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"There's no way cannabis can do this," says new Quebec campaign

A new Quebec government campaign explains that cannabis will not cause you to grow a frog-like tongue. (Quebec Ministry of Health and Social Services / YouTube)

A new Quebec government campaign explains that cannabis will not cause you to grow a frog-like tongue. (Quebec Ministry of Health and Social Services / YouTube)

Can cannabis transform your tongue into a prehensile reptilian appendage? Of course not, according to a new Quebec government campaign about the health risks of pot use.

But using the drug carries other risks, it warns.

The new campaign is aimed at young Quebecers, a government minister told the Montreal Gazette, and is meant to "to counter the banalization of cannabis and to make our young people more aware of the risks they run when they consume it."

Two 15-second French-language video spots posted on YouTube illustrate Quebec's strategy. In the first ad, two regular-looking teen boys sit on the couch watching TV, a bowl of popcorn on the table in front of them. Suddenly, one teen's tongue shoots out, lizard-like, snagging a piece of popcorn from an impressive distance. His friend is understandably shocked, and looks for an explanation.

Lizard-teen: "It's because I'm smoking pot."

Shocked friend: "Huh."

Voiceover: "It's impossible that cannabis could do this, but you could develop a dependence."

In the next video, two young women walk into an apartment from the cold. One takes off her tuque, revealing that the top half of her scalp has been shaved into a monk-like tonsure.

Tonsure woman: "I took too much pot."

Shocked friend: "Oh."

Voiceover: "It's impossible that cannabis could do this, but before 25 years old, it could harm the development of your brain."

The playful videos take the wrong approach to public-health messaging, said Montreal-based marketing expert Jenn Larry.

"I think that they do the opposite of what they may have been intended to do. I think that because they're playful, because they're silly, I think they ridicule the point of trying to create fear," said Larry, the president of cannabis marketing firm CBD Strategy Group.

"I think that if Quebec wants to create messaging that can influence responsible use and can help people understand that this is now a legal substance, they definitely need to take out some of the humour that they are using to capture the attention of the audience."

Posters from the campaign are now available online, and are similarly silly: hair growing out of ears and eyes; ears growing out of the top of a woman's head; a young man with a deformed, giraffe-like neck — cannabis can't do any of these things, the posters say, but it does pose other risks.

The poster campaign is a throwback to the historical use of exaggerated, cartoonish imagery in anti-substance campaigns, said Rebecca Haines-Saah, an assistant professor of community health sciences at the University of Calgary's Cumming School of Medicine.

She doubts Quebec's new campaign will resonate with its youthful target audience.

"Maybe a nine year old (or) ten year old would see this ad and prompt a discussion, but I think actual teenagers in that fifteen to nineteen (age) category are just going to tune this out," said Haines-Saah.

"They're really not going to care."

The new campaign cost the government of Quebec $1.5 million, according to the Montreal Gazette.


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