Joe Camel R.I.P.

Some of the Joe Camel bookmatches I won in 2021
Some of the Joe Camel bookmatches I won in 2021

Exhibitor Keith Kendall

In March 2021 I won some Joe Camel bookmatches in the Society’s On-line Auction, and instantly became intrigued by the image they displayed, and began researching the background to the company and the Joe Camel character.

I discovered the reasons behind the campaign and decided to collect more material from the various Joe Camel advertising that was around. This Exhibit is the result of that research.

The original Joe Camel design, 1976
The original Joe Camel design, 1976

The birth of Joe Camel – 1988

In 1988, R. J. Reynolds Tobacco Company introduced a cartoon character, Joe Camel, to invigorate sagging U.S. sales of its flagship brand Camel cigarettes which was about to celebrate its 75th anniversary. Joe Camel was a new twist on the tobacco industry’s decades-old crusade to portray smoking as an intrinsic part of a fashionable, pleasure-filled lifestyle.

The character, based loosely on Old Joe, was originally created in 1974 by a British artist, Nicholas Price, for a French advertising campaign that subsequently appeared in other countries during that decade.

Joe Camel magazine advert
Joe Camel magazine advert



The first ads featuring Joe Camel carried the theme ”75 years and still smokin’ !”


Smooth Character magazine advert
Smooth Character magazine advert

The character’s appeal led Reynolds to make it the centrepiece of all Camel campaigns, under the theme ”Smooth character,” as Joe Camel and his cronies appeared on T-shirts, leather jackets and other manly trappings.



Bookmatches featuring Joe Camel soon started to appear and proved very popular. In fact the entire Joe Camel marketing campaign became a huge success.


Growing concerns about health – 1991

In 1991, the Journal of the American Medical Association published a study revealing that more children could recognize Joe Camel than could identify Mickey Mouse or Fred Flintstone. Concerns were growing about the effect of smoking on health, especially among young people. The pressure was mounting on tobacco companies, and R. J. Reynolds in particular, to cease advertising.

Although Camel’s market share among smokers under 24 years surged from about 4% to perhaps 12% in 1992-93, and then receded to approximately 9%, Camel’s overall market share never increased more than .5% (from 4.3% to 4.8%). There is no evidence that the Joe Camel advertising increased total youth smoking, which declined between 1987 and 1992.

Joe Camel bookmatches from 1992 US election
Joe Camel bookmatches from 1992 US election

Up until 1997, R. J. Reynolds resisted all calls to end the Joe Camel campaign. Tobacco companies have always asserted that they have never targeted teenagers. Yet in the U.S., 60 percent of adults who smoke begin by age 16, and their favourite brand by far is the most heavily promoted cigarette: Marlboro. From their perspective the Joe Camel advertising campaigns had little or no effect on smoking by youths or adults, though they may have prevented a decline in the Camel brand’s market shares and perhaps modestly increased it.

The demise of Joe Camel – 1997

And so it came to pass that on 11th July 1997 that R. J. Reynolds announced the demise of Joe Camel.

The embattled ad figure and his brethren, bearing names like Buster, Max and Floyd, disappeared from all advertising. Joe Camel’s goofy grin, oversized nose and exaggerated depictions of masculine behaviour had helped Reynolds stem a decades-long sales slide for Camel by imbuing the brand with a hipper image.

The White House cheered the demise of Joe Camel, which by then appeared only in the United States. ”We must put tobacco ads like Joe Camel out of our children’s reach forever,” President Clinton said in a statement.

Bruce Reed, the President’s chief domestic policy adviser, was more succinct. ”Joe Camel is dead,” he said. ”He had it coming.”

A brief statement from Reynolds that disclosed Joe Camel would be extinguished did not mention a ban on cartoons as part of a landmark $368.5 billion settlement reached on June 20 by Reynolds and other tobacco marketers.

Here are some of the Joe Camel bookmatches from my collection, click on an image to enlarge it.

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