The camels are coming!

March 18, 1994|By John Brain

JOE Camel is in the news again. They used to say he was pitching Camels to the kids. And now they're saying he's making camel's eyes at the girls.

Sometimes a guy feels he just can't win.

Last year Joe Camel -- half human, half Bactrian, whose parentage defies examination -- underwent a transformation. Previously, we all knew Joe as a typical macho male. Joe astride his Harley. Joe with his top-gun Navy buddies. Joe in the pool hall. Joe the Cool Character in dark shades. Joe of the pubescent muzzle.

His was a world of tough guys, of big brothers seen through a young tyke's eyes, in which women were sex objects and nothing more. Unlike Marlboro Country, where women are barred at the border, Joe's pool-hall world was adorned with loose human floozies, females of the kind that pose in auto mechanics' calendars and render feminists tight-lipped and speechless.

Then came the transformation: Joe in love! Gone was the macho bar-room sleaze and in its place a new romantic world of moonlight and roses, the tryst in the beach house with a mysterious other who never appeared, but left traces of lipstick on cigarettes and sophisticated wine glasses suggesting Chablis or Perrier. Joe's macho heart was softened by a new sensitivity, the heart of a PC camel. His inamorata, we were told, was Something Special -- but who or what, exactly? Woman or camel? Or fellow hybrid?

Like Joe's odd-couple parents, Joe's new love was a mystery that didn't bear close inspection. Nice girls don't go with camels. The scent of inter-species miscegenation hung easily in the air.

Now, suddenly, the secret is out. In a splashy eight-page insert in national magazines, Joe's Place opens its doors to reveal an entire new world of camel hybrids, male and female, smoking up a firestorm, with not one human floozie in sight!

No sooner was Joe's secret out than critics let loose with accusations that the R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. is targeting women, and again raising the issue of whether all cigarette ads should be banned. Camel ads are known to be successful, Camels are increasing market share, and preschoolers recognize Cool Joe Camel along with Barney and the Disney troupe.

Cigarettes, the favorite smoke of nicotine addicts, kill more than 400,000 Americans every year. They also make nicotine peddlers rich and keep tobacco farmers and a highly profitable industry in business. While peddlers of illegal drugs go to jail for long terms, peddlers of cigarettes occupy the executive suite, support good causes, endow colleges and command wide respect -- especially of tobacco-state politicians. They honor the Bill of Rights with ads and exhibits -- in particular, the right of smokers to choose their own poison and foul the air for others.

It's not smokers alone who are hooked on tobacco. Farmers, manufacturers, distributors, retailers are also dependent on smoking for their nice livings. And the huge profits from cigarette sales make plenty of cash available to support the political process. Drug dealers are such dummies; they don't know how to use their money.

Most cigarette ads are a fantasyland of guided imagery, where smokers are reminded of a pleasant, smokeless world of youth, health, fun and independence. Especially independence. The Marlboro man who toughs it out in the sticks, the Virginia Slims woman who has come a long way, baby, embody the independence the smoker craves, not the reality of dependency, the killing habit they can't kick. Cigarette ads feature a beautiful world, good times, happy, healthy youth, style and prestige. Not old, wrinkled skin, hacking coughs, the emphysema sufferer's gasping for breath, the cancer ward.

Instead, the romance of hybrid camels. Enjoy!

John Brain is a Baltimore writer.

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