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1994-05-31: FTC Clears Joe Camel

1994-05-31: the FTC votes 3-2 not to file a complaint that the R.J. Reynolds "Joe Camel" advertising campaign encourages children to buy cigarettes. Two commissioners issued strongly dissenting opinions.

"Although it may seem intuitive to some that the Joe Camel advertising campaign would lead more children to smoke or lead children to smoke more, the evidence to support that intuition is not there," a commission statement said.

Commissioners Mary L. Azcuenaga, Deborah Owen and Roscoe Starek III voted against taking any further action. Dennis Yao and Chairwoman Janet Steiger issued strongly dissenting statemtents:

"I have reason to believe that the Camel campaign induced underage people to start smoking and that proceedings against such ads would be in the interest of the public," Steiger said.

Yao said, "There is evidence that the carton character has appeal to minors and that Camel has increased its market share among minors. There is also evidence that the decade-and-a-half decrease in smoking among minors has slowed down in the time since the Joe Camel campaign began."

The FTC's province was to determine not if the ads encouraged kids to smoke, but whether the ads encouraged kids to do something illegal--_buy_ cigarettes.

The Commissioners were forced to act under pressure from attorneys general of 27 states (who urged a ban in Sept. of 1993), the Surgeon General Antonia Novello, and the entire FTC staff (in August of 1993) urging them to ban Joe Camel.

The FTC seemed unwilling to address First Amendment legal issues that are, in the words of one observer, "on the periphery of settled law . . . I think it's an ugly baby that showed up on their doorstep. They don't know what to do with it."

While the decision was pending--with 2 Commissioners having already voted to ban, and the others hanging fire--another observer, Art Amolsch, publisher of the newsletter FTC:Watch, said, "It is a volatile issue, and I have a feeling there are some commissioners who would prefer not to vote, not to go on the record on this."

Had the FTC voted against the campaign, the matter would then have been turned over to an Administrative law judge, leading to a case that probably would have dragged on for years.

Fred Danzig, editor of the trade weekly Advertising Age, said, "We long ago called for RJR to kill the campaign on their own . . . Whether they're right or wrong is hardly the issue anymore because the public perception is that RJR is trying to lure kids to cigarette smoking simply by using a cartoon character."

Some issues that keep the pot stirring:

In 1991, 3 years into the campaign, over half of 3-6 year olds recognized Joe Camel, more than recognized Mickey Mouse or Ronald McDonald. 91% of six-year-olds match


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