Youth Cannabis Health Campaign Tries Extra Hard to Appear Hip

The "Truth or Nah" campaign is fairly radical for something sponsored by the government; but still falls short of meeting teens where they're at.

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A series of Muni bus ads launched by the San Francisco Department of Public Health tells youth to “ask the right questions” and “demand the right answers” about cannabis. The “Truth or Nah” campaign uses “truth,” “meh,” and “nah” as answers to common weed conundrums, such as “Can using weed mess up your brain?” 

The blatant attempt to relate to teenagers through slang is easy to poke fun at — but it does address some important issues. My first hit of weed was out of a homemade pipe made of a cardboard toilet paper roll and tin foil, smoked in the woods in rural New Mexico. I had no idea what to expect; the only teen-targeted campaign in existence back then was D.A.R.E, First Lady Nancy Reagan’s failed attempt to quell drug use among kids. I coated myself in a perfume sample from a magazine and avoided eye contact with adults for several hours.

In contrast, San Francisco’s city-funded effort to help kids understand the resulting differences between eating and smoking cannabis is admirable — and overdue. According to the Health Department, the campaign was created with the assistance of middle and high school students in S.F.’s public schools. 

“The Health Department has a responsibility to make resources available for young people so they can make well-informed decisions,” says San Francisco Health Officer Dr. Tomas Aragon. “Once they have all the facts, we know they are smart enough to decide what is best for them when it comes to cannabis consumption. We are here to support them.”  

But, it’s still far from perfect. The decision to cite medical studies and point out any remote possibility of harm will undoubtedly turn some kids off. It’s jarring to stumble across blatant science speak into what’s supposed to be a casual, conversational campaign. 

For example, in answer to the question “Using a little weed now can’t really affect my future, right?” the campaign answers “Meh. No one can predict what your future will be. However, research shows that if you start using cannabis before you are 18, or use cannabis regularly, you may be at higher risk for things like unemployment, suspension from sports teams, loss of federal financial aid, or lower grades in school.”

And the question “No one gets addicted to weed, right?” is answered with “Meh. The younger you are when you start, the more likely you are to have these issues. Nearly 1 out of 10 people who use cannabis when they are young have severe health problems resulting from it, including feeling unable to stop.”

The Truth or Nah campaign is a step in the right direction, through the simple fact that it acknowledges that teenagers use weed. Ten years ago, it was hard to believe that there would ever be a government-funded health campaign that discusses pot brownies with kids.

But for San Francisco teens it may be too little, too late. The hidden judgements disguised by science are isolating. Until we start to trust our young people’s abilities to make their own decisions we’ll always be several steps behind. 

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