Bob Denniston to Head Media Campaign

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WASHINGTON (AdAge.com) -- Following last week's announcement that the director of its youth anti-drug campaign was resigning at year-end, the White House drug office today said it has decided to replace Alan Levitt immediately.

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The Office of National Drug Control Policy

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last week had named Deputy Director Bob Denniston acting director to succeed Mr. Levitt, who has been with the campaign since it started six years ago and was to continue running the program until his departure. But today the drug office said Mr. Denniston would take over immediately.

"In apportioning duties and responsibility, it became obvious that it would be clearer and cleaner for everybody if Bob was given authority sooner rather than later," said Tom Riley, a drug office spokesman.

Meanwhile, the drug office is conducting a search for a permanent director.

One of Mr. Denniston responsibilities will be to decide whether to renew the advertising contract currently held by WPP Group's Ogilvy & Mather next September. Drug office officials said last week no decision has been made regarding the contract.

Increasing challenges
Mr. Denniston's appointment comes as the drug office faces increasing challenges from Congress, which is debating cutting funds for the media program, and lawmakers and advocacy groups looking to have anti-alcohol and -tobacco messages become part of the anti-drug campaign.

Last week U.S. Rep. Frank Wolf, R-Va., head of a House Appropriations Committee panel, joined Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard, D-Calif., in writing drug czar John P. Walters to urge him that some of the money for the ad campaign go to alcohol-related messages.

"Alcohol is a drug and it is being abused by children," their letter said.

Recent studies
Citing a recommendation in a recent report from the National Academy of Science for a national campaign warning parents about the dangers of underage alcohol use, the two congressmen also asked Mr. Walters to take on the task of creating the campaign.

Today, Cheryl G. Healton, president-CEO of the American Legacy Foundation, the foundation set up by state attorneys general to fund anti-tobacco advertising, asked that some of the drug money go to fund her group's "Truth" campaign.

Citing a new study that claims teens who smoke cigarettes also smoke marijuana, Ms. Healton said using the foundation's anti-tobacco ads would have the effect of also reducing marijuana use.

"The report we are issuing today calls upon [the drug office] and the Partnership for a Drug-free America to disseminate 'Truth' anti-tobacco messages as part of an overall strategy to reduce drug use about teenagers," she said.

She also noted the tobacco company money that funded her foundation's ad campaign has mostly ceased.

Using matching ads
Mr. Riley, the drug office spokesman, said the drug office already uses some of the matching ads it receives for its media buys for anti-tobacco messages.

"Right now we would be very cautions about taking subtracting space and taking on extra responsibilities that might dilute the anti-drug messages," he said.

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