• Joe Camel's Youthful Charms on Trial
  • April 18, 2005
  • Law Firm: Manatt, Phelps & Phillips, LLP - Los Angeles Office
  • R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. put one of its top executives on the stand on March 31, 2005, to defend the company's advertising policies against U.S. racketeering charges that it marketed its Camel brand products to children.

    Lynn Beasley, the company's president and chief operating officer, helped develop Joe Camel, the cartoon camel wearing dark sunglasses that became the unwitting poster child for regulators and class-action lawyers who claim that Big Tobacco deliberately aimed its products at youths. Not surprisingly, Beasley said the company only markets to adults. "The policy since I've been at the company is that we do not want youth to smoke," Beasley testified.

    In 1997 the Federal Trade Commission charged R.J. Reynolds with unfair advertising practices, saying ads featuring Joe Camel, which personified Camel cigarettes during the late 1980s and most of the 1990s, targeted youth. R.J. Reynolds stopped running the ads later that year. The racketeering lawsuit, filed by the Clinton Administration in 1999, charges R.J. Reynolds and other tobacco firms with purposefully misleading the public about smoking's health risks in a conspiracy that started in the 1950s.

    Also named as defendants are Altria's Philip Morris, Loews Corp.'s Lorillard Tobacco unit, Vector Group's Liggett Group, and British American Tobacco's British American Tobacco Investments Ltd.

    Beasley originated the idea of giving a facelift to an older illustrated Camel brand poster. R.J. Reynolds wanted a "contemporary [image] to change the perception of Camel as an old brand. Joe Camel fit that goal completely," Beasley said in written testimony. She added that the company only placed ads in magazines with at least 85 percent adult readership.

    Beasley said it made little business sense to try to market to "experimenting" youth who cannot legally buy cigarettes. "They are not smoking daily and making a brand choice," she said under questioning. "It's not the same thing as an adult smoker going into a store and making a choice."

    Teenage smoking has not declined significantly since 2002, according to a Center for Disease Control and Prevention survey released last month. It found that 22.3 percent of high school students and 8.1 percent of middle school students said they smoked cigarettes in 2004.

    Significance: The industry settled with the states over similar charges for more than $200 billion in 1998. The trial, which is taking place in two courts and could reach a third, is now in its seventh month, and barring a settlement, the process could drag on for many more. Litigation costs for each side are estimated in the hundreds of millions of dollars.