Thursday, August 14, 2014

Colorado Launches "Don't Be a Lab Rat" Youth Marijuana Education Campaign

The State of Colorado, in partnership with the City and County of Denver, today launched a new public education campaign – “Don’t Be a Lab Rat” – targeting youth ages 12-15 with the goal of increasing their awareness of the risks associated with underage marijuana use.

The statewide campaign was funded primarily by grants from the State Attorney General’s Office and a handful of civic-minded organizations, including the Anschutz Foundation and the El Pomar Foundation, with additional support from the City and County of Denver. The campaign was developed by Denver-based Sukle Advertising & Design (Sukle) in conjunction with all of the partners and in consultation with the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE).

The campaign uses the theme “Don’t Be a Lab Rat” to illustrate to kids that if they choose to use marijuana, they are consuming a substance that has effects on teens’ developing brains that are not yet fully understood, and that by doing so they essentially volunteer as the subjects of research about those effects.

“While much still needs to be learned about the effect marijuana has on the brain, enough information is available to cause concern in terms of the negative effects marijuana can have on the developing brains of teenagers,” said Dr. Larry Wolk, CDPHE’s executive director and chief medical officer. “The core premise of the ‘Don’t Be a Lab Rat’ campaign acknowledges that more research is necessary, but it also poses the question of whether or not teens should risk the potential negative effects of using marijuana.”

Specific components of the campaign include:

  • Experiential “Lab Rat Cage” installations in high-foot-traffic areas with messages communicating the potential damage marijuana has on a teen’s brain and the notion that Colorado’s youth are the test subjects for continued observation; locations will include the Denver Skate Park and outside the Central Branch of the Denver Public Library, among others
  • A microsite ( serving as a quick resource providing links to related articles and research and including easy share functionality to social media pages
  • Advertising in movie theaters
  • TV advertising, including Denver’s major broadcast networks, Hispanic TV and cable
  • Installation of a “Lab Rat Cage,” along with on-screen ads at various concerts at Red Rocks Amphitheatre (including Fall Out Boy/Paramore on Aug. 12 and Jack White on Aug. 20)
  • Commercials on YouTube targeted to Colorado teens
  • Installation of the experiential “Lab Rat Cages” at select middle and high schools beginning in mid-September
“From the most recent Healthy Kids Colorado Survey, we know that the percentage of high school kids who think using marijuana poses risks to their health has gone down, which has raised the concern of health experts who worry the normalization of marijuana in Colorado could lead more kids to try it,” said Governor John Hickenlooper. “We have a civic and public health obligation to do everything we can to make our children aware that there are risks for teens when they use marijuana. This campaign is designed to grab the attention of teens and their parents, and provide them with the facts to have an informed discussion and make informed choices.”

“We want to ensure this new industry is making a safe contribution to our city, and that means educating our young people about the possible effects on their development,” said Denver Mayor Michael B. Hancock. “In the way that tobacco prevention campaigns have resulted in decreased use, our goal is to have a similar impact on teen marijuana use in Denver and across Colorado.”

In developing the campaign, Sukle conducted in-depth qualitative research with more than 100 people – youth and experts – across the state. This included 46 teens ranging in age from 12-20, and included a representative mix of gender, ethnicity and socio-economic backgrounds. Sukle also conducted one-on-one interviews with treatment and youth prevention experts, and engaged in careful study of existing research on marijuana’s effects on the developing brain in consultation with CDPHE.

This research revealed that kids and teens are concerned about the possible harmful effects of marijuana on their brains, that they are responsive to facts and honest information about the risks of marijuana use, and that they prefer to have this information so they can be empowered to make informed decisions about marijuana. These findings became the basis for the theme and structure of the campaign. The 12-15 age group was targeted because they were found to be the most persuadable in terms of shaping their attitudes about marijuana. The goal is therefore to reach this age group with accurate information before they are introduced to marijuana by others.