Ministers reject soft line on drugs

Click to follow
The Independent Online
A "softly-softly" approach to tackling drugs was ruled out by health ministers yesterday, following reports that a new pounds 15m campaign will acknowledge that some young people have "good experiences" while taking them.

Previous campaigns have used shock tactics featuring ravaged teenagers with scarred arms, slumped over syringes. John Bowis, a junior health minister, insisted that the theme of any government campaign would continue to be that both hard and soft drugs wreck lives.

He said: "We will not be changing our line which is that it is wrong and dangerous to take drugs. Of course we want to educate people into what is the reality of drugs and that may be where the confusion arises.

"As someone who has seen drug addicts time and time again round the country trying to climb out of that deep hole, there is no way the Government would be saying anything other than that drugs are dangerous, drugs can wreck your life, they can wreck your health, your career, your school career, your family your friendships."

He said the campaign being planned by the Health Education Authority for presentation to ministers in the autumn, would educate people about the "reality of drugs". This is in line with the views of many drug workers who argue that honesty about drugs is essential for effective health education.

Announcing that the HEA would spearhead the three-year campaign, Dave Arnold, head of the authority's new drugs team, said last month: "There will definitely be no shock tactics in this campaign. Our aim is to give straightforward, honest information to young people and those who influence them - parents in particular. We must enable young people to make informed decisions about resisting drugs."

A spokeswoman for the HEA said yesterday that the proposed campaign was in the early stages but it would not "advocate, condone or glamorise" drug taking. There are plans for the campaign to utilise the Internet to reach as wide an audience as possible, according to advertising agency Duckworth, Finn, Grubb and Waters.

Latest figures show the number of hard-drug addicts has risen by 20 per cent, to 34,000 in a year, while the number of cannabis users doubled over 10 years to 4 million.

A survey by the University of Manchester last month found three-quarters of teenagers had been offered drugs and half had used them. It said drugs such as cannabis and ecstasy were an integral part of modern youth culture.

Ian Clements, director of the Early Break Project, a drugs education initiative in Lancashire, said: "If we tell [young people] that every drug they use may kill them, then they know that isn't true. They see their friends using them. If a drug doesn't cause any [health problems] then we should say so."