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close this bookPrevention of Drug Abuse through Education and Information: An Interdiscplinary Responsibility Within the Context of Human Development (EC - UNESCO, 1994, 26 p.)
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View the documentPeers as agents of prevention
View the documentFear as a tool of dissuasion
View the documentAffective education

Mass Media

The idea that mass media can exert an influence on consumption of drugs is based on two hypotheses:

1. Increased knowledge leads to transformation of attitudes, which leads to behavioural change;

2. Recourse to mass media is, in itself, an efficient means by which to influence the " knowledge - attitudes - behaviour " chain.

It goes without saying that the expected effect of mass media will only occur insofar as these hypotheses prove true. From the empirical point of view, few elements exist to back them up. Generally speaking, even in the case of carefully prepared campaigns involving considerable resources, for example in advertising, it is rarely possible to prove a measurable influence on behaviour of one or another action. On the other hand, we are constantly surprised by the unwanted and undesirable effects of mass media, such as the influence of television programmes on violent behaviour (Wallak). Leibert and Schwarzenberg, in particular, brought to light the paradoxical fact that mass media was more effective in achieving the undesired than the desired effects. In his pioneering work, Klapper had already demonstrated that mass media play a part in strengthening rather than modifying behaviour and Mendelsohn later concluded that a mountain of scientific evidence demonstrates that conversion occurs rarely and only under the most complex of psychological and communication circumstances.

In the sphere of illicit drugs there are, however, few evaluation studies on the effects of mass media. Kinder had already concluded as early as 1975 that data on the effects of mass media (on alcohol and drug consumption) were largely anecdotal and speculative.

Similarly, Goodstadt writing much later revealed himself to be very sceptical about the efficiency of mass media for the prevention of drug abuse.

The only field where it has been possible to be more or less convincing about the effects of mass media on behaviour is that of the availability of legal drugs, for example, the " Stanford Heart Disease Program ", which was also taken up in part in Northern Europe and in Switzerland (Farquhar et al; Gutzwiller et al). Within the framework of this programme, Stern and his colleagues were able to demonstrate a clear change in eating habits of the population. In this case, the authors combined in their evaluation the use of mass media with an intensive offer of personalized advice, which, of course, limited the validity of the findings of this study. Meter et al highlighted the positive results obtained by the combined use of mass media and personal counselling. It would thus seem that the influence of the media strengthens the effect of other persuasive techniques. Sussman, (quoted by Goodstadt), thus observed that the effect of a programme for the prevention of drug abuse at school is greater when children watch television advertising against drugs with their parents over the same period.

In an early study, Blane is certainly correct when he affirms that attempts to influence consumption of licit drugs through the mass media have not had much success. Robinson at a later date observes, on the other hand, that campaigns against smoking have had a positive effect and Rogers raises similar arguments in respect of contraceptive campaigns. Warner estimates the effects of anti-smoking campaigns by means of a regressive model predicting what the consumption of cigarettes would have been if the anti-smoking campaign had not taken place. He clearly demonstrates that anti-tobacco messages disseminated between 1968 and 1970 resulted in a significant decrease in cigarette smoking. Warner also shows that the relative increase in price of cigarettes between 1964 and 1972 was also a contributory factor. In this respect, it should be stressed that anti-smoking publicity probably played an important role in political decisions to increase taxes on cigarettes. Warner indicated that whilst scattered actions, for example, the publication of the Surgeon General's Report have only a fleeting effect on behaviour, it would seem that anti-smoking publicity of several years duration has a substantial cumulative effect. Without these campaigns, consumption per inhabitant would probably have been higher by 20 to 30 % Warner's findings reveal the important fact that when measuring the effects of media actions to prevent drug consumption it is perhaps inadequate to only consider individual attitudes and behaviour. At that level, in effect, there are few direct effects. More notice should be taken of the possible changes at the level of social clusters when evaluating the effectiveness of media campaigns.

Repeating preventive messages conveyed by the mass media within " local prevention activities " at the level of small daily social interaction of individuals is an effective method of preventing drug abuse.