FTC Busts Camel’s Hump With RJR in Crosshairs, Ad Restrictions Are Feared

By Nora FitzGerald

WASHINGTON, D.C.–Advertising industry leaders had a mixed reaction last week to the Federal Trade Commission’s decision to take on R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. over ads for Camel cigarettes.

The FTC claims the ads violate federal law because of their alleged appeal to children.

On one hand, the charges may lead to unfair restrictions of commercial speech, ‘lowering the standards to the level of the sandbox,’ according to Association of National Advertisers executive vice president Dan Jaffe.

On the other hand, advertising lobbyists were slightly encouraged because they would prefer the FTC look at tobacco advertising on a case-by-case basis rather than have it banned wholesale by the Food and Drug Administration.

The complaint filed by the FTC over the ‘Joe Camel’ advertising campaign comes more than two years after the commission decided against challenging the Winston-Salem, N.C.-based company. The FTC now claims it has internal documents from RJR that prove the tobacco giant targeted kids. At issue is whether pre-smokers aged 14-18 were linked with Camel in documents that the FTC has subpoenaed.

The fact that RJR is contesting the charges ensures a long legal battle, according to constitutional scholars. The advertising will stay in place at least until legal proceedings begin, and probably until a decision is rendered. Administrative law judge James Timony here will hear the case, scheduled to begin June 24.

Also of concern to the ad industry is the FTC’s order that RJR conduct a public education campaign or some type of corrective advertising. The last time tobacco advertisers were required to air corrective ads was in 1968.

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