This article is part of the Green Watch series.
What do Sports Illustrated magazine, vampire movies, NASCAR, The X-Files, piña colada flavoring, and puns based on the expression “Let it go” have in common? Why, they’re all aimed at children, of course—which you would “know” if you were a member of the braindead Washington political elite.
In its attack on e-cigarettes, the CDC has claimed that “the same advertising tactics the tobacco industry used years ago to get kids addicted to nicotine are now being used to entice a new generation of young people to use e-cigarettes.”
That was the point of a hearing held two years ago by the Senate Commerce Committee, then chaired by Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.V.). Rockefeller dragged before his committee Jason Healy, president of blu Cigs, and Craig Weiss, president of NJOY, and committee members grilled them for more than two hours.
People use e-cigarettes as a substitute for real cigarettes, and the average age of users is over 50. The industry has conducted campaigns to block access to e-cigs for children, and limited its advertising to media and events with audiences that are at least 85 percent adult. But that didn’t stop Senators from accusing the e-cig manufacturers of targeting children.
Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) accused the industry of targeting children because it distributed a photograph showing the 28-year-old actor Robert Pattinson smoking an e-cig. When an industry representative at the hearing pointed out that Pattinson “is an adult smoker,” Klobuchar responded (“snapped back,” in the words of Reuters) that “He is an adult in movies that appeal to kids!”
No, she didn’t mean when he played Salvador Dali in Little Ashes, or his roles in Allen Coulter’s Remember Me, David Cronenberg’s Cosmopolis, or Werner Herzog’s Queen of the Desert. No, she was referring to Pattinson’s role in theTwilight movies—that series about vampires—and, possibly, his role in a couple of the Harry Potter films. By Klobuchar’s reasoning, Marlon Brando was a children’s movie actor for his role in Superman: The Movie, if not, I suppose, for his role in the X-rated Last Tango in Paris.
Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) said the advertisements then being shown have “a very eerie and haunting feel. We’ve seen this movie before. You are using the same tactics and ads used by Big Tobacco that proved so effective.” (As Connecticut attorney general, Blumenthal sued the tobacco industry and helped shape a multi-billion dollar settlement based in part on fake accusations of child-targeting.)
At the hearing, one witness against the e-cig industry cited an ad in Sports Illustrated’s swimsuit issue, one showing a “blu” logo on a woman’s bikini bottom, as evidence of the industry’s targeting of children. That claim appeared earlier in an ad by the anti-free speech/anti-consumer/anti-taxpayer organization known as the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, when the group declared:
Manufacturers of electronic cigarettes have repeatedly claimed they don’t market to kids. But their actions tell a different story.
In the latest example, Lorillard Inc. has placed an ad for its best-selling blu eCigs in the just-published swimsuit issue of Sports Illustrated, no doubt one of the favorite magazines of teenage boys. The ad features the blu logo front and center on the skimpy bikini bottom of a shapely model. You can even zoom in on it on the online version of the ad.
It’s one of the most offensive ads by a tobacco company we’ve seen in a long time. The ad is certain to catch the eye of teens browsing the magazine, and the message to them is clear: E-cigarettes are sexy and fun. Puff on them while you leer.
Ads like this show that Lorillard can’t be taken seriously when they say their intended customers are “smokers of legal age” and that “responsible e-cigarette manufacturers, including blu eCigs, do not market to youth,” as a Lorillard executive wrote in a recent letter to the Food and Drug Administration.
(Perhaps Lorillard bought the ad in that children’s magazine, Sports Illustrated—the swimsuit issue, no less!—because ad space in another children’s magazine like Playboy wasn’t available.)
At the hearing, Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) accused the industry of targeting kids by putting flavors in their e-cigs, apparently basing her theory on the idea that adults want their e-cigs to be flavorless. One of those flavors targeting kids: piña colada.
Boxer also claimed that the manufacturers were targeting children with an ad that used the tagline “Let it glow.” How is that targeting children? Easy: The term “Let it glow,” you see, is a takeoff on the term “Let it go,” which, Senator Boxer seems to believe, ties in with the song of that name that is featured in the movie Frozen, and Frozen is a cartoon and lots of kids sing that song. Quod erat demonstrandum.
Senators at the Rockefeller hearing attacked the e-cig industry for targeting kids by placing an ad on… the Super Bowl.
As reported in Broadcasting & Cable:
Rockefeller, toward the end of the hearing, appeared fed up, and lit into the industry witnesses with a harshness he said himself was unprecedented. “I think this whole thing is about the money,” he said. “It’s uncreative, nasty and like pornography, or maybe what you do is worse. I am ashamed of you and I don’t know how you get to sleep at night, and what gets you to work in the morning except the color green. You’re what’s wrong with this country.”
