Company Says Joe Camel Is Dead, But Has First Amendment Qualms
WASHINGTON, D.C.--The Federal Trade Commission is taking R.J. Reynolds to court next week because the company has refused to sign an FTC order that would bar it from using Joe Camel in its ads.
The order also requires RJR to conduct a 10-year public education campaign to discourage young people from smoking.
It is the first time the government agency has brought a major cigarette marketer to trial over its advertising practices, FTC officials said last week.
The FTC had charged the company with unfair advertising last year, stating that the Joe Camel campaign violates federal law because it appeals to children. RJR has not used "Old Joe" since then.
"The question is whether, as we have alleged, RJR's Joe Camel campaign had a direct and predictable impact on children and adolescents, or whether, as RJR asserts, the campaign had no effect on underage smoking," said C. Lee Peeler, associate director of the FTC's Division of Advertising Practices.
RJR officials said their decision to fight the FTC is not prompted by a desire to resurrect the Joe Camel ad campaign. "Joe Camel is dead," said Nat Walker, RJR's senior director for external relations. "But we think we are being unfairly singled out and we deny that the campaign specifically targeted children. Part of this is a First Amendment issue."
One source who will testify at the trial on RJR's behalf said the company's unwillingness to settle is a result of the broad-based nature of the FTC order. The agency also wants RJR to provide data on sales and market share of each of its brands to smokers under the age of 18.
"It asks for money and it asks RJR to do research among young smokers that they don't want to do," the source said. "It is fairly clear that if the FTC had discovered such research in the Reynolds file, that would be exhibit one."
The case became more important for the FTC after the collapse of the $368.5 billion settlement plan negotiated last year between the tobacco industry and 40 states. There is "no other relief out there," Peeler said.
Fueling the fire is a June presentation at a National Institutes of Health conference which indicated that 2.6 million adolescents inhaled their first puff as a result of the Joe Camel campaign.
The trial, before administrative law judge James Timony, is expected to last four to six weeks.