The Joe Camel years of cigarette advertising saw a 73 percent increase in the number of American youngsters who became daily smokers, the government says.
In 1996, the year before the Joe Camel ad campaign was retired, an estimated 1.226 million Americans age 18 or younger - more than 3,000 young people each day - became daily smokers, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Thursday.The CDC said tobacco ads that rely heavily on giveaways and cartoons are partly to blame. The Joe Camel campaign by R.J. Reynolds began in 1988.
Between that year and 1996, the number of Americans 18 or younger who picked up a daily smoking habit jumped 73 percent, up from an estimated 708,000 in 1988, the CDC said.
"It's terrible news," said Dr. Gary Giovino, chief epidemiologist for the CDC's Office on Smoking and Health.
"It's almost like it's being more glamorized," Giovino said. "A very important part of that is advertising and promotion."
The rate at which teens became smokers also increased by 50 percent. In 1996, 77 of every 1,000 nonsmoking teens picked up the habit. In 1988, the rate was 51 per 1,000.
R.J. Reynolds introduced Joe Camel in ads for its Camel cigarettes. Joe Camel was retired last year after critics including President Clinton said the character was a blatant example of cigarette marketing aimed at children.
R.J. Reynolds spokeswoman Jan Smith insisted that peer pressure and smoking parents are what drive most teens to smoke, not advertising.
"It just doesn't make sense to say Joe Camel fueled youth smoking," Smith said. "We have long said that campaign was aimed at adult smokers, period."
The study was based on surveys of 78,330 Americans ages 12 to 66 conducted by the CDC between 1994 and 1997.