VIEWPOINT: 'HEROIN CHIC' VS. JOE CAMEL: WHAT'S HIPPEST TO OUR YOUNG PEOPLE?

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I admit that kids these days are getting the impression that smoking is cool, but I don't think Joe Camel is the main culprit.

Far more pernicious are the movies and TV shows that depict smoking and smokers as hip and fashionable, in a grungy but capable and efficient kind of way. What comes to mind is Bruce Willis, cigarette stuck between his lips, a cloud of smoke rising above his head, working feverishly but coolly to defuse a ticking bomb.

Images of real people-doing brave and dangerous things, helped along by a cigarette dangling out of their mouths-has got to be more inspiring to a teen-ager than a cartoon character with sunglasses and a cigarette stuck in his dromedary mouth.

But now, in the face of last week's agreement, "The Marlboro Cowboy will be riding off into the sunset on Joe Camel," as the Florida attorney general put it.

It's comforting, I'm sure, that the problem has been so precisely identified. But the real culprit-the glorified way movies and musicians and our entire pop culture depict smoking and drugs-is much harder to deal with.

I didn't hear much reaction from ad industry groups when President Clinton accused the fashion industry of making the use of heroin seem "glamorous, sexy and cool" through ads that enticed young people to give it a try.

"American fashion has been an enormous source of creativity and beauty and art and, frankly, economic prosperity for the United States," the president said. "But the glorification of heroin is not creative, it's destructive. It's not beautiful; it's ugly. And this is not about art; it's about life and death. And glorifying death is not good for society," President Clinton reminded us.

The president spoke out after he read an article in The New York Times on the death of fashion photographer David Sorrenti, 20, from a drug overdose. Magazine layouts and fashion ads have been using the "heroin chic" photos of Mr. Sorrenti and others to appeal to young people's desire to be hip, and the look of "seedy desperation," as the Times put it, captured the feeling.

Francesca Sorrenti, David's mother, contends that photographers want to prove their hipness-and editors and advertisers let them get away with it. "They want to show what their world is about," Ms. Sorrenti told the Times. "Then it becomes a competitive thing. My world is hipper than yours. In the photography world everyone started wanting to outdo everyone else-how much can we shock? And the advertisers allowed it to happen."

Some people in the industry say the "heroin chic" look is already passe. "It's not news," Michael Gross, author of "Model. The Ugly Business of Beautiful Women," told Newsday. "The trend is already over. The same fashion editors who were running the sickly pictures two years ago are now deploring them." Instead, Newsday points out, fashion ads and editorial these days show "shiny, happy images" of youth at play along the lines of Tommy Hilfiger or Todd Oldham, a vegetarian and promoter of healthy living.

The problem is that young people won't think that the all-American look is very cool. Young people gravitate toward the quirky and weird-anything that older people are not-and there will be great pressure on magazine editors and advertisers to come up with ever more outlandish styles and modes of behavior to match the self-inflicted alienation of the target audience.

Joe Camel vs. heroin chic? They're the difference between a walk in the park and a walk on the wild side, and even the federal regulators know on what side of

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