Thursday, June 29, 2006

RJR and the Elegance of Pure Evil

Can Evil of a certain sort have its own elegance? The idea is repulsive, but there's something about this story that produces the same sensation as elegant design. In world of infinite shades of gray, the tobacco companies are capable of a uniquely pure form of evil. Methamphetamine pushers do terrible things, sure -- but they are almost always victims too. Wrong, but not so purely evil. Even terrorists often believe they serve a noble cause.

Companies like RJR tobacco though -- they are rich. They are strong. They serve Evil with the same flair and style as Milton's Satan. Which answers my question -- Milton showed that Evil could have its own elegance and cachet. RJR is simply demonstrating that again (emphases mine, note that in better times the Secretary of HHS had a spine ...)
The Flavor of Marketing to Kids

Joseph A. Califano Jr. is president of the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University. He was secretary of health, education and welfare in the Carter administration. Louis W. Sullivan is president emeritus of the Morehouse School of Medicine. He was secretary of health and human services under President George H.W. Bush.

Twenty years ago RJR created Joe Camel, who blew smoke rings over Times Square and was so heavily promoted that more children recognized this cartoon character than Walt Disney's Mickey Mouse...

All the while, RJR maintained that it did not market to children. But with the release of internal company documents years later, one of RJR's key papers, "Younger Smokers -- Ages 14-25," revealed the company's interest in marketing cigarettes to young smokers.

Now RJR is marketing the sweet smell and taste of flavored cigarettes that mask the harshness of natural tobacco, which can deter some first-time smokers, especially children. These cigarettes are packaged in shiny tins with cool new names, flashy advertising and candy flavors ranging from watermelon ("Beach Breezer") to berry ("Bayou Blast") to pineapple and coconut ("Kauai Kolada").

As Reynolds has known for decades, 90 percent of adult smokers become addicted as kids, and the younger a child begins to smoke, the likelier the child is to become a regular smoker. Moreover, the age at which kids first try cigarettes has been declining and now stands at just under 12. By masking the regular tobacco flavor and scent, flavored cigarettes make it even more appealing for a 12- or 13-year-old to take that initial puff and keep smoking until he or she gets hooked.

Reynolds introduced these cigarettes in 1999, slipping a pellet into the cigarette filters to give the smoke a candy flavor. But flavored cigarette sales really exploded in 2004, thanks to eye-catching advertisements in magazines such as Cosmopolitan, Sports Illustrated and Rolling Stone -- all popular reading material for boys and girls...

Reynolds's claim that it flavors cigarettes to give adults an alternative to traditional smokes is belied by the findings of the Roswell Park Cancer Institute in Buffalo. That research institute found that, compared with adult smokers over 25, more than three times as many teens who smoke light up flavored cigarettes.

Reynolds now sells five Camel Exotic Blend flavors: Dark Mint, Mandarin Mint, Twist, Izmir Stinger and Crema. In addition, RJR has marketed 15 Limited Edition Camel Exotic Blends over the past five years, including Winter Mochamint, Midnight Madness and Twista Lime.

... Buoyed by its success in pushing candy-flavored cigarettes, Reynolds has now introduced alcohol-flavored smokes. To make them appealing to our kids, Reynolds has marketed them with names based on gambling lingo as well: ScrewDriver Slots, BlackJack Gin, Snake Eyes Scotch and Back Alley Blend (a bourbon-flavored cigarette).

... From 1997 through 2004 the number of children who smoke went down as court cases and public outrage curbed tobacco advertising to children. But in 2005 the youth smoking rate increased. Is it just a coincidence that our success in persuading kids to stay away from tobacco is slowing just as the marketing of flavored cigarettes is picking up?
They have to hook the kids. It's that or become extinct. RJR is serving their shareholders. I'm sure I own their stock in some of my index funds.

Yep, that's right.

Pure, unadulterated, Evil. Think the GOP (they are the government) will do anything about it?

PS. Sports Illustrated has tobacco ads? Good Lord. To think my son gets copies at school ... Time to do something about that ....

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