Coalitions in Action—North Coastal Prevention Coalition Spreads the Word that “Smoking is not Coping”

“The North Coastal Prevention Coalition (NCPC) has been around since 1993 and works to reduce the harm of alcohol, tobacco, marijuana and other drugs in the cities of Carlsbad, Oceanside, and Vista through community action, education, support and collaboration.  NCPC has really been trying to include and focus on marijuana prevention efforts since 2002,” said Program Manager, Erica Leary. “California was the first state to approve medical marijuana in 1996, so it’s always been an issue for us, especially with getting prevention messaging to youth.  We started a 4/20 Remix event in 2005, when one of our alternative high schools had an on-campus drug treatment program and they noticed that their students would relapse on April 20, so we started partnering with them on an alternative activity to showcase healthy choices on that day. Our events started at school sites originally for a few years and in 2008 we partnered with our local family center, Boomers.  The PSA component was added in 2013. That year, 4/20 fell on a Saturday so we wanted to figure out a supplementary option to an in-person event, since we knew attendance on a weekend would be low.  We worked with county representatives to spread the word about the PSA contest, so we engaged sectors from the Carlsbad, Oceanside and Vista communities. It received a lot of positive recognition in the community and local media so we’ve been doing some version of the PSA contest ever since.”

“With COVID-19 being so prominent in all of our lives, there was a focus this year on mental health and the increase of vaping so the PSA campaign was structured around the theme ‘Smoking is not Coping’. “

“Ever since I started working with the coalition – it’s almost been 3 years now - we have faced challenges with billboards and advertisements by marijuana companies, and with marijuana shops being considered an essential business during COVID, I think it has given kids the wrong impression on how marijuana treats depression and anxiety,” said Media Specialist Riane Fletcher.  “In fact, recent studies have shown that marijuana use actually makes depression and anxiety worse. This is another reason why we made this year’s campaign focus around “Smoking is not Coping” so that it helps our youth understand the risks associated with marijuana use.”

“The winners all provided a comment on what inspired and lead them to create these videos, so that was really impactful as well,” said Leary.  “Being in prevention now for over 25 years, this really confirmed to me that our youth know what’s going on.  The youth connect marijuana use among their peers to memories of those friends early on in their lives and how many of the things they were interested in doing were no longer part of their thoughts due to marijuana use. Our PSA campaign also includes youth who have tried marijuana in the past and who can speak about it from a first-person perspective on how their lives and mental health were negatively impacted.  This offers a great perspective about the risks of marijuana use among youth.”

“Winners receive cash prizes from our coalition,” said Fletcher.  “If we were not living in a socially-distanced world now due to COVID, we would present them with their prizes in front of school representatives and other members of the community. In addition, the San Diego District Attorney’s office co-sponsored this year’s campaign, and they mailed out certificates to the winners, which is a great thing for the youth to include on their college applications and resumes.  In addition, we also partnered with San Marcos Prevention Coalition, to help spread awareness about the campaign.”

“For those coalitions that are looking to initiate a similar campaign in their community, I would recommend starting early with getting the community sectors and members involved.  We have champions for the cause as well. We have a teacher who incorporated this campaign into her classroom curriculum, which really helped us get more entries.  Engage school districts, teachers and youth-serving organizations, like the Boys and Girls Club, to raise awareness and participation on your youth-focused campaigns.”

“If coalitions want to consider doing something similar to this campaign, I think it is good to route people towards what your intended goal is.  We implemented trainings with our youth to teach them what a PSA is, how to make an impactful one and what file formats to use.  We work with middle-school and high-school students, so its good to give everyone a level playing ground when entering a contest like this.”

“We have also done a better job of putting parameters around the contest,” said Leary. “Initially, it started off as being pretty broad, but over the years we learned what worked and what didn’t, and also what our youth were skilled at, in terms of creativity, so that helped us sculpt the framework of the contest to where it is today.  We also encouraged our youth to create short videos, as most people’s attention span these days are shorter when watching something.”

“Given that marijuana is becoming a bigger problem with youth in our country, I don’t see us stopping this effort. This campaign has been a good avenue to able to reach people we otherwise would not have been able to reach. Even if they do not become long-term coalitions members, campaigns like this are a good way to expose new audiences to prevention and the work our coalition does.”