A top R.J. Reynolds Tobacco executive on Thursday, defended the company’s advertising policies, testifying during the U.S. racketeering trial against Big Tobacco that the cigarette maker did not aim its popular Camel brand products at children or teenagers.
Lynn Beasley, president and chief operating officer for the main unit of Reynolds American Inc., helped launch Joe Camel, the cartoon figure known for his cool persona and dark sunglasses that later drew the ire of regulators.She said the company only markets to adult smokers. “The policy since I’ve been at the company is that we do not want youth to smoke,” testified Beasley, who joined R.J. Reynolds in 1982 as a marketing assistant.The Joe Camel character epitomized camel cigarettes during the late 1980s and most of the 1990s.The Federal Trade Commission charged R.J. Reynolds with unfair advertising practices in 1997, saying Joe Camel ads targeted youth. R.J. Reynolds halted the ads later that year.Beasley was the latest of several tobacco executives who have taken the witness stand to address government charges that they promoted cigarettes to underage smokers.The racketeering lawsuit, filed by the administration of President Bill Clinton in 1999, accuses R.J. Reynolds and other tobacco companies of deliberately misleading the public about the risks of smoking in a conspiracy going back to the 1950s.Also targeted in the lawsuit are Altria and its Philip Morris USA unit; Loews Corp.’s Lorillard Tobacco unit, which has a tracking stock, Carolina Group ; Vector Group Ltd.’s Liggett Group and British American Tobacco Plc unit British American Tobacco Investments Ltd.Beasley came up with the idea to revamp an older illustrated Camel brand poster.R.J. Reynolds wanted a new image that “was contemporary to change the perception of Camel as an old brand. Joe Camel fit that goal completely,” Beasley said in written testimony. She added that focused consumer groups to evaluate the ads were limited to smokers older than 18.A U.S. government survey released Thursday showed 22.3 percent of high school students and 8.1 percent of middle school students said they smoked cigarettes in 2004.Tobacco product use in youth has not dropped significantly since 2002, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention survey.In U.S. District Court, Justice Department lawyer Ken Sealls displayed full-page ads from Rolling Stone, Sports Illustrated and other magazines, used during and after the Joe Camel campaign. Sealls tried to show the ads had a youthful bent.One, from a 2005 Rolling Stone issue, showed a younger-looking woman with a Camel cigarette. “You see that her left eyebrow is pierced?” Sealls asked.”I do,” said Beasley. But she said the company only placed ads in magazines with at least 85 percent adult readership, and the publications Sealls showed met that test.Sealls also questioned Beasley over whether the cigarette maker used market research on young adults to figure out what would appeal to teens.Beasley said it made little sense to try to target “experimenting” youth who cannot legally buy cigarettes.”They are not smoking daily and making a brand choice,” she said under questioning by the industry’s lawyer, Bob McDermott. “It’s not the same thing as an adult smoker going into a store and making a choice.” (Source: Reuters Health, March 2005)