This letter was written by an imaginary physician, Dr. Joseph A. Camel Sr., to his son, Joe, who is in the cigarette advertising business.
Even though you seem to be everywhere at once these days, I can never catch you at home, so I decided to write.
I just read the news about the U.S. surgeon general and the American Medical Association asking magazines, newspapers and billboard companies to refuse your cigarette ads because your message is too seductive to children.
Joe, we have to talk. At least, I have to talk. I feel I must respond to this news as both your father and as a member of the medical profession.
You know in your heart they're right. You knew it when you took the job, but it didn't bother you back then because you needed work, and you never dreamed you would become such a phenomenal advertising success.
Face the truth, Joe. You don't need that job any longer. Now that you're successful -- and very rich -- you owe it to all those people who love you, particularly the kids, to tell the truth. Tell them you don't smoke. And tell them why you don't smoke.
Adults know you're an actor, that you're being paid to have that cigarette always dangling out of your mouth. But the kids don't understand. They think you like cigarettes! They love you, Joe, and they think you're a smoker.
I don't want to be a nag. As your father, I just want to remind you that we come from proud people and from a long and rich heritage. Our forebears supported the wise men as they sought the message of peace and hope for humankind. And now you're supporting a very different kind of message. Please think about that message, Joe, and whether you want to be remembered in future generations for your part of it.
Son, if I had ever written a "Life's Little Instruction Book" for you (and I wish I had!), I would never have recommended that you pose in public places as a smoker. You're not only suggesting that smoking is "cool;" you're implying, by your very actions, that it's safe. Do you know how many people actually die each year from smoking-related ailments? Do you really want that on your conscience?
Joe, what have we come to? Most developed countries protect their young because they know children can't protect themselves. Our children are our future, our most precious resource, as families and as a nation. How can we help them to grow up strong and healthy in body and mind? What do we owe them? What do you owe them, Joe?
One surgeon general's warning states that smoking causes lung cancer, heart disease, emphysema, and may complicate pregnancy. Another states that smoking by pregnant women may result in fetal injury, premature birth and low birth weight.
Think about it, Joe. You've made enough money to last a lifetime, and you're known all over the world. You could get out of the seduction business and into something that could actually help people.
Who knows? You might want to take some of that money and endow a foundation to help teach kids critical thinking skills so they can see through ads, however seductive.
I love you, son, and, like all parents, I want only the best for you, not a world of mirages. It's time to face reality. It's time to tell the truth.
We've had differences through the years, but we've always thrashed about until we came up with what's right for us. Let's get together this week and thrash this one out.
Janice Pugh York writes from Baltimore.