HC Deb 13 July 1988 vol 137 cc284-6W
Mr. David Martin

To ask the Secretary of State for Social Services what action he proposes to take in the light of the report from the Policy Studies Institute about illicit drug use in Portsmouth and Havant, a copy of which has been sent to him; and if he will make a statement.

Mrs. Currie

I have read the Policy Studies Institute report. The findings on the level of illicit drug use among school pupils and its greater incidence among smokers and drinkers are broadly in line with findings from the surveys commissioned by the Department of Health and Social Security, copies of which are in the Library.

The view of the Policy Studies Institute that the school survey suggests that alarmist anti-drug publicity is more likely to attract vulnerable people to drugs than put them off is quite astonishing. It did not ask the school sample any questions at all about the anti-drug advertising. Instead it concludes that, because children who claimed more risky, anti-authority type behaviour were more likely to have tried drugs, anti-drug advertising will not work. In the development of all the Government's campaigns we have been well aware of this risk and have therefore avoided creative executions with which young people could identify. The young man on the poster has not been used since 1986.

The Policy Studies Institute concludes that because most of the heroin users interviewed were critical of the campaign such publicity campaigns are counterproductive for many at risk. However, there is no evidence that it showed any of the advertising material to the drug users that it interviewed. Its sample did not represent the main target groups for the Government advertising. I understand that some 41 users were interviewed; all were hard drug users already heavily involved in drugs (31 were current heroin users, 40 had tried it. Fourteen were current needle users, 38 had used needles in the past). Nearly all were aged 20 or over.

Department of Health and Social Security research among drug users, conducted by Andrew Irving, has been far more extensive than the Policy Studies Institute research. In the most recent study 208 drug users, in five locations, aged between 14 and 24 were interviewed. The Government's anti-heroin campaign was mainly targeted at young people (aged 13 to 20) who might be tempted to try drugs, and surveys suggested that the most recent anti-injecting campaign also had a powerful effect on users.

Tracking by RBL involves regular sampling of about 700 young people. These evaluations show that the campaigns are being widely noticed, that young people are aware of the way in which heroin can damage their health, and relationships with other people, and that resistance to illicit drug use is high.

Whilst drug taking may be associated with under-age smoking and drinking, this does not imply that a combined campaign tracking all three issues would be appropriate. The Government's anti-drug campaign is not an isolated event and is but one element in its health promotion strategy. The HEA runs anti-smoking and anti-drinking educational programmes and so do local health and education authorities including those in Hampshire.

Forward to