Since 1944, American families have been subjected to the cartoon image of a bear in a Stetson hat. His large brown eyes and authoritative pointed finger force individual accountability on every person that sees him. His slogan, “Only You Can Prevent Forest Fires,” reinforces his mission: Prevention.
Smokey the Bear is the mascot for the US Forestry Service and perhaps the most widely known prevention campaign in the US. Here at APC, Prevention is always at the heart of every project we undertake, although we tackle a different form of smoking plants.
Much of the coverage surrounding drug addiction emphasizes recovery centers and 12 Step Programs. We enthusiastically support these programs and strive to connect people to those resources; however, we believe there is a better way to stop drug use. The most effective way to stop a problem is to prevent it from ever happening.
The idea is simple: Would you rather prevent the fire or replant the forest?
What is Prevention?
Prevention is any action taken to stop or avert a certain outcome. For the US Forestry Service, Smokey the Bear is just one part of a larger education program to teach people how to interact with nature without accidentally setting it ablaze. APC takes a similar approach, instituting programs that educate and spread awareness of risky behavior.
For example, we implement in-school peer-lead programs that talk to students about the dangers of substance abuse, host educational lunches and dinners for parents, and organize community outreach events like END HEROIN BHAM. We also have a directory to connect people to the resources they need for recovery. The central goal of these programs is to educate people about the risks of drugs and alcohol to prevent individuals from using and abusing those substances.
Why is Prevention So Complex?
Preventing people from using substances is more complicated than “Only You” tactics alone. Individuals have different predispositions that make them more likely to try substances or become dependent on them. Factors that influence a person’s addiction or willingness to try substances include familial or peer pressure, genetics and family history, and previous trauma.
The difficulty arises when trying to target these specific factors. How does an organization make a campaign that fixes years of emotional abuse or overrides genetics? How can a message or program be spread to each household, alleyway, and every space in between? The simple reality is we can’t be there to slap the cigarette out of the hand of each minor tempted to start smoking.
However, an organization can educate the public about the risks of trying drugs. Students can be fortified with leadership programs. Parents can learn the warning signs of a teenager struggling with substance abuse. People with an addiction may find hope for recovery by reducing the stigma.
Like our pal Smokey, we want you to be mindful before lighting that cigarette. He wants the cigarette put out and disposed of properly. We want to educate people so they aren’t tempted to smoke at all. Prevention is a community effort, but there is an element that falls to individual choice. So while we continue to educate and connect, remember that: Only You Can Choose Sobriety.