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Putting Tobacco Dispute on Table : Ads: A boycott of RJR Nabisco and Philip Morris food products is sought. Anti-smoking backers want marketing of cigarettes to minors halted.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

When you munch an Oreo cookie, you’re also walking a mile for Camel cigarettes. And when you buy Jell-O, you’re putting money into the Marlboro man’s pocket.

That, at least, is the logic behind a nationwide boycott of Nabisco and Kraft products to be launched today by an anti-smoking lobby. The group is demanding that RJR Nabisco, the conglomerate that makes both Camels and Ritz Crackers, and Philip Morris, the tobacco giant that makes both Marlboros and Kool-Aid, stop marketing cigarettes to minors.

“We want to get parents outraged at attempts by the tobacco companies to get children to smoke,” said Joe Tye, president of Stop Teen-Age Addiction to Tobacco, the Springfield, Mass.-based organization calling the boycott.

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The hard-edged slogan behind the effort: “Don’t buy your family’s food from companies that sell cancer.” That message--printed above large logos for Nabisco and Kraft--will appear in ads the group hopes to place in some magazines and newspapers.

The two firms that are the focus of the boycott are unimpressed.

“Companies that are conglomerates are a way of life in the U.S.,” said Jason Wright, spokesman for RJR Nabisco, which also makes Salem and Winston brand cigarettes. “If consumers don’t like our tobacco products, they shouldn’t buy them. It’s the same with our food products. These are separate and distinct operations.”

A spokesman for Philip Morris, which also makes Virginia Slims and Merit cigarettes, declined comment.

The latest action adds to boycott headaches at Philip Morris, whose Marlboro cigarettes and Miller beer already are being boycotted by the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power (ACT UP), a San Francisco gay activist group that objects to the company’s financial support of Sen. Jesse Helms (R-N.C). An estimated 300 gay bars nationwide have stopped selling Miller beer.

While the anti-smoking group does not expect to immediately hurt sales at Nabisco or Kraft, it is at least trying to inform the public that the big tobacco firms are also giant food makers. “We want people to know that when they buy Nabisco or Kraft products, they’re supporting tobacco companies,” said Tye.

Among other things, the boycott asks that the cigarette makers stop trying to appeal to minors with ads that use cartoon characters--such as the popular cartoon camel for Camel cigarettes. The boycott also asks that the tobacco companies stop promoting sporting events.

“The problem is not the smoker,” said Tye, who is chief operating officer at Baystate Medical Center, a Massachusetts hospital. “The problem is the tobacco industry. Until we stop them from being so effective at recruiting young people, we’ll have this problem.”

Anti-smoking groups estimate that there are 3 million minors who are already regular smokers--and another 3 million casual smokers under age 18. Tye says more than $1 billion of the cigarette industry’s annual sales is to minors.

“It’s hard for us to tell young people to just say no to nicotine,” said Tye, “when the tobacco industry is spending $9 million a day telling them to say yes.”


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