The Washington Health Department has decided to pull a billboard intended to reduce marijuana use among Hispanic teens after a social media backlash. The sign features a number of smiling Hispanic teens along with the words: “We don't need pot to have fun. We're Hispanics...We're cool by default.” But the billboard began to attract negative social media comments, with many calling it racist, and others calling it lame.
The billboard went up in the town of Yakima, as part of a Washington Health Department campaign called #Listen2YourSelfie, an outreach project attempting to educate teens about the effects of underage marijuana use. The state's Healthy Youth Survey found that 20% of Hispanic 10th graders reported using cannabis, compared to 16% of non-Hispanic white students, prompting health department officials to respond with targeted PSAs.
In response to the criticism, health department officials announced they would be removing the sign early. “It’s distracting really from our ability to do what we intended — which was to try to reach youth with messages that would resonate with them,” Health Department spokeswoman Julie Graham said. “It was due to come down Friday anyway.”
The billboard was “not designed to be racist at all,” said Anna Marie Dufault, who was involved with creating the message. “When the kids were asked what it felt like to be Hispanic in this community, they all felt like they . . . were being judged harshly by the color of their skin,” she said. State officials said they created the sign in an attempt to invoke feelings of community pride in Hispanic teens.
Local Yakima teens criticized the ad, arguing that a simple presentation of facts about cannabis would be more effective. “I understand that it’s targeted toward Latino youth, but at the same time, I feel like it’s implying that we’re the only ones who smoke weed,” said 16-year-old Yakima resident Kate Pizano. “I think I’d just laugh if I was driving down the street and saw it.”