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Pontifications on Poison

Being some ramblings on events associated with poisonous plants.

Monday 28th January 2013

I think most people have their hobby horses; topics they return to time and again because they seem to be important but no-one seems to see that importance. For me, this would be a condition I describe as intellectual incest.

The best way to illustrate what I mean by that term is to look at the infamous affair of the British Airways tailfins. The BBC faux obituary1 is a good way to understand the issue if you are not familiar with it. BA decided to remove the Union Flag from its aircraft and, at a time when it was cutting staff to save money, decided to make a big fuss about the cost of the change.

Everyone involved with the project thought it was a really good idea and was shocked at the ridicule heaped on the airline by, well, just about everyone really. And that’s what I mean by ‘intellectual incest’. Everyone involved in the new livery was thinking the same way. It needed someone from outside to say ‘You are the British ‘flag carrier’ and you intend to drop the flag and brag about how much money you are spending to do so. Are you mad?’

Why bring this up now and here? Because the UK Home Office has demonstrated exactly the same sort of intellectual incest with its new advertising campaign for its ‘Talk to FRANK’ website. 

Before going any further let’s have a bit of full disclosure. I’m a 61-year old white male and I have never taken any illegal substance. I was a teenager in the ‘60s when it all kicked off but I didn’t go to dances, as they were still called, I didn’t even read ‘Melody Maker’ or ‘NME’ never mind the ‘hip’ newcomers to the publishing world who were selling the lifestyle as well as the music. If I hadn’t been inclined to be lazy, I’d qualify as a nerd but, if there were such a term, I’d describe myself as an ‘undernerd’.

Even so, dear UK Home Office;


The Home Office has proudly announced its new advertising campaign2 and published a YouTube video3 telling the story of how the adverts came to be developed.

It is worth looking at some of the things the Home Office says about this campaign;

‘A new advertising campaign to remind young people to talk to FRANK for factual and trustworthy drugs advice’

I suppose saying a leg of lamb is not a Cannabis sativa, marijuana, cigarette is factual but it is far from being helpful.

‘The adverts are designed to highlight the confusion many young people feel when it comes to drugs and to point them to FRANK for the facts.’

I wonder where the Home Office finds these ‘many young people’ who are confused? I suspect the Home Office would say it has used focus groups to reach that conclusion but does anyone really think that a Home Office focus group would contain anything other than the current generation of undernerds who would never consider taking drugs of any sort?

So far, so laughable but then it gets serious;

‘Home Office Crime Prevention Minister Jeremy Browne said: 'Distorted information from their peers and popular culture can lead young people to feel confused about drugs and the risks they pose.’’

Does he really believe that ridiculous information from a government website will turn young people away from the advice of their peers? Research a few years ago showed that young people are far more likely to follow advice from peers than anywhere else. That means any adult has an uphill task to deliver drugs education. Making that education farcical is only seen as helpful by those enclosed in the circle of intellectual incest responsible for these adverts.

Browne goes on to say;

‘'We know FRANK works, 67 per cent of young people say they would use it if they needed drugs advice.'’

Look carefully at the second part of that sentence and you will see it does not justify the first. Recent figures for lifetime prevalence show that 38% of 16-24 year olds have ever used an illegal drug and 17% of 11-15 year olds. So, that 67% could be just about completely composed of people who have never taken an illegal drug.

And ‘they would use it if they needed drugs advice’ could mean they don’t need drugs advice because they don’t use drugs or they don’t need drugs advice because they know what drugs to take and how to take them.

The Home Office press release even makes it clear that Browne’s 67% figure is nonsense because it says;

‘FRANK's existence has also coincided with a sustained fall in drug use among young people, from 28.3 per cent of 16 to 24 year olds claiming to have taken drugs in 2003/04 (when FRANK was created) to 19.3 per cent in 2011/12.’

Note, that 19.3% is last year prevalence not the lifetime 38% I used to show that supporters of FRANK could come almost entirely from non-users.

The Home Office idea of being ‘factual and trustworthy’ seems to be to claim credit for FRANK for a fall in illegal drug use without having any evidence to support that claim and whilst completely ignoring the rise in New Psychoactive Substances (NPS) that aren’t monitored by the prevalence surveys but do seem to be the choice of many young people.

The thing about intellectual incest is that no-one realises it is going on. Thus, anyone involved with this pathetic campaign reading this will dismiss me as someone who 'doesn't understand'.

Telling lies about drugs is the perfect way to increase the harms they do. Spending money on a spectacularly stupid advertising campaign because the closed-loop thinking within the Home Office and Talk to Frank was not penetrated by someone saying ‘Are you crazy?’ is worse than that.


1. R.I.P. British Airways' funky tailfins BBC 11th May 2001
2. New FRANK adverts mark tenth anniversary Home Office 28th January 2013
3. Talk to FRANK campaign – making the adverts YouTube 25th January 2013


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