Nancy Reagan’s ‘Just Say No’ Campaign

PKT4186-304654 RONALD REAGAN  1989 Nancy Reagan at Claridges Hotel in London.

Former first lady Nancy Reagan died today at the age of 94. The Reagan Library said in a statement that the cause of death was “congestive heart failure.”

Nancy Reagan may best be remembered for three words: “Just say no,” the motto of her years-long anti-drug crusade.

“Just Say No” was an advertising campaign for United States “War on Drugs” during the 1980s and early 1990s. The message was designed to discourage children from engaging in illegal recreational drug use by offering various ways of saying no. The scope of the campaign expanded to cover violence and premarital sex in addition to drug use. 

Mrs. Reagan had been concerned about drug use prior to her arrival at the White House, but as first lady she made prevention of youth drug addition her signature cause.

She said the slogan had come from a meeting with children. The Ronald Reagan Library tells the story this way: “A little girl raised her hand,” Mrs. Reagan recalled, “and said, ’Mrs. Reagan, what do you do if somebody offers you drugs?’ And I said, ’Well, you just say no.’ And there it was born.”

The library says that by the end of the Reagan administration in 1989, more than 12,000 “Just Say No” clubs had been formed worldwide.

Nancy Reagan worked with a New York advertising firm to shape the campaign and used popular culture to propel her message. In 1983, she played herself in an episode of the popular sitcom Diff’rent Strokes. Diminutive star Gary Coleman portrayed a reporter for the school newspaper who discovered drugs being sold on campus, and Mrs. Reagan came to the school to offer support for anti-drug efforts.

Another popular kids television show, Punky Brewster, aired an episode about resisting peer pressure to take drugs, and started a partnership with Mrs. Reagan’s “Just Say No” clubs organizing anti-drug “Punky Brewster Marches” at schools around the country.

Michael Jackson got involved to help spread the message, lending his song Beat It to a public service announcement against drunk driving in 1983.  The President and First Lady Reagan presented him with a special award at the White House in 1984.


In 1988, Michael appeared in cartoon form for a special “Just Say No” episode of the Flintstones Kids. The voice of Stone Age Michael, was played by Kipp Lennon.

Sources: USA Today | You Tube |  All Things Michael

All Things Michael sends condolences to the Reagan family. May she rest in God’s eternal peace.

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