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Sometimes advertisers themselves stir up charges of unfair advertising. Is anyone surprised to see the tobacco industry catching hell on every front?

The favorite villain of health authorities, educators, consumer activists and lawmakers on Capitol Hill and elsewhere is R. J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. for allegedly "targeting" teens with its highly effective marketing "mascot," Joe Camel.

Talk about targeting: This cartoon figure has replaced "The Marlboro Man" as Target No. 1 among anti-smoking forces.

Having taken the lead in calling on RJR to drop its camel cartoon, for the company's own good and the good of all advertising, we take no comfort in seeing this latest scenario play out. RJR's continued reliance on Joe Camel has placed all cigarette marketers, not only RJR, in a no-win situation.

And, obviously, it gets worse. The new attacks on cigarette ads are like a nightmarish oil spill, polluting the entire ad industry lagoon. The fact that most ad agencies do not "do" cigarette ads, and that numerous agencies are involved in anti-smoking ad campaigns, pro bono and otherwise, does not win Brownie points out there.

To illustrate this, remember that earlier this month a congressional aide floated this quid-pro-quo proposition to the American Advertising Federation: Sponsor anti-smoking campaigns, he proposed, and improve your chances of winning some battles on Capitol Hill.

That such a proposal can be made is just one measure of how closely linked the entire ad industry has become to the behavior of cigarette marketers. Fortunately, the AAF people didn't buy. Said one AAF member, "I have 100 things to worry about, and I'm not going to make tobacco No. 101. It's a tobacco industry issue."

Congress should be offering its deal, if it must, to those who created the problem: cigarette marketers and RJR in particular.

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