Newsbrief: Singapore's First-Ever Cocaine Bust Prompts Ad Campaign Aimed at Elite 2/25/05

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Officials in Singapore are targeting the rich and the powerful in an anti-drug media campaign after more than a dozen members of the puritanical city-state's glitterati were rounded up in a cocaine bust in October -- the first in Singapore history. The campaign will feature ads in next month's issues of two upscale magazines, Singapore Tatler and The Peak, the Straits Times reported Monday.

The campaign is part of a larger Partnership for a Drug-Free Singapore media campaign sponsored by the city's anti-drug agency, the Central Narcotics Bureau, and the National Council Against Drug Abuse. But unlike the current anti-drug media campaign, which targets lower-class drug use through shock and scare tactics, the elite version attempts to get Singapore yuppies to question whether they can control their drug use: "I Can Stop Taking Cocaine Any Time I Want," reads the headline in the new print ad. But the text of the ad warns, "The More You Use It, The More You Crave It."

The anti-cocaine ad was courtesy of Crush advertising agency, whose creative director, Frank Young, told the Times readers of Tatler and The Peak "were not ordinary addicts," and would not be reached by ads in the current campaign, which typically feature youths behind bars. "It would not work on readers of Tatler and The Peak," he said. "Tatler and Peak readers are often rich and powerful, people who think they are always in control, so the advertisement challenges them to think whether they can control cocaine if they mess around with it. Subconsciously, they already know the answer. It's a definite 'no' and this makes the advertisement more effective."

The October bust went down when Central Narcotics Bureau agents nailed cocaine dealer Guiga Lyes Ben Laroussi and then went after his client list, which leaned heavily toward the well-connected. Among those swept up in the wake of Laroussi, were stock broker Dinesh Singh Bhatia; French chef Francois Fabien Mermilliod; former banker Andrew William Veale; his girlfriend, Penelope Pang Su Yin, daughter of veteran beauty pageant organiser Errol Pang; and Sri Lankan painter Jeremy Mahen Chanmugam.

Ironically, former Tatler editor Nigel Simmonds, another of the 14 Singapore jet-setters caught up in the high-profile bust, will view the new ads from the inside of a prison cell. In December, he became the first to be convicted on charges related to the bust. He was sentenced to two years in prison after being found guilty of three charges: possession of a half-gram of methamphetamine, consumption of methamphetamine, and consumption of cocaine.

The October bust netted a total of slightly more than two ounces of cocaine, and Singapore officials deny that the drug is becoming a presence on the local scene. It was "an isolated case," said CNB deputy director S. Vijakumar at a press briefing last week. "The drug amount seized was 60 grams and was consumed within a close-knit group."

But the ad campaign would suggest Singapore officialdom is worried about drug use among the jet set. But when queried on that topic by the Times, CNB spokesperson Dawn Sim would say only: "The ads are intended to widen our reach and help address potential drug abusers on the dangers and harm of abusing drugs, as well as how drugs can ruin their lives, careers and cause untold pain to their families."

Speaking of pain to families, Simmonds' Japanese wife and four-month-old daughter have been deported while he serves his prison sentence because they now have no source of income in Singapore.

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Issue #376 -- 2/25/05

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