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Reynolds CEO Pines for the “Old Days” – Does She Miss Joe Camel?

June 29, 2015

When the Reynolds American tobacco company recently completed its purchase of Lorillard, Reynolds CEO Susan Cameron touted the deal as a return to the “old days” for the tobacco industry.

When it comes to Big Tobacco, the “old days” were a time when youth smoking rates were skyrocketing, the industry used cartoons and cowboys to target kids, and tobacco executives denied that smoking was addictive or caused disease.

Still Focused on Cigarettes

Cameron’s comment shows Reynolds has not changed despite the company’s claims that it is “transforming tobacco” and wants to be part of the solution to the problem. In fact, Reynolds’ purchase of Lorillard shows the company is as focused as ever on selling more cigarettes, which kill nearly half a million Americans every year. As Cameron put it, “And of course the deal will give us increased scale in cigarette volume.”

Reynolds’ main goal in purchasing Lorillard was to gain ownership of Newport cigarettes, the best-selling menthol brand. Reynolds now owns two of the three most popular cigarette brands among youth smokers – Newport and Camel.

Reynolds also owns the fast-growing Natural American Spirit cigarette brand (made by the company’s Santa Fe Natural Tobacco subsidiary). American Spirit sales nearly doubled from 2010 to 2014, even as overall cigarette sales steadily declined. The sales increase has been driven by misleading marketing full of claims such as “100% additive-free,” “natural,” “organic” and “eco-friendly” that imply American Spirit is a safer cigarette.

The Bad Old Days

So what would it be like if Reynolds American returned to the “old days?” It doesn’t take long to discover the company’s long history of marketing to kids and deceiving the public. Here are a few of the worst examples.

They marketed to kids with a cartoon character, Joe Camel.

From 1988 to 1997, Reynolds targeted kids with the hip Joe Camel, which boosted Camel’s market share among youth smokers. Joe Camel became nearly as recognizable to six-year-olds as Mickey Mouse.

Joe’s successor was dubbed “Barbie Camel” for luring teen girls.

In 2007, Reynolds faced another outcry when it introduced Camel No. 9 cigarettes with a fashion-focused ad campaign that targeted teen girls and young women. One member of Congress called it “the pink version of Joe Camel” while a newspaper labeled it “Barbie Camel.”

A Reynolds document called young people “replacement smokers.”

Tobacco industry documents unearthed during litigation are full of damning quotes that exposed the industry’s long history of marketing to kids. One of the most notorious is a 1984 Reynolds document that called young people “the only source of replacement smokers” for those who die or quit.

A Reynolds marketing plan for gay and homeless people was called “Project SCUM.”

SCUM stood for “subculture urban marketing.” The mid-1990s marketing plan, discovered during litigation, was aimed at gay and homeless people in San Francisco.

Reynolds’ chief executive testified before Congress that nicotine is not addictive.

At a landmark Congressional hearing on April 14, 1994, Reynolds’ CEO was among the seven tobacco executives who testified under oath that nicotine is not addictive. The hearing was a turning point in the fight against tobacco and helped expose the tobacco industry’s deception to the American public.

A federal judge found Reynolds guilty of violating civil racketeering laws.

In 2006, U.S. District Judge Gladys Kessler found Reynolds, Lorillard and other major tobacco companies had violated civil racketeering laws by deceiving the public about the health risks of smoking and their marketing to children. Judge Kessler found the companies “marketed and sold their lethal products with zeal, with deception, with a single-minded focus on their financial success, and without regard for the human tragedy or social costs that success exacted.”

Unfortunately, Reynolds’ misdeeds didn’t end in the old days, but continue today. Ads in youth-oriented magazines continue to portray Camel and Newport as fun and glamorous. Advertising for American Spirit continues to mislead the public. And Reynolds continues to do everything it can to fight proven strategies to reduce tobacco use.

Their hankering for the “old days” – and not their claims of transforming tobacco – reveals the real Reynolds American.