Surgeon general asks Camel's camel to butt out

March 10, 1992|By Frederic M. Biddle | Frederic M. Biddle,Boston Globe

Old Joe Camel, the R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. "smooth character," should hit the desert trail because his message is too seductive to children, the surgeon general and the American Medical Association said yesterday.

Surgeon General Antonia Novello's invitation to cramp the style of Old Joe, who shoots pool, plays Las Vegas and woos women with a Camel in his snout, raised the stakes of a public relations battle over the marketing of tobacco and alcohol products. Ms. Novello's status as surgeon general -- and her notification yesterday of the Federal Trade Commission of her concern -- also raised a First Amendment issue.

"To suggest to retailers that they not use certain kinds of advertising material has a chilling effect and is a violation of the First Amendment," said Robert Peck, counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union. Ms. Novello and the AMA yesterday asked magazines, newspapers and billboard companies to refuse Camel ads featuring the cartoon character.

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