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The Joe Camel advertising campaign violates federal law, the Federal Trade Commission charged today. The campaign, which the FTC alleges was successful in appealing to many children and adolescents under 18, induced many young people to begin smoking or to continue smoking cigarettes and as a result caused significant injury to their health and safety. The FTC charged that R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company, the seller of Camel cigarettes, promoted an addictive and dangerous product through a campaign that was attractive to those too young to purchase cigarettes legally. In fact, the FTC said, after the campaign began the percentage of kids who smoked Camels became larger than the percentage of adults who smoked Camels.

The agency is seeking an order that would bar Reynolds from using the Joe Camel campaign to advertise to kids and would require the company to conduct a public education campaign discouraging young people from smoking. The Commission also may order further relief, such as corrective advertising or other affirmative disclosures, after the trial on the case has concluded.

"Consumers who smoke cigarettes risk addiction and long term health problems including cancer and heart disease," said Jodie Bernstein, Director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection, "and the earlier they begin smoking the greater the risk. That is why it is illegal to sell cigarettes to anyone under the age of 18.

"R.J. Reynolds has conducted one of the most effective advertising campaigns in decades. Joe Camel has become as recognizable to kids as Mickey Mouse. Yet the campaign promotes a product that causes serious injury, addiction and death. It appeals to our young people. It is illegal and should be stopped. Joe Camel must grow up or go away."

R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company is based in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.

According to the FTC complaint detailing the charges in this case, by 1984 some Reynolds employees identified the need to attract younger smokers, including "first usual brand" smokers. Beginning in 1987, ads and promotions for Reynolds Camel brand cigarettes had as their central theme a cartoon camel sometimes referred to as "Old Joe," "Smooth Character" or "Joe Camel." The purpose of the Joe Camel campaign, the FTC alleged, was to reposition the Camel brand to make it attractive to younger smokers. In fact, according to the complaint, the Joe Camel campaign was successful in appealing to many children and adolescents under the age of 18 and induced many of these underage consumers to smoke Camel cigarettes or increased the risk that they would do so. For many of these children and adolescents, the decision to smoke Camel cigarettes was a decision to begin smoking; for others, it was a decision to continue smoking. The young smokers’ health is at risk because cigarettes have the potential to cause numerous diseases and other adverse health effects. According to the complaint, the alleged injury was neither reasonably avoidable (given the inability of children to comprehend adequately the long-term, chronic health consequences of smoking) nor outweighed by countervailing benefits.

The complaint also alleges that Reynolds knew or should have known that the Joe Camel campaign would have a substantial appeal to children and adolescents below 18, as well as to smokers over 18; or that most smokers initiate smoking and become regular smokers before the age of 18 and that by targeting "first usual brand" smokers, the Joe Camel campaign would cause many children and adolescents to smoke Camel cigarettes.

The FTC’s complaint challenges the Joe Camel campaign as an unfair practice under Section 5 of the Federal Trade Commission Act. In order to uphold the charges before an administrative judge, the FTC must provide evidence to support a determination that the law has been violated.

On July 30, 1996, the Commission received a letter and petition from Congressman Tim Roemer and 65 members of the U.S. House of Representatives requesting the Commission reopen a prior investigation of the Joe Camel campaign. In a letter dated April 9, 1997, Senator Frank R. Lautenberg and six U.S. Senators made a similar request. In 1994, the Commission had concluded that there was not sufficient evidence to issue a complaint. The petition from the Members of Congress requested that the Commission reexamine that decision.

Following the administrative trial, the FTC is seeking an order that would prohibit Reynolds from advertising to children its Camel brand cigarettes through the use of images or themes relating or referring to Old Joe, Smooth Character or Joe Camel. Reynolds also would have to conduct a public education campaign discouraging youth from smoking. In addition, the company would be required to make available to the FTC for inspection competent and reliable data concerning sales of each brand of Reynolds cigarettes to any person under the age of 18, and each brand’s share of smokers under the age of 18. The Commission also may order further relief, such as corrective advertising or other affirmative disclosures, after the trial on the case has concluded.

The Commission vote to issue the complaint and proposed order was 3-2 with Commissioners Mary L. Azcuenaga and Roscoe B. Starek, III dissenting. Commissioner Azcuenaga’s dissenting statement said in part, "The actions alleged in the complaint are serious, and intuition suggests reason to believe they are true. Intuition alone, however, is not a sufficient basis for issuing a complaint under the statute. The Commission is an agency of limited jurisdiction and is authorized to bring a case only if certain elements of the law are satisfied. Not having found reason to believe that the evidence supports each of those elements, I must dissent.

"I have carefully considered the totality of the available evidence, including new material that has been presented to the Commission, and have concluded that the new information does not strengthen the case the Commission rejected in 1994."

In his dissenting statement Commissioner Starek said, "I am very concerned about the harm that cigarette smoking poses to children, but I also take seriously the statutory limits on the Commission’s authority to pursue enforcement actions against allegedly unfair practices. The evidence before us now, including the evidence obtained since the Commission considered this matter in 1994, does not convince me that there is reason to believe that the law has been violated. The issue in this case is whether the Joe Camel advertising campaign causes or is likely to cause children to begin or to continue smoking. As was true three years ago, intuition and concern for children’s health are not the equivalent of -- and should not be substituted for -- evidence sufficient to find reason to believe that there is a likely causal connection between the Joe Camel advertising campaign and smoking by children.

Starek continued, "Moreover, it simply is not in the public interest to bring this case now. Before committing a vast amount of scarce agency resources to this litigation, the Commission should await the resolution of the appeal of the federal district court decision striking down the Food and Drug Administration’s tobacco advertising restrictions and the outcome of widely- reported settlement discussions between tobacco companies and numerous states. Either of these developments might result in advertising restraints that would largely duplicate any remedies the Commission might obtain."

NOTE: The Commission issues a complaint when it has "reason to believe" that the law has been or is being violated, and it appears to the Commission that a proceeding is in the public interest. The issuance of a complaint is not a finding or ruling that the respondent has violated the law. The complaint marks the beginning of a proceeding in which the allegations will be ruled upon after a formal hearing.

Copies of the complaint and proposed order are available from the FTC’s web site at and also from the FTC’s Public Reference Branch, Room 130, 6th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20580; 202-326-2222; TTY for the hearing impaired 1-866-653-4261. To find out the latest news as it is announced, call the FTC NewsPhone recording at 202-326-2710. FTC news releases and other materials also are available on the Internet at the FTC’s web site.

(FTC File No. (P884517)

Contact Information

Media Contact:
Victoria Streitfeld
Office of Public Affairs
Staff Contact:
Lee Peeler
Division of Advertising Practices
Rosemary Rosso or Shira Modell
Division of Advertising Practices
202-326-2174 or 202-326-3116