City slams Camel for ad campaign that asks smokers to love the Haight

San Francisco’s famed counterculture neighborhood should not be used to sell cigarettes, says at least one city official.

On Monday, R.J. Reynolds was sent a letter asking the North Carolina-based company to cease its “Break Free Adventure Campaign” and recall the associated special edition cigarette packs that reference San Francisco and the Haight neighborhood, according to City Attorney Dennis Herrera.

“This 10-city adventure game shamelessly appeals to you by featuring cities, including San Francisco, that are associated with independent music, trendiness, rebellion and freedom,” the letter said. Reynolds is “exploiting the name and image of the Haight, a historically significant San Francisco neighborhood that is associated with youth counterculture and rebellion, to market cigarettes to young people.”

A spokesman for the cigarette multimillion-dollar corporation, David Howard, said the ad campaign is “designed for and marketed to adult smokers.” He had not seen Herrera’s letter and declined to comment on it directly.

The tobacco company has come under criticism in the past for its ad campaigns. In 1997, The City was involved in a lawsuit against R.J. Reynolds for using the Joe Camel cartoon character to sell cigarettes, which ultimately led the company to abandon the character throughout the nation.

San Francisco has had a number of successes in battling tobacco companies, including its recent ban on the sale of tobacco products in pharmacies and grocery stores with pharmacies. And The City continues to increase the number of places in San Francisco were people can't smoke, most recently snuffing out cigarette smoke in outdoor patios of restaurants.

Smoking remains the No. 1 preventable cause of death in San Francisco, according to the letter.

Herrera’s letter comes days after the Matthew L. Myers, president of Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, issued a statement condemning the marketing campaign.

“The most disturbing part of RJR’s campaign is that it shamelessly appropriates the names and images of the locations involved to promote Camel cigarettes in ways that appeal to youth,” Myers said in the statement.

jsabatini@sfexaminer.com

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