Anti-Ice Campaign Unlikely to Stop Ice Use

Written by on March 1, 2016

Federal Assistant Minister for Health Fiona Nash responded to new figures from the National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre, showing a significant rise in the number of young people taking methamphetamine (ice). The tired old partisan slinging match came up, as Minister Nash pointed the finger of blame at Labor, “Labor refused to renew the Coalition’s anti-ice advertising campaign in 2009. Ice use tripled between mid-2009 and mid-2013.”

Screen Shot 2016-03-01 at 11.31.13 AM She focused on how other people make choices and offered her bandaid – more anti-drug propaganda.  “To break the ice dealer’s business model, we have to smash demand… I’m proud that we reinstated anti-ice advertising, which Stancombe research found had convinced 51 per cent of at-risk youth who saw the ads to avoid using ice.”

The number of regular users has almost tripled from 90,000 in 2009/2010 to 268,000 in 2013-2014 – NDARC

11295717_878791908847953_2283952662011254193_nUnHarm Director Will Tregoning used to work as an analyst for government advertising campaigns. In September 2015, Will addressed Minister Nash’s evidence for such claims in, ‘They flimsy case for more ice ads‘. He said:

“As we all know, intentions and actual behaviours are different things. But putting that aside, the Minister has implied that the campaign has changed the minds of a whole group people, to the effect that they are now going to avoid using ice. There is no evidence to support that claim.”


Anti-drug advertising and the moral panic that often surrounds a drug when such campaigns are rolled out often have a counter-intuitive effect. They act as advertising for the drug. There is an element of preaching to the converted in anti-drug propaganda. Part of its purpose is to be seen to be doing something, which has very little to do with actually doing something. Being seen to be doing something receives nods of approval from those who already agree with the premise. Those who disagree are likely to still disagree.

The target – Those who are undecided – Could go one of two directions: The propaganda convinces them that the drug in question is no good and they never touch it or; the propaganda intrigues them, leading them to wonder what this drug might be like.

In a 2008 study, participants who were primed with anti-drug PSAs were more curious about using drugs than those that hadn’t seen the PSAs. Wagner and his co-author, S. Shyam Sundar, found that because anti-drug ads made the viewer think more about drugs, it could also lead them to believe drug use is more prevalent than it really is. “These results should be seriously considered, as it has been consistently recognized in psychological research that curiosity is one of the most potent motivational forces for human behavior.” – The Science Of PSAs: Do Anti-Drug Ads Keep Kids Off Drugs? Australian Popular Science

Fear-based campaigns appear to fare the worst, by focusing on stories that are often highly unrealistic and dishonest, putting their target audience offside. Here’s some of Minister Nash and the Coalition Government’s expensive anti-drug propaganda:


This multi-million dollar campaign is part of the National Ice Taskforce’s overall Ice Destroys Lives campaign.

The investment into treatment and harm reduction has been welcomed, but the continuation of anti-drug propaganda campaigns that seek to stigmatise and scare people, rather than educate, inform and connect people to services is a patronising disservice to the community. NDARC’s figures show that there has been an increase in use, especially in the youth age bracket. Much of this coincides with a moral panic around ice use.

We probably won’t get to see if this latest round of tax-payer funded propaganda has been effective, because there have been a number of other positive and pro-active initiatives funded at the same time. The obsession with ‘sending the right message’ won’t go away until paternalist attitudes shift and the people who are actually affected and actually know what’s going on are listened to seriously.

The measure we should be looking at is not overall use. It is the harms caused. Equating overall use (of ANY drug) to harm is an ideological move and must be stomped out.

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