Yes, Jay Rockefeller—who was born into unimaginable wealth and spent a career in public office waging war on working class and small-business people, and who suggested that opposition to President Obama and his healthcare rationing scheme was based on the President’s being “the wrong color” —declared that e-cigarette makers are “what’s wrong with this country.”
Indeed, as Senator Blumenthal suggested, we have seen this movie before. In the early ’90s, Progressives were waging war on the tobacco industry. For decades, they had subsidized it, but as political winds shifted, Big Tobacco ceased being a reliable source of funds for the Democratic Party, so Progressives went after the industry. Eventually, they filed a series of phony lawsuits that led to a settlement that, in essence, made Big Tobacco a regulated utility, shielded from competition in return for loads of cash that would go to the government and to left-wing interest groups.
The campaign against Big Tobacco had many elements. In part because the tobacco industry had lied for so long about the health effects of smoking, opponents of smoking felt justified in perpetrating their own lies. In this, they carried on the tradition of earlier Prohibitionists, who lied about alcohol by claiming that drinking it would cause a person to erupt spontaneously in blue flame; who lied about the threat of “Negro cocaine fiends,” as the New York Times once put it; and who lied about the murderous “reefer madness” that, they said, would result from using marijuana.
In the anti-smoking campaign, second-hand smoke, even “third-hand smoke” (such as the smell of smoke on a person’s clothes), was portrayed falsely as a significant health risk. And most hilariously, we were told that an advertising character, Camel cigarettes’ “Smooth Character,” was part of an advertising campaign aimed at children.
“Joe Camel,” as the anti-smoking crusaders named him, was actually an anthropomorphic penis. In magazine ads (cigarette ads had long been banned from TV), Joe was seen involved in such child-targeted activities as picking up chicks in his fancy car and playing saxophone with a jazz band. His face appeared in advertising in such child-oriented venues as NASCAR races and bikini contests. These ads appeared in such children’s magazines as Playboy and Sports Illustrated. (The crusaders never claimed that Playboywas oriented toward children, but they did make sure a claim about Sports Illustrated, just as they would do, years later, regarding e-cigarettes. By the way, anti-“violence” crusaders such as Sen. John McCain [R-Ariz.] likewise claimed that SI was aimed at children, as were TV shows such as the horror conspiracy program “The X-Files” and the beach-and-bikinis show “Baywatch.”)
The First Amendment protects advertising, subject only to prosecution for fraud when ads are deceptive. Yet for decades, judges, bureaucrats, and politicians—ignoring the Constitution—have restricted advertising in all manner of ways. Often they do so in the name of protecting children. It’s a time-tested technique. Proponents of a Welfare State in the 1970s and 1980s successfully rebranded their work as efforts for children (see, for example, the Children’s Defense Fund, once chaired by Hillary Clinton). Whether the cause is taking away Second Amendment rights, or having bureaucrats tell people what they can eat, or putting expensive restrictions on emissions of harmless carbon dioxide, Progressives often brand their campaigns as children’s campaigns. “If it helps just one child, we should [adopt this Progressive policy or that one.]” It’s always for the children.
That unreplicated study
In the 1990s, Joe Camel was depicted by the crusaders as a character aimed at children. Their logic:
First, he was a cartoon character. And everyone “knows” that all cartoon characters in advertising are aimed at children, like the Michelin Man, who, one supposes, sells tires to children, and Erin Esurance, the animated cartoon/spy who sells insurance to children, and Speedy Alka-Seltzer, and the Standard Oil dinosaur, and Otto the Orkin Man, and Reddy Kilowatt the humanoid electric current, and the Budweiser Frogs—all aimed at children, right?
Second, there was a study. (There’s always a study, isn’t there?)
This study, conducted by researchers at the Medical College of Georgia and the Department of Family Medicine at the University of North Carolina, purported to indicate the number of children who linked the Joe Camel character to cigarettes. The purported study compared Joe’s linkage rate to that for other advertising logos such as the Mickey Mouse silhouette used in advertising for The Disney Channel. (The Mickey Mouse/Disney symbol was a simple design made up of three conjoined arcs, signifying Mickey Mouse’s head and ears.) Among the linkages examined in the study were that of McDonald’s logo to hamburgers, that of Coca Cola’s logo to a glass of Coke, and that of Chevrolet’s logo to automobiles. Children were asked to match cards showing the logos with other cards showing the products.
According to the authors of the study, 229 students were recruited from ten pre-schools in Augusta and Atlanta, Georgia. Importantly, as the authors acknowledged, the students were a “convenience sample”—a group that was chosen for the researchers’ convenience, and not a properly scientific random sample chosen to represent a larger group. Each child was given the matching test. The authors wrote that, among all the children, the Disney Channel logo was identified with the Mickey Mouse symbol 91.7 percent of the time, that the McDonald’s logo was identified with hamburgers 81.7 percent of the time, Coca Cola’s logo scored 76 percent, Chevrolet’s scored 54.1 percent, and so forth. “Old Joe,” or Joe Camel, scored 51.1 percent.
