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5 Popular Vintage Anti-Drug PSA’s

Nobody wants to see kids doing drugs. However, anti-drug PSA’s don’t always get the message across. As these old-school videos show, good intentions can sometimes get lost in translation.

1. Ninja Turtles

Poor Joey. In this classic 1980s anti-pot PSA, a young drug dealer confronts a young boy named Joey by his locker at school, threatening: “I’ve got some stuff you’ve just got to try.” Luckily for Joey though, the Ninja Turtles arrive on the scene just in time, advising him that drug dealers are “dorks.” It’s not the most convincing argument against marijuana, but at least Joey’s not a “turkey” like his “dorky” drug-dealing friend.

2. Pee-Wee Herman

This 1980s anti-crack PSA is admittedly a little frightening, but there is something about hearing anti-drug advice from a character known for talking to his chair that comes across as suspect. That’s not to say that crack cocaine is a substance to be recommended to kids or anyone else. It’s just that when a well-known television man-child with a red bowtie tells you that “everybody wants to be cool, but doing it with crack is wrong,” it’s a little bit hard to credit. Or stomach.

3. Hanna-Barbera

The famed cartoonist behind the Flintstones, Scooby Doo, Yogi Bear and The Smurfs also tried his hand at an anti-drug PSA. And it didn’t go over nearly as well as his other body of work. Not that the animation itself is not as beautiful as you’d expect—it is. But this under-a-minute clip from the 1970s shows how smoking a joint can lead you to the hellish doors of the netherworld where, you’ll never guess: You transform into a zombie. Sorry, but this is just not a plausible reason to stay away from drugs.

4. Magician

In this bizarre PSA from the 1970s, a magician tries to peddle different drugs to a group of curiously well-informed youngsters. When he pulls a few doses of LSD out of his sleeves, one kid (about six or seven years old) points out the risk of “bad trips and chromosome damage.” The magician responds to the kids’ concerns by telling them to “cool it,” before finally admitting that drugs are dangerous (and, apparently, that’s why they’re called “dope”). Perhaps the most unconvincing part of this PSA is the fact that the magician seems utterly confused when the kids ditch him. This is a dopey video indeed.

5. The Drag

Kids not smoking is great. But this anti-smoking PSA from 1966 seems to completely miss the point of why kids should abstain. Featuring a poppy soundtrack and the artsy animation of Carlos Marchiori, this video’s desire to show the dangers of smoking gets sidetracked by the experimental animation. An insecure teenager looking for a way to be cool discovers that “life is a breeze” after he starts smoking. But when he finds out that the habit causes cancer, he tries to quit. The PSA transforms into a nicotine-addled version of the Yellow Submarine and the message becomes skewed by trippy nightmare images of giant, snake-like cigarettes. Instead of the protagonist dying from a more realistic affliction like lung cancer, the video ends with his stove exploding.

The Drag by Carlos Marchiori, National Film Board of Canada

Related: What Do a Teenager’s Eyes Say About Drug Abuse?