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R.J. Reynolds Uses Names and Images of Cool U.S. Cities To Market Camel Cigarettes to Kids

Statement of Matthew L. Myers, President, Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids
November 13, 2010

Washington, D.C. — Joe Camel may have been put out to pasture, but his spirit lives on in R.J. Reynolds' latest marketing campaign that once again tries to make Camel cigarettes cool, fun and rebellious – and appealing to kids. The new campaign cynically uses the names and images of trendy U.S. destinations, including Seattle, Austin, San Francisco, Las Vegas, New Orleans, and Brooklyn's Williamsburg neighborhood, in an attempt to make Camel cigarettes cool again. RJR has unveiled cigarette pack designs bearing the name of each city on its Camel web site and has told the media that it will sell limited edition cigarette packs with the city names in December and January. (View images from the campaign)

It is deeply disturbing that RJR is using the good name and hard-earned reputation of these great American cities to market deadly and addictive cigarettes, especially in a way that blatantly appeals to children. Certainly the citizens and leaders of these cities do not want to be associated with a product that kills more than 400,000 Americans every year. RJR showed truly shameless disregard for the death and suffering its products cause by calling this campaign a 'celebration' of the locations involved.

This campaign shows that RJR has not changed and continues to have blatant disregard for the health of America's children. We call on RJR to immediately end this marketing campaign and withdraw its plans to introduce the special edition cigarette packs. We also urge state attorneys general to investigate whether this promotion violates the 1998 state tobacco settlement's prohibition on tobacco marketing that targets children. This campaign also underscores the need to step up the implementation of proven measures to reduce tobacco use. These include effective regulation of tobacco products and marketing, including the graphic cigarette warnings unveiled this week by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration; well-funded tobacco prevention and cessation programs nationally and in every state; higher tobacco taxes; and smoke-free workplace laws.

Several weeks ago, RJR launched this new online and direct mail marketing campaign, called the 'Break Free Adventure,' in which the Camel brand 'visits' 10 different U.S. locations over a 10-week period. Visitors to the Camel web site can win prizes by reading a clue and guessing where Camel is that week. Each week, a new package design for Camel cigarettes is unveiled that features the name of that week's location and some of its iconic images. Other locations include Route 66; Bonneville Salt Flats, UT; Sturgis, SD; and Winston-Salem, NC.

The locations involved have several qualities in common, including an association with independent music, fun times, rebellion and freedom of the road. By associating Camel cigarettes with these locations and their trendy reputations, RJR is continuing its longstanding efforts to make the Camel brand appealing to youth. It truly is the Joe Camel campaign all over again. It echoes many of the youth-appealing themes of the Joe Camel campaign, in which the now-banned cartoon camel was often depicted with fast cars and motorcycles or having fun at parties.

The most disturbing part of RJR's campaign is that it shamelessly appropriates the names and images of the locations involved to promote Camel cigarettes in ways that appeal to youth. Here are some examples:

  • In unveiling the 'Camel Seattle' pack, RJR's marketing materials state, 'Home of grunge, a coffee revolution and alternatives who'll probably tell you they're only happy when it rains.'
  • For the 'Camel Williamsburg-Brooklyn' pack: 'Some call it the most famous hipster neighborhood. But it's not about hip. It's about breaking free. It's about last call, a sloppy kiss goodbye and a solo saunter to a rock show in an abandoned building.'
  • For the 'Camel Austin' pack: 'Name a live show that rocked history — we'll put money that Camel was there. So Camel two-steps its way to Texas for a Lone Star taste of that independent spirit and all-access pass to the ‘live music capital of the world.''
  • For the 'Camel Bonneville-Salt Flats' pack: 'This is no backseat adventure. Camel's been at the wheel of some of the fastest driving machines of history. What's faster than a racecar pulverizing the air at over 600 mph? Camel's back with the pedal pulsing and the clutch primed for popping. Buckle up — and break free.'
  • For the 'Camel The Haight-San Francisco' pack: 'The Summer of Love, protests to be civil and a rainbow of counterculture. Whether you started here or put flowers in your hair, grabbed a drum and hitched a ride on a painted minibus, Camel lights up this little piece of San Francisco that pulses with the spirit to evolve, revolve or revolt and follows the force to break free.'

RJR has a long history of trying to make Camel cigarettes appealing to youth, most notoriously with the Joe Camel campaign that ended in 1997. In 2004, RJR introduced candy and fruit-flavored versions of Camel, including one called Kauai Kolada that was condemned by Hawai'i officials as 'disgusting and offensive' for using the Kauai name to market cigarettes. In 2005, state attorneys general forced RJR to end a promotion called 'Drinks On Us' in which the company mailed customers celebrating their birthdays a promotional package of drink coasters, mixed drink recipes and slogans encouraging excessive drinking. In 2007, RJR launched its Camel No. 9 cigarette, which a newspaper dubbed 'Barbie Camel' for its fashion-oriented marketing campaign and promotional giveaways such as lip balm and cell phone jewelry that clearly appealed to girls.