Here’s yet another list that Texas finds itself at the bottom of: the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids’ report of how states have been spending (or not spending) the money they’ve been receiving from the landmark 1998 multi-billion dollar settlement with Big Tobacco.
Texas comes in at 46, spending $12.6 million on tobacco prevention and cessation programs, compared to the estimated $2.06 billion collected each year from settlement payments and tobacco taxes. The Centers for Disease Control recommends that Texas spend $266.3 million each year on anti-smoking campaigns. (FYI – Alaska is ranked 1; South Carolina is 50).
There’s one thing the report fails to mention, though: Texas might be able to get away with spending just .06 percent of its settlement-and-taxes coffer on anti-smoking, because the Texas State Department of Health and Human Services has employed the services of a cartoon duck to tell kids that “smoking is foul.”
And if there’s anything that teenagers respond positively to, it’s anthropomorphic mallards.
According www.ducktexas.com, the campaign was born in 2000, when about 100 teens gathered in Conroe for a “Statewide Tobacco Education Program Summit.” After extensive brainstorming, these best and brightest came up with the concept of a talking duck, who they named DUCK. (No explanation is given for why his name is written in all-caps). Per the website, DUCK, who is described as “hip” and “fun-loving,” is a response to Joe Camel -- which R.J. Reynolds had ditched three years prior.
It’s too bad Joe is no longer around, because he would’ve been a perfect foil for DUCK – the Skeletor to his He-Man, the Destro to his G.I. Joe. But in the battle for the hearts and lungs of Texan teens, who would’ve had the upper hand? We decided to see for ourselves how these creatures stacked up.
Joe Camel: Varies: Often seen in bomber jackets and sport coats, but has been known to wear tuxedos. Always wearing sunglasses.
DUCK: Only seen in cargo shorts and a red-white-and-blue jersey for an unknown sporting franchise. Like Joe, he wears sunglasses. Also wears a gray wool cap, ostensibly to hide male-pattern baldness.
Joe Camel: Pool, poker, saxophone. Joe is also a pilot and has an impressive collection of motorcycles and vintage cars.
DUCK: Can ride a flying skateboard.
Joe Camel: Joe travels light. Mostly seen alone; otherwise, he’s in the company of gorgeous, bosomy women.
DUCK: Friends include Sci-Fi Duck, whose favorite saying is “Sci-Fi’s da bomb, yo”; Ricky, a 13-year-old boy who likes to “hang out with the gang”; and Jen, a freckle-faced, midriff-baring 12-year-old girl whose only hobby is instant-messaging, and who is often seen holding a bowl of popcorn.
Joe Camel: None. Everybody likes Joe.
DUCK: Slim Shakey, a sweaty, emaciated, cross-eyed 21-year-old pizza delivery man whose smoking habit has somehow given him severe acne; Mutant Rat, a three-eyed, seven-foot-tall, 300-lb. green rodent who works as a “tobacco tester” in a laboratory; Dusty, a yellow-eyed, gray-skinned 22-year-old who plays football for the Smokers, and whose favorite saying is “I’m (cough, cough) open!!”
Joe Camel: Joe is a man (er, camel) of action, not words.
DUCK: “You know it messes you up, and you know it can shut down your love life”; “Next thing you know, you’re hooked, and stealing cigarettes from your mom’s purse or picking up butts from the street for one last puff – yo, that’s nasty!”; “Every time one of you starts smoking, Big Tobacco goes ‘cha-ching!’”
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Joe Camel: Nicotine addiction.
DUCK: Possible pedophilia. One TV spot shows DUCK and friends – including a boy named Jimmy -- at “DUCK Headquarters,” watching a live-feed of a girls’ slumber party, made possible by a cache of cameras he has secretly installed in the hostess’s parents’ living room. Clad in their pajamas, the girls talk about how gross the boys at school who smoke are. But when the girls collectively coo over non-smoker Jimmy, DUCK pats the boy on the back and says, “Ya feelin’ it, Jimmy?
We are not making any of this up, unfortunately.
-- Craig Malisow