Watch out, Mickey, Minnie and Donald. Old Joe, the cigarette spokes-camel, could be a threat to your star status.
According to a new study published today in the Journal of the American Medical Association, Old Joe, the cartoon character featured in ads for Camel cigarettes, was as recognizable to children as the Mickey Mouse symbol featured in the Disney Channel logo.
Several major health associations -- including the American Cancer Society, American Heart Association and American Lung Association -- also asked the Federal Trade Commission yesterday to immediately ban advertising featuring a cartoon character that studies show may be boosting cigarette sales to children.
The phone study, which surveyed 24,000 adults and 5,000 teens in California, is the latest grenade to be lobbed by anti-smoking activists, who say it establishes a strong link between advertising and child smoking.
As part of the study, 229 children, ages 3 to 6, were asked to match pictures of 22 logos to the products they represented. Ninety-one percent of 6-year-olds correctly identified the Old Joe character, almost exactly as many as were able to identify the Mickey Mouse logo of the Disney Channel. Even among 3-year-olds, 30 percent identified the Camel cigarette character.
Authors of the study say that tobacco advertising and promotion should be banned to protect youth.
"It's clear that the tobacco industry went completely overboard by introducing the cartoon character Old Joe," said John Pierce of the University of California, who wrote one of the studies.
The journal's editor, George D. Lundberg, said the studies provide important ammunition for health advocates to get Congress to ban the advertising and promotion of tobacco products in all forms. "We didn't have the data before, nearly as much. Now we have them," he said.
Cigarette makers deny they are targeting children and say that brand recognition does not mean children are buying the cigarettes.
"Whenever a young person smokes, it is the cigarette manufacturers that are blamed -- not the parents, peers or lifestyle of the young person," R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., the marketer of Camel, said in a prepared statement.