Cigarette Trading Cards Draws Ire

Monday, January 29th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — Reviving a pastime that all but vanished in the 1940s, R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. is offering trading cards of all 50 states on packs of Doral cigarettes — a marketing campaign that has outraged anti-smoking groups.

Each of the ``Celebrate America'' cards features a scenic photograph on the front, with a brief history, state motto and other information on the back. The cards, which hit store shelves this month, do not include the Doral name or logo.

Anti-smoking groups claim the cards are an attempt by RJR, which once used the cartoon character Joe Camel in its advertising, to sell cigarettes to youngsters — an allegation the company denied.

``It's despicable but not surprising, unfortunately,'' said Paul Billings, a spokesman for the American Lung Association.

Billings and other critics contend that the cards violate marketing restrictions on tobacco included in the $246 billion national settlement with the tobacco industry.

``It's hard to believe that they can say with a straight face that they are not trying to attract kids,'' said John Banzhaf, executive director of Action on Smoking and Health and a law professor at George Washington University. ``I know very few people my age who collect cards. I know a lot of teen-age kids who collect cards.''

RJR spokeswoman Jan Smith said Monday: ``These collectible cards have no connection to youth smoking, period.''

She said the card campaign was developed in response to a survey of Doral smokers last year.

``Nearly half of them told us that they are collectors and interested in collectibles,'' Smith said. ``Providing them with these collectible cards aligns perfectly with their general interest in collectibles, plus their interest and pride in the heritage of their hometowns.''

Smith would not say whether the cards might show up in other RJR brands, such as Winston and Camel. Doral has about 6 percent of the U.S. market.

David Grimes of Hopewell, N.J., an antique paper and collectibles dealer who consulted on the marketing campaign, said the cards are the first of their kind since the 1940s, when wartime restrictions on paper products led to a decline in tobacco collecting cards.

Grimes said there are still tens of thousands of cigarette card collectors in the United States and England.