Popular West Coast fast food chain, Jack in the Box, has always been known for their funny, edgy commercials, but prevention advocates and parents in San Diego County say a recent TV ad is anything but funny. Community leaders are outraged because the ad depicts a young person behind the wheel apparently high on marijuana.
The commercial opens with a long-haired college-age youth pulling up in his van in the drive-thru lane at a Jack in the Box. In a daze, he attempts to decide what to order when the "Jack" bobble-head on his dashboard begins to talk to him. The teen asks Jack how many tacos he should order. Jack replies "How about thirty?" The guy, who is clearly high, smiles and says "That's just what I was thinkin'!"
"We were outraged by this because the ad not only shows a guy that looks like he's stoned, it depicts a young person who looks underage driving under the influence of drugs," explained Victoria Carlborg, spokesperson for the Tri-City Prevention Collaborative, a coalition of drug abuse prevention specialists in San Diego and CADCA member. "The commercial sends the message that it's okay and normal to drive under the influence."
According to 2005 California Healthy Kids Survey, more teens smoke marijuana than cigarettes in San Diego County. Coalition experts say that commercials glamorizing marijuana use like the Jack in the Box ad just add fuel to the fire.
The ad was widely criticized among San Diego County community leaders and lawmakers. Well-known blogger Nedra Weinreich, noted on her "Spare Change" blog that she was surprised the commercial had not been pulled. "What really got to me is not just that the main character is portrayed as under the influence of drugs, but that he's driving in that condition, as if it's normal and acceptable," she writes. "Now, I'm sure that Jack in the Box is one of the late-night venues of choice for potheads with the munchies, but this is the first mainstream commercial I've seen that so glaringly markets specifically to this target audience."
Experts point to the numerous studies that show that smoking pot affects concentration, perception, coordination and reaction time, many of the skills required for safe driving - and these effects can last up to 24 hours. A study highlighted in New Scientist found that cannabis almost doubles the risk of fatal car crashes and that stoned drivers were almost twice as likely to be involved in a fatal car crashes than abstemious drivers, according to a study of 10,748 fatal car crashes in France between 2001 and 2003.
Last year, San Diego coalition executives met with Jack in the Box executives, which resulted in Jack in the Box pulling the ad. However, the commercial resurfaced around Superbowl time. To address this, earlier this year teen activists from all over San Diego County attempted to meet with Jack in the Box CEO Linda A. Lang to discuss the chain's national "stoner" commercial. Youth submitted colorful protest "postcards" to Ms. Lang and her staff, signed by more than 3,000 individuals in the community in protest of the commercials.
Now, the Tri-City Prevention Collaborative, youth coalition advocates and county leaders are asking Jack in the Box to adopt a corporate policy that requires advertising and marketing practices to be more socially responsible, yet still entertaining.
"We would like to partner with Jack in the Box to develop, adopt, and make public a more socially responsible policy guiding future nationwide advertising decisions that will not target our youth with messages that trivialize drug use, nor glamorize drug use as humorous and entertaining," Carlborg said. "Our collective goal is to reduce the problems associated with the use of marijuana, especially by youth, by changing community norms and perception of its harm."
In a statement, Jack in the Box responded that: "Our commercials are intended to present information about our products in a fun and entertaining way...Unfortunately, some individuals perceive the ad in a negative light, but that certainly was never our intention."
Coalition leaders say that while they haven't seen the ad air in the last month, they would like some guarantee that this won't happen again. "We don't want to hurt their business, we just want to partner with them on creating a socially responsible policy. One commercial may not make somebody use drugs, but when you see something over and over again, it does become like a mantra that says that it's okay to smoke marijuana and drive impaired. It really can have a powerful impact on young minds," Carlborg noted.
Jack in the Box has 2,062 locations in 17 states. If you or someone in your coalition has seen this ad air in your community, please let CADCA know by e-mailing Natalia Martinez Duncan at firstname.lastname@example.org.