A federal report Thursday blamed the surge of teens who took up smoking in the 1980s on massive promotional campaigns by tobacco companies, including the debut of Joe Camel.
The CDC report is the third government pronouncement in the last week singling out tobacco companies’ success at targeting teenage smokers.
In 1980, when tobacco companies spent $771 million on freebies and giveaways, 5.4 percent of 14- to 17-year-olds started smoking, according to a study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
That dropped to 4.7 percent by 1984, but then rebounded to 5.5 percent in 1989 - the year the tobacco industry spent $3.2 billion on caps, T-shirts, trips, coupons, and other items to promote smoking and brand loyalty, the CDC said.
The highest rate, 6.3 percent, came in 1988, the year R.J. Reynolds introduced the popular Joe Camel cartoon character in its advertising and promotions.