In What Galaxy Are Camel's New Cigarette Packs Appealing to Kids?

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The anti-cigarette backlash has finally done the impossible: it's made me feel bad for the tobacco companies. The impossible occurred at approximately 2:38 p.m. yesterday afternoon, when I read this press release from the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids urging me to be outraged by Camel cigarettes new "Break Free Adventure" packs.

"Break Free Adventure" is an ad campaign that features packs with metro-specific art from cities like San Francisco, New Orleans, Austin and Seattle. Like all advertising the goal of the "Break Free Adventure" pack is to make me believe that the product -- in this case a smelly, smoky thing that you light on fire until the day it kills you -- is cool. Predictably, the campaign has pissed off some politicians like our own Gov. Chris Gregoire, who doesn't want Washington's biggest city associated with cancer sticks.

This I can live with. What the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids is asking of me, I can't.

"It is deeply disturbing that (Camel owner) R.J. Reynolds is using the good name and hard-earned reputation of these great American cities to market deadly and addictive cigarettes," writes president Matthew L. Myers, "especially in a way that blatantly appeals to children."

First of all, a city doesn't earn a reputation nor a good name on its own. It does so on the back of its citizens. Some of whom probably light up every now and again, maybe even in front of their kids. (Talk about blatantly appealing...)

More importantly, however, is this idea that the "Break Free Adventure" pack is somehow aimed directly at children. It's not.

Last month, when Gregoire was tackling that other child-enticing menace, the caffeinated beer Four Loko, she made a point of noting that the malt beverage's can was brightly-colored and therefore a direct appeal to underage drinkers. But Gregoire's chromatic logic doesn't work on Camel's packs. For an example, just look at Seattle's.

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A vista fittingly drawn in timber green, it has all the hip quotient of an L.L. Bean catalog. At a glance, it looks like a pop-up ad for a $99 Vermont fall getaway, which wouldn't appeal to anyone under 30, let alone a nervous teen trying to decide between menthols and hard packs while simultaneously not tipping off the clerk that he's underage.

Myers writes that the "most disturbing" part of Camel's campaign is how it uses images and texture -- some Seattle-specific (like java and Nirvana) and some not (like record stores and getting a girl's number at a concert) -- to "appeal to youth." But even the long ash on this argument is easily stubbed out.

Coffee, the smell of vinyl, the hastily-scribbled number of a good-looking stranger; who doesn't that appeal to? As for grunge, if you think invoking a long-dead musical genre is a way to convince anyone born after 1992 that you're "with it," then I'm liable to think you've been smoking something stronger than a cigarette.

 
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