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JULY 14, 1997

Local News

Tobacco icons off of county billboards by 1998

The Marlboro Man and Joe Camel are no longer welcome on King County billboards as a result of an agreement struck between a major outdoor advertising company and the county last week. AK Media/NW has agreed with the King County Board of Health to voluntarily remove all tobacco advertising on its billboards across King County by January 1, 1998. "Good-bye, Marlboro Man, and take Joe Camel with you," said King County Councilmember Greg Nickels, chair of the Board of Health.

   The agreement replaces an accord that would have banned tobacco advertising on billboards within 2,000 feet of schools, playgrounds or parks effective August 15.
   Perhaps traumatized by the announcement, R.J. Reynolds also retired Joe Camel from its marketing package.
   Approximately 40 percent of AK Media/NW's billboards in King County are located more than 2,000 feet from schools and playgrounds. "As a result of this agreement, King County will become the first county in Washington state, and possibly the first in the nation, to become entirely free of tobacco advertising on billboards," Nickels said.

   For the past 10 years AK Media/NW has voluntarily banned alcohol and tobacco advertising within 500 feet of schools, childcare centers, churches and playgrounds.
   "[We] have always been concerned about underage smoking and have been planning for this day for some time," said Randy Swain, president of AK Media/NW.
   The company controls most billboards in King County.
   "There is an old saying 'don't blame the messenger.' Today, the messenger [took] an important positive step in protecting our children's health. The message to the tobacco companies should be clear-stay away from our children," Nickels said.

   The Board of Health is also considering other anti-tobacco measures including restricting placement of tobacco products in stores, banning smoking in restaurants and additional restrictions on outdoor advertising. The board consists of 12 county council members, as well as representatives from the City of Seattle, suburban cities and health professionals. R.J. Reynolds Tobacco also announced last week that it was retiring Joe Camel, the cartoon figure some said was more recognizable to kids than Mickey Mouse.