If You Drop Your Meth Pipe While Driving, Don't Pick It Up Until You Get to a Stoplight


The federal government recently unveiled eight new anti-meth TV ads created by J. Walter Thompson. Three of the ads unintentionally indict the war on drugs by showing how prohibition leads to clandestine, unprofessional drug production that poses risks to consumers (impurities in meth) and bystanders (ammonia fumes). An ad that compares a meth user's heart to a racing engine that eventually breaks down is pretty good propaganda, although the logic of the comparison suggests that the real hazard comes from chronic, long-term use, since car engines don't usually blow the first few times you overwork them.

By contrast, an ad featuring a 911 call from a frantic woman whose meth-using boyfriend has just put his fist through a window is probably too over the top to be credible to anyone who has observed people on meth who are not freaking out. Even more misleading is a caption claiming "law enforcement officials report that meth is their #1 drug problem," which is true only if you don't count alcohol and talk only to cops in areas where meth use is especially common. In Washington, D.C., and New York, for example, law enforcement officials would not say meth is anywhere near their No. 1 drug problem.

Two other spots are a bit puzzling. One shows a girl meticulously plucking one of her eyebrows for about 20 seconds, after which a female voice-over says, "It's amazing what you can accomplish when you're on meth." Since girls have been known to pluck their eyebrows to improve their appearance, and since at the end of the ad it's not clear this girl is doing a bad job of it, I'm not sure what the point is. Are we to assume the girl, under the influence of meth, will continue plucking until she has no eyebrows left? Or is the message that speed freaks (like the pot smokers that populate the government's anti-marijuana ads) do pointless things, instead of putting their time to productive use?

The other head scratcher shows a guy who gets into a crash because he's reaching for his meth pipe on the floor of his car. This is meant metaphorically: As he crashes, we see people nowhere near the scene being knocked around and injured, and at the end the narrator says, "Your meth habit isn't just hurting you. It's hurting your family, your friends, everyone." The wrecked car is your life on drugs, as it were. The metaphor is less laughable than a fried egg but a little too complicated, I think, for a brief anti-drug ad. On the face of it, the government seems to be saying that smoking meth is about as risky as changing CDs, eating a sandwich in the car, or driving with squabbling kids in the back seat.

[Thanks to Bill Piper at the Drug Policy Alliance for the tip.]