The National Association of Attorneys General is trying to snuff out the latest edgy marketing campaign for Camel cigarettes.
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 camel-cigarettes-promotional-campaign 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.
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., says the campaign targets adult smokers.
Spokeswoman Maura Payne said the company responded to the group’s letter on Wednesday and said it would be happy to meet with the group, but it does not believe that the direct-marketing promotion violates its obligation under the 1998 tobacco settlement.
The promotion is “clearly very adult and very limited,” Payne said.
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.”
Ever since Reynolds agreed to participate in the landmark 1998 Master Settlement Agreement that restricted its advertising options, the company has tried to walk a fine line in marketing to young adults. Those campaigns include its Camel No. 9 style and Camel Artist Packs.
The group said in the letter that it targets campaigns that use “art, music and fashion in a way that resulted in an unacceptably high level of exposure of Reynolds’ products to youth.”
In December 2007, Reynolds voluntarily stopped promotions for a Camel campaign aimed at adult listeners of independent, or“indie,” rock music.
That decision came a day after Reynolds was sued by nine state attorneys general — not including North Carolina — over ads for Camel cigarettes that ran in Rolling Stone magazine. The magazine ran four pages of Camel ads as bookends to five pages about indie rock music that had cartoon images.
“We understand Reynolds’ position is that it is not targeting youth in this Camel promotion, but instead is directing it to consumers of legal smoking age,” the group said.
“It is important for Reynolds to realize, however, that although the promotion may be of interest to adult smokers … it may encourage the initiation of tobacco use in minors.”