SALT LAKE CITY — There's a dangerous "new drug" out there, one that you don't ingest through your mouth, nose or veins, but with your eyes — pornography.
At least that's the view of a new Utah-based nonprofit group called Fight the New Drug, which is dedicated to educating youths about the harmful effects of pornography. The group launched its international campaign Tuesday morning.
In a special kickoff breakfast at the Little America Hotel, key Utah officials weighed in on the effort.
"It's pretty bold, and it's certainly visionary," Utah Gov. Gary Herbert said of Fight the New Drug. "What you're doing is significant."
He said he was impressed that this wasn't action taken by government but by concerned citizens.
Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff said this is one of the best new campaigns to fight an ageless problem. Pornography "is an addiction," he stressed, as he pledged a $1,000 contribution to the new group and encouraged everyone to donate to the cause.
However, since mental health professionals have no standard criteria that could diagnose porn as an addiction, there is an ongoing debate on that subject.
For example, Erick Janssen, Ph.D., a researcher at the Kinsey Institute at Indiana University, argued before a U.S. Senate subcommittee a few years ago that talking about porn as an addiction merely describes a certain person's behavior as being addictionlike, but treating them as addicts may not be helpful to them.
At Tuesday's rally, there was little debate about the effects of porn.
"Pornography degrades women," Shurtleff said. "We have to fight back."
Pamela Atkinson, chairwoman of the Utah Coalition Against Pornography, said a schoolteacher recently said that porn has reached the second grade at her school.
"We firmly believe that education is the answer. … It is a drug because it is addictive," Atkinson said.
The group recently unveiled its Web site at www.fightthenewdrug.com.
"Our goal at Fight the New Drug is to decrease the demand for pornography through education," said Clay Olsen, one of the founding members.
"It's not a religious or a moral approach, it's just the facts. We think that once people in our generation know how manipulative and harmful pornography can be, they won't want to have anything to do with it."
Olsen and three friends — Ryan Werner, Cam Lee and Beau Lewis — started worked on establishing the group in 2006. They incorporated in 2008 and received nonprofit status in March 2009.
"Fight the New Drug primarily deals in awareness," Lewis said. "We educate individuals about the facts."
He also stressed the group doesn't want to infringe on the freedom of choice.
"We support the First Amendment," he said.
Their Facebook page now has more than 4,300 members.
The local group has already recruited about 150 members, called "Fighters," in 16 states and two countries, who will help promote the launch. They also want to start new chapters and expand their Web site — especially so it appeals more to youths.
"The new Web site will have video and informational resources for the local Fighters to use as they go out and educate the people within their spheres of influence," said Werner. "We can show through scientific consensus that pornography is addictive like a drug and is cognitively and socially destructive like a drug. We just want people to know the facts."