Time to Go, Joe Camel

We're not sorry to see you leave, Joe. In fact, we agree with the Clinton administration, which said R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co.'s announcement last week that it is retiring its much-criticized cartoon character is long overdue.

Of course, Joe Camel had little hope for survival. The Federal Trade Commission filed suit against RJR in May, saying the Joe Camel symbol enticed children to start smoking. (The FTC says it plans to go ahead with the suit in an effort to get the company to pay for an antismoking program aimed at young people.) And the recent $368 billion tobacco settlement stipulates that the industry would no longer be able to use cartoon characters as advertising tools.

For its part, RJR says it's giving Joe the boot not because of any pressure from the government or public-health officials, but because it was time for a fresher ad campaign anyway.

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Perhaps. But consider: In 1986, the brand's market share among underage smokers was less than 3 percent. In 1988, the company introduced Joe Camel. By 1993, youth market share had grown to 13 percent. Some critics argue that Joe Camel is almost as well known to children as Mickey Mouse.

Now, if only Philip Morris would follow suit and send the Marlboro Man on his way too.

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