Dr. Paul Fischer looks at a book about the Joe Camel advertising campaign. Fischer led the nationwide campaign to have the cartoon character removed from advertising that was accessible to children.
Photo by Jim Blaylock
It's been nearly 12 years since a study headed up by Dr. Paul Fischer of Evans put the heat on Joe Camel.
Since then, the sunglass-wearing cigarette cartoon character hasn't seen the light of day on a billboard ad throughout Columbia County and the nation and has been limited to print ads only in magazines that aren't marketed to children.
"At the time (of the study), there were cigarette ads on billboards all over Augusta," he said. "All that's gone, and to some extent it's gone because of that research."
The study, in which Fischer was the lead author in coordination with several other Augusta area doctors, involved asking children age 3 to 6 if they recognized certain characters, including Joe Camel.
"We found that by age 3, a large number of children were able to ID old Joe," he said. "And by age 6, they could universally ID him on the same level with Mickey Mouse."
The research was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association in 1993, causing state attorney generals to bring law suits against the tobacco industry. An agreement was met, involving the stipulation that Joe Camel cigarette ads couldn't target children anymore.
These days, Fischer, whose office is on North Belair Road, said it's good to see how far things have come concerning cigarette ads and usage. But as smoking once again has drifted into the news - this time because of a proposed smoking ban for public places in Columbia County - Fischer said he believes a compromise is warranted.
"I think both sides are unnecessarily polarized," he said, referring to those from the health care industry that admonish public smoking and smokers who are willing to fight for what they say is their constitutional right. "There needs to be some middle ground."
He said alternatives to an outright smoking ban in public places should be possible, adding that second hand smoke wouldn't be a problem in restaurants if proper ventilation were to be installed. As an example, he cited smoking rooms that are offered at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport. He said people close a door behind them when entering the room, which has a separate ventilation system.
"There are ventilation ways to handle this," he said. "The current way of putting a wall up and smoke drifting across is not adequate."
Nonetheless, Columbia County commissioners will again take up the idea of a smoking ban for public places, to include restaurants and bars, at their Tuesday meeting. Already, the commission has approved a first read of a ban ordinance by a vote of 3-2.
In the case of Joe Camel, Fischer said the only compromise for those ads was to allow them to stay in magazines that catered only to adults, not children. And there was no compromise concerning billboard ads.
He said his study in the early 1990s made it clear that children were coming in contact with the ads and were being influenced by them.
"This made kind of a quantum leap (connection) to children," he said about his study.
He said he came up with the idea about the study because his own son at the age of 2 1/2 made a reference to smoking while in a restaurant. He said his son held a straw like a cigarette, saying, "When I grow up, I want to drive a fast car, be a man and smoke cigarettes."
Now, Fischer said, he can rest easy, knowing his efforts and that of others might have had their own influence on children.
"Obviously, if you did it (the study) again with the 3-year-olds, they wouldn't have any clue what it (Joe Camel) was meant to represent."
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