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U.N. Says Popular Culture Glamorizing Drug Use; Laments Free Speech, Calls for Government Control of Public Expression


March-April 1998

The United Nations' International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) said on February 24 in its annual report that entertainment stars and popular culture were threatening young people by glamorizing the use of illegal drugs. The 75-page report discusses drug problems worldwide, and makes recommendations for anti-drug strategies (United Nations International Narcotics Control Board, "Report of the International Narcotics Control Board For 1997," February 24, 1998; "UN Report Assails Pop Culture as Making Drugs Seem Alluring," International Herald-Tribune, February 25, 1998).

The report states, "By far the greatest influence on many young people in developed countries, as well as in some developing countries, is the promotion or at least the tolerance of recreational drug use and abuse in popular culture, particularly in popular music." At a press conference for the release of the report, INCB chief Hamid Ghodse complained, "The fashion industry coined the term `heroin chic,' and certain pop stars have made statements to the effect that the recreational use of drugs is a normal and acceptable part of a person's lifestyle." [Journalists probably coined the term "heroin chic" according to experts at Merriam Webster, Inc. -- EES] While declining to identify specific stars, he alluded to "a middle-aged member of a rock band who said many of their greatest hits were inspired by cannabis.'' Paul McCartney said in January that marijuana was the impetus for the creative force behind the Beatles' album "Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band."

The INCB's annual report on global drug abuse criticized the decision to award a gold medal at the Winter Olympics to Canadian snowboarder Ross Rebagiliati, who tested positive for marijuana. Ghodse said the decision not to strip Rebagiliati of his medal would serve only to make marijuana more attractive to young people. "The decision signifies that the use of cannabis is acceptable and normal even for a gold medalist and that is sad," said Ghodse (see "Canadian Snowboarder Retains Olympic Gold Medal After Testing Positive For Marijuana," NewsBriefs, February 1998).

The UN anti-drug chief also criticized the news media, saying they should be more responsible about reporting on efforts to legalize drugs. The report states, "It is possible to curb the showing by public broadcasting media ... of favourable images of drug abuse." Such curbing can be done through legislation or voluntary codes of practice, says the report. The governments of countries that are restricted in censoring drug use messages because of freedom of information and freedom of speech "may need to reconsider whether unrestricted access to and the propagation of such information are detrimental to the social and health conditions of their populations." Ghodse urged governments "to abide by their legal and moral obligation and to counteract the pro-drug messages of the youth culture to which young people are increasingly exposed."

Furthermore, the report states, "More information on drugs has been made available to more people than ever before through the Internet. ... There are many different pages on the World Wide Web devoted to the production and manufacture of illicit drugs and there are news groups for exchanging information ... on how to avoid detection, for sharing experiences and for providing support to persons arrested for illegal possession of controlled drugs."

United Nations International Narcotics Control Board - Vienna International Centre, Room E-1313, P.O. Box 500, A-1400 Vienna, AUSTRIA, Tel: (011) (43 1) 21345, Fax: (011) (43 1) 21345-5867/232156, E-Mail: <>. Text of the report is available on-line at <>.