Wednesday, June 24, 2009
What's Obama Have In Common With Joe Camel?
It's been almost 12 years since Joe Camel retired. A legal settlement in 1998 prohibited the cool iconic cartoon character from being used in packaging and advertising. It turns out that Joe Camel was becoming as recognizable to kids as Mickey Mouse. On Monday, President Obama signed into law sweeping legislation that puts the FDA in charge of the marketing and sale of tobacco products. The new law also gives the FDA the power to regulate what's put in those products, including not only nicotine, but also candy and fruit flavorings marketed toward young people. In 2006, R.J. Reynolds, the makers of Camel, agreed to stop selling flavored cigarettes with names like "Twista Lime" and "Mocha Taboo." Now, all tobacco companies will have to put an end to the subtle practice of luring new, mostly young smokers, with flavorings and fancy packaging. Keeping tobacco out of the hands of young people is the most important part of the new bill. On Monday, when Obama signed the bill, he said: "The decades-long effort to protect our children from the harmful effects of smoking has emerged victorious." The most important issue in the the new legislation, he said, is to reduce the number of new smokers in the future. On Tuesday, however, in a White House press conference, Obama admitted that he was struggling with kicking the habit himself, saying "I'm 95% cured." He was responding to a reporter's question on the subject. The reporter, Margaret Talev of McClatchy Newspapers, framed her question like this: "As a former smoker, I understand the frustration and the fear that comes with quitting. But with the new law that you signed...regulating the tobacco industry, I'd like to ask you a few questions...How many cigarettes a day do you smoke? Do you smoke alone or in the presence of other people?" She then went on to ask Obama if the new law that he signed on Monday "should help you quit. If so, why?" Obama's response: "The new law that was put in place is not about me. It's about the next generation of kid's coming up." The new law that gives the FDA the authority to ban all cigarettes from having candy and fruit flavors takes effect this October. The law will also put an end to marketing practices by tobacco companies such as sponsoring sporting and entertainment events using tobacco logos or brand names, or giving away clothing or promotional items bearing the logo or brand name of a tobacco company. Years ago, Camel had a T-shirt promotion. I still have the shirt with a giant picture of Joe Camel on the front. It was pretty cool at the time. President Obama, like Joe Camel, is a cool and iconic character. We don't need images of him smoking. He's a role model to kids, and it's counterproductive. And yet, after yesterday's news conference, in between talking about the economy, health care, nuclear proliferation and global warming, Obama was talking about his own nicotine habit. He admitted that although he has backtracked on the smoking issue, he does so in private. So why bring it up in the first place? Most news sources, however, ran with the story. That seems fair. After all, once it was brought up, it was a legitimate news story. However, some web sites ran photos of Obama smoking. There's the famous one from the Time magazine college photos of a young Obama looking cool with a cigarette dangling from his mouth. Then there's the undated one that ran as part of a story at Examiner.com, with the caption, "Obama takes a Presidential smoke break." Other photos have surfaced from the past, and although some are obviously photo-shopped, some are real. The one that popped up yesterday in the Examiner looks real, and it looks recent. Is there really a good reason to run it? Images of the President smoking should not be made public. Barack Obama is bigger than Joe Camel ever was. Maybe even bigger than Mickey Mouse.