Joe Camel and the Commission: The Real Legal Issues


Journal of Public Policy & Marketing


The announcement that the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is considering the recommendation of its staff to sue R.J. Reynolds for enticing minors to smoke with its "Joe Camel" promotional campaign is being denounced in the popular press as "unprecedented" and violative of the First Amendment [Shapiro 1993; Teinowitz and Colford 1993]. In fact, the popular press, in its efforts to find experts for immediate comment and its inability to cover the technical issues in depth, could be seriously misleading marketing professionals and academics about the real issues presented by this potential challenge.

In this article, first I explain why the staff recommendation is not unprecedented but is supported by a number of past cases. I further show that restricting cigarette advertising to children is well within the bounds of recent Supreme Court cases concerning the First Amendment and commercial speech. Next, I describe the potential legal issues of great importance to the advertising community. These issues primarily concern the central question of whether the FTC should apply its advertising "expertise," well established in deceptive advertising cases, to this novel challenge of unfair advertising. I conclude by analyzing (1) the likelihood that this case, if brought, will set "dangerous precedent" of concern to all advertisers and (2) whether the five Commissioners should "vote out" the complaint against R.J. Reynolds as recommended by the staff.


Advertising and Promotion Management | Law | Social Policy

Recommended Citation

Petty, Ross. 1993. " Joe Camel and the Commission: The Real Legal Issues." Journal of Public Policy & Marketing 12, no. 2: 276-281.

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