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South Africa: one life, waste it!

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As South Africa struggles to improve the health of its people with grossly inadequate resources, one of the most precocious forms of tobacco promotion is providing highly attractive imagery for RJ Reynolds' Camel cigarette brand. Under the slogan “ONE LIFE. LIVE IT”, newspaper advertisements for the Camel Road Show, like the website to which they refer, must break records for the sheer exuberance of words and images conveying associations of excitement, physical fitness, fun, and other positive concepts. New, exciting (twice), high tech state-of-the-art, opportunity, lifestyle, excitement—these adjectives were just the start. At the show itself, which the ads promised could be found at a mobile Camel Trophy road show village, the reader would find “a selection of Camel Trophy experiences” including climbing walls, abseiling, video walls, photographic exhibitions, a parallel mountain bike trials course, internet stations, and orienteering/GPS (global positioning system) activities. These are at the very furthest end of the spectrum from what is attainable for a smoker suffering from, say, emphysema or lung cancer, and this paradox is presumably an essential design aspect of the marketing plan.

Advertisement from a South African newspaper, promoting the Camel Trophy road show at which readers can participate in all manner of physically stimulating and challenging activities—provided, of course, they have not succumbed from emphysema or lung cancer as a result of smoking.

At the mobile village you could also find sponsors' information, and many will be surprised by some of the names—BP, Kenwood, Captain Morgan Rum, Decca, even Medical Rescue International (MRI). After a flurry of protests generated by the Tobacco Action Group, BP South Africa announced it was pulling out of the venture—a major victory for health, as had been Land Rover's pullout the previous year. Decca and MRI also indicated that they might reappraise their participation, though initially MRI bought the Camel line that the show was not connected with cigarettes. In response to an enquiry from a surprised customer of an associated health care company, MRI wrote that its association was “with . . .a separate business from the company that produces Camel cigarettes. The Camel Trophy company sells adventure related clothing. Our association is therefore . . .with this company rather than Camel cigarettes”. Apart from this being an affront to common sense, there is of course a wealth of evidence to prove the link, of which one ofTobacco Control's favourites is that reported by a health advocate who met a group of Camel Trophy organisers on a flight to South America. These macho men, wearing jungle gear liberally adorned with the Camel name and logo, were off to the Amazon. When asked whether the Camel Trophy had anything to do with the cigarette brand, they replied that they were, well,instructed to say that they were promoting boots and outdoor wear, not cigarettes. They added, however, with a grin on their undoubtedly manly faces, that the similarity with the cigarette brand was, er, not coincidental.