The study’s authors also focused on just the 23 six-year-olds out of the total of 229 children and claimed that the Joe Camel logo was successfully linked to tobacco by 21 of the 23 six-year-olds. The linkage rate for the Mickey Mouse symbol was the same. And so this 91.3 percent level of linkage for Joe—the same as for the Disney Channel logo—became the takeaway from the study, the one part that was most often reported (inaccurately) as “More six-year-olds recognize Joe Camel than Mickey Mouse.” Not only was that (garbled, untrue) result widely reported by the news media, it became the basis for action by the Federal Trade Commission to regulate cigarette advertising supposedly aimed at children.
Of course, the 21-out-of-23 was literally unbelievable. If it were to be believed, it would mean that the Joe Camel character, which did not appear in any advertising actually aimed at children, was more familiar to the children in the study than logos that did appear in ads aimed at children, such as those for McDonald’s. Plus: Why would the linkage rate, 46.6 percent for the younger kids, suddenly jump to an almost perfect 91.1 percent for the six-year-olds?
Since this study was supposedly scientific, and wasn’t difficult to conduct, you would expect other researchers would duplicate it. That’s how science works: You do an experiment, search through old records, whatever; then, other people replicate your experiment or research, and either verify your results or challenge them. But, as is the case with many questionable studies that have formed the basis for public policy, no one followed up on the Joe Camel study. The anti-smoking crusaders had the result they wanted—end of story.
I’m not insisting that the researchers involved in the study were being deceptive (although, as in any purported scientific study, that’s always a possibility). Perhaps it was just chance that provided the researchers the 21-of-23 result. More likely, the children were exposed, at some point prior to the test, to the Joe Camel/cigarette connection. (Such pre-exposure is a big problem in eyewitness identification in criminal cases.) Perhaps, at some point, teachers had shown the kids pictures of Joe and warned them not to be tricked into smoking cigarettes. We can’t know for sure. Given the apparent lack of video showing the actual tests and the fact that the test results were never replicated, we can never know for sure what happened back in 1991.
The authors noted that “the high recognition rate of cigarette logos may be counterintuitive. After all, cigarette advertising no longer appears on television and very young children cannot read. Yet by the age of 6 years, Old Joe is as well recognized as Mickey Mouse.” Well, a Mickey Mouse silhouette, anyway. Still, in science, results that are “counterintuitive” demand that the experiment be done over, just to be sure that the first result was correct.
One last thing: Today, Progressives are obsessed with the Gelbspan Principle, named after a left-wing journalist named Ross Gelbspan. He popularized the great Global Warming conspiracy theory: that people who are skeptical about Global Warming theory are largely the tools of evil corporate executives in Big Oil and its allies.
In real science, bias is of no concern. It doesn’t matter whether a scientist works for Big Oil, or works for the Sierra Club, or is a communist, or beats her husband, or steals money from the church poorbox. That’s because real science is based on replicable research and experimentation. If research and experimentation, when replicated, shows the same results, it is verified; if not, it is challenged, and the two sides duel until one side is proven correct by the evidence (or until both are proven wrong). In real science, we don’t ever take someone’s word for it, whatever “it” is. As they say in journalism, “If your mother says she loves you, check it out.”
The Gelbspan Principle is never invoked when research seems to favor the Left. Case in point: the Joe Camel study, which was, according to its authors, “supported in part by a grant from Doctors Ought to Care, Houston, Tex., and grant PBR-55 from the American Cancer Society, Atlanta, Ga.”
Doctors Ought to Care, according to its profile on the left-wing website Sourcewatch, is “a group of physicians, health care workers, teachers and others who work on diseases caused by advertising, particularly tobacco.” And the American Cancer Society, by the time of the 1991 Joe Camel study, had become a powerful advocate for Prohibitionist policies in the name of protecting people from cancer, including a wide range of restrictions on advertising.
Would the study have been funded by Doctors Ought to Care and the American Cancer Society if there was any chance of a different result? What do you think?
Was the study ever replicated to see if researchers reached the same results? What do you think?
Today, politicians and bureaucrats and their media allies are attempting to do to e-cigs what they did to tobacco. In the case of tobacco, their targets largely deserved what happened to them. But as we’ve learned before, violators of the Constitution never stop at violating the rights of bad guys. Eventually, using the same techniques of deception, they come for the rest of us.
Dr. Steven J. Allen (J.D., Ph.D.) is vice president & chief investigative officer of the Capital Research Center and editor of Green Watch.