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Joe Camel is taking a hike on outdoor boards-at least for now.

But his look-alike buddy, Floyd, will remain on 150 neon boards nationwide and painted building ads in New York and Chicago, R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. said.

"It is an erroneous impression that we are walking away from [Joe] Camel," an RJR spokeswoman said when asked about reports the marketer may be phasing out the character after eight years. Joe Camel has come under fire both for its appeal to youth and subconscious sexual imagery.

The new outdoor ads-which replace Joe Camel-from Mezzina/Brown, New York, feature only a graphic of a cigarette package and went up nationwide Oct. 1. RJR contends that it is "exercising some flexibility" in art.

The spokeswoman said Joe still appears in print ads as well as a 10-page magazine insert that also features the on-pack graphic.

RJR spent $7.2 million in media supporting the Camel brand in the first six months of 1995, down 55.8% from the same period in the previous year, according to Competitive Media Reporting; about half was in outdoor.

But there is plenty of industry speculation RJR may be conducting a limited test of what life without Joe Camel would be like.

The Food & Drug Administration is accepting public comment through Jan. 2 on a proposal to limit tobacco print and outdoor advertising to so-called "tombstone" ads of b&w text alone.

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