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What's That Smell in Here?

May 07, 1994

Is there no limit to the cynicism and gall of the cigarette industry? Now comes the R. J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. with a cute new promotion putting the puckish images of Old Joe Camel and his fellow cartoon dromedaries on "collector's packs" of its Camel cigarettes.

This just two weeks after tobacco executives prevaricated, dodged and slunk before a congressional committee looking into the addiction and disease caused by their product.

This after studies showing that children as young as 6 are familiar with Old Joe, that adolescents are being drawn into smoking at alarming rates and that Camel's share of the youth market has grown since the cartoon advertising began.

The daunting news from the most recent surgeon general's report on smoking and health is that one of every three youngsters in this country uses tobacco by age 18--despite all the warnings about the clear and present dangers of smoking and chewing tobacco.

The Reynolds move is a clever marketing device, one obviously meant to link the product directly to the advertising that uses the rakish and hip cartoon caricatures of animals. The company asserts that the advertising is not aimed at youngsters, that the new cardboard packs are, as a spokeswoman put it, "just a fun thing" for current adult smokers. And it rests on the free-speech guarantees of the First Amendment.

We smell in all this more than just the foul odor of secondhand smoke. As Big Daddy said to Brick in Tennessee Williams' "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof": "What's that smell in this room? Didn't you notice it, Brick? Didn't you notice a powerful and obnoxious odor of mendacity in this room?"

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