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Cigarette campaign draws fire from Washington leaders

Camel "Break Free Adventure Campaign" ad featuring Seattle

A big tobacco company is using images of Seattle to convince people to light up.  It’s one of 10 cities featured in an ad campaign that follows the Camel cigarettes mascot to “hip” locations.  This month, the company plans to start selling limited edition packs with Seattle icons on it.

State leaders are hot under the collar about the campaign.  King County Executive Dow Constantine said in a statement that the “Break Free Adventure” campaign is exploitative and targets young adults.  In a separate statement, Governor Chris Gregoire called for Camel to stop the ads and sales of city-specific packs. 

“Special edition cigarette packs featuring Washington landmarks, including the Pike Place Market and Mt. Rainier, are being co-opted to sell a product that is responsible for killing about 7,500 people in our state every year,” said Gregoire.

Gregoire said the ads threaten to destroy the progress the state has made to get people to stop smoking. 

King 5 reports that Washington has one of the lowest smoking rates in the nation.

The company told the Seattle PI that the marketing is directed at existing adult customers and the sale of the limited edition packs, like all others, is age restricted.

Other cities used in the campaign are San Francisco, Austin, Las Vegas and New Orleans.  The SF Examiner reports that the city attorney sent RJ Reynolds, the company that owns Camel, a cease and desist letter last week.  

UPDATE - 3:30pm -- The National Association of Attorneys General also has sent a letter to RJR regarding the Camel campaign, calling on them to stop.  The letter says, the campaign is "... appealing to young people's psychological needs for rebelliousness ..." and "... the basic theme for the promotion is a geography game, which is typically an activity for children of school age." 

ABC News has more about the Attorneys General response to RJR, in a report by the Associated Press. 

Charla joined us in January, 2010 and is excited to be back in Seattle after several years in Washington, DC, where she was a director and producer for NPR. Charla has reported from three continents and several outlets including Marketplace, San Francisco Chronicle and NPR. She has a master of journalism from University of California, Berkeley and a bachelor's degree in architecture from University of Washington.