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Anti-Marijuana Crusade Targets Hispanic Teens
by ADRIAN SAINZ
April 15, 2004
MIAMI -- Concern over rising drug use among Hispanic youths has led to a national media campaign that asks parents to get more involved in the lives of children at risk of using marijuana and other illegal substances.
Federal drug czar John Walters, joined Wednesday by Florida first lady Columba Bush, said the message was targeted at marijuana use among young Hispanics, specifically eighth-graders, who are facing "the most crucial time in their lives."
"We know that parents are the most important influence in preventing youth drug use. These new ads demonstrate effective strategies for raising drug-free teens," said Walters, who also praised workers at a drug prevention center in Little Havana.
Anti-drug advocates and law enforcement officials are concerned with the most recent statistics, which show that Hispanic eighth-graders now have the highest use rates of most illegal drugs, including marijuana, cocaine and heroin -- above all other racial or ethnic groups.
Also, one in 10 Hispanics ages 12-17 report using illicit drugs in the past month, according to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health. Some factors that contribute to the rising numbers include a higher poverty rate and less education, as statistics show that more than two in five Hispanics who are 25 or older have not graduated from high school.
Walters said it was important to focus on marijuana because of its accessibility and the growing numbers of youths who are being treated for problems stemming from its use.
"It's a particularly dangerous time to start," he said. "The younger young people start, the more likely they are to have a tendency to have longer term problems."
Walters said marijuana has increased in potency in the past decades because of home growing methods. He also said higher-potency marijuana is being smuggled from Canada.
"Canada is exporting to us the crack of marijuana, and it is a dangerous problem," he said.
The 30-second Spanish television ads will run in major Hispanic markets, including Texas, New York, Florida, California and other states bordering Mexico. Walters' office is issuing a bilingual booklet in Hispanic communities and offers more information on a Web site.
Both commercials have an eighth-grader speaking directly into the camera, asking a parent questions such as "Do you know what I did yesterday after school?", "Do you know where I'll be while you're at work?" and "Do you know that someone offered me marijuana yesterday?"
The announcer then says, "If you can't answer these questions, your child could be at risk of using marijuana and other drugs."
Research shows that while Hispanic parents recognize the nation's youth drug problem, a significant number doesn't believe their children could begin using drugs. Also, a recent study showed that more than two-thirds of Hispanic teens see great risk in upsetting their parents -- and more than half see great risk of losing the respect of family and friends -- if they smoke marijuana.
"The ads aim to overcome this resistance by reminding parents that most kids sooner or later are faced with the choice of whether or not to use drugs," Walters said.
Bush pointed out 2000 Census figures that show Hispanics are the country's youngest, largest and fastest growing ethnic population, and said reaching parents is an important first step in preventing future drug use.
"Reaching Hispanic audiences is not only about communicating in Spanish, its about communicating culturally with a message," Bush said. "Familia (family) is a strong force in protecting our children."