There it was--as if fresh from a Sahara oasis, deep red with gold trimmings and drapes obscuring the public's view. What was in there? Would I find wall-to-wall plush pillows? Would there be scantily clad young ladies dancing about? Or better yet, a smooth-chested, silk vest-wearing young man? "I need your ID, sir," said the stout young man, interrupting my stare of curiosity.
He took my ID and transferred my data onto a small pad. "Do you have a pack of cigarettes?" he then asked. I did. I shouldn't have, but I did. "Sure," I say, "a fresh new pack." He retorts, "Only gotta have one in there." (Evidently, this "proves" I am a smoker.) He asked about brands and purchasing habits. I was handed a slip of paper neatly stacked with cigarettes and ID and told to see the two women at the entrance to the tent.
The blonde with a ponytail scanned my ID, put an "X" on my cigarette pack, checked the top of my hand with a Sharpie, and then handed my credentials to the older African-American woman beside her. They flowed through this process like it was second nature. After my third ID inspection I was permitted to enter the Camel tent.
As I zig-zagged into the tent, my opulent image of the interior was shattered. There on the bare asphalt stood a 6-foot folding banquet table with two young attendants. Absolutely nothing else was in the tent but cardboard cases of cigarettes and lots of wires. The first young lady asked for my ID, again. Then, to my amazement, my ID was scanned. I wondered where that information would end up--a mailing list maybe?
I was then allowed to get two free packs of Camel cigarettes, a match for the pack I had and one other. I chose a pack of the new Camel Golds. I asked the workers if they smoked. They both grinned and shook their heads no. I said, "Good!"
After a whirlwind of ID checking, I was out of the tent. There I stood with three packs in my hand. And then it hit me--man, that is one hell of a marketing scheme. Federal regulations for cigarette marketing are now in place. But R.J. Reynolds has a team of lawyers scouring the fine print and advising the marketing department how to get around such rules. Building a mystique around smoking has simply made it an attractive taboo.
So now we have the cigarette lurking behind the veil of a deep red tent. Are the regulations doing what they are intended to do? Or are they simply enhancing the glamour, the mystique, the exclusiveness of smoking? So now I wait for the coupons in the mail: $3.50 off a carton, 75 cents off a pack. Oh, and by the way, Blondie was great.