuana campaign this coming summer.
The success of the campaign hinges on the fact that by using teenagers to address fellow-students should prove far more effective than if that message was relayed by adults, according to LA County’s Supervisor, Kathryn Barger. Barger believes that no one is better equipped to handle the campaign than the teenagers themselves who are directly involved with the complexities of their age group in today’s world.
This is echoed by Lily (mentioned earlier) who points out that social media sites are far more important to teenagers today than watching television. She says the voices of teenagers reaching out to their fellow-students are far more powerful because teenagers will listen to and take advice from their peers more readily that from adults.
Adverse Effects of Marijuana Use
According to the campaign, adverse health effects of cannabis use at a young age include:
- Impaired thought processes
- Impaired memory
- Impaired learning abilities
However, research has yet to establish whether the adverse effects of using marijuana at a young age are permanent. Meanwhile, LA’s Department of Public Health spends $1 billion annually to protect and improve the health of its 10 million residents. The funds are spread across various programs and community services, including:
- Environmental health
- Disease Control
- Community and family health projects
Only time will tell just how successful the Bigger Choices campaign will be in reducing the one out of six statistic of teenagers who use weed. However, one thing is for sure. LA is attempting to get straight into the hearts and minds of its teenagers by launching an innovative campaign to ensure that these youngsters are given Bigger Choices when it comes down to deciding whether or not to use marijuana.