State AGs ask RJ Reynolds to stop cigarette promo

Published 3:37 pm Friday, December 3, 2010

The National Association of Attorneys General is asking cigarette maker RJ Reynolds Tobacco Co. to stop a promotional campaign for Camel cigarettes that the group says appeals to young people.

In a letter to the nation’s second-largest cigarette maker, the group said Reynolds’ “Break Free Adventure” campaign has substantial youth appeal and may encourage underage tobacco use.

“We are concerned that this advertising campaign is using aspects of popular culture, including independent music, art, motor sports, and ’hip’ or countercultural attitudes, to advertise Camel cigarettes in a way that is appealing to young people’s psychological needs for rebelliousness, sensation-seeking, and risk-taking,” the group said in a Nov. 23 letter. It was written by Nebraska Attorney General Jon Bruning and Arkansas Attorney General Dustin McDaniel, co-chairmen of the group’s tobacco committee.

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The group also cited the 1998 tobacco settlement that prohibits the marketing of tobacco to youth. Those restrictions included a ban on Reynolds’ use of the cartoon character “Joe Camel.”

The campaign highlights 10 destinations including Las Vegas, San Francisco and New Orleans on special cigarette packs being distributed in December and January that feature colorful images of the cities and well-known landmarks. It also includes: Austin, Texas; Seattle; Bonneville Flats, Utah; Sturgis, S.D.; Route 66; Winston-Salem, N.C.; and Brooklyn, N.Y.’s Williamsburg neighborhood. Reynolds had taken the camel off of packages and encouraged smokers to go a special website to find the camel and win prizes.

RJ Reynolds, a subsidiary of Winston-Salem, N.C.-based Reynolds American Inc., has said the campaign targets adult smokers. A phone message seeking comment Wednesday was not immediately returned.

State attorneys general were also joined by various state and local officials in some featured cities in recently demanding that Reynolds stop the campaign.

Washington State Gov. Chris Gregoire said in a statement last week that she was “alarmed and disappointed” by the marketing campaign that “exploits the name and image of Seattle to recruit young smokers.” Some of the special edition cigarette packs feature landmarks in and around Seattle, including the Pike Place Market and Mt. Rainier.

In a letter to Reynolds in early November, New York City Health Commissioner Thomas A. Farley urged the company to stop the promotion, which includes scenes of Brooklyn’s Williamsburg neighborhood.

“Your campaign threatens to undermine our recent gains by misrepresenting an addictive, lethal product as a passport to fun and independence,” Farley wrote. “Promoting the idea that young New Yorkers can ’break free’ and earn ’street cred’ by smoking Camel cigarettes may be effective, but it is wrong.”

Officials in San Francisco and other featured cities also have spoken out against the campaign.