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    A Times Editorial

    Smokey's new message

    © St. Petersburg Times, published May 1, 2001

    After 54 years, Smokey Bear's message is changing and that could help Florida. Smokey's famous slogan -- "only you can prevent forest fires" -- will be replaced with a very similar one -- "only you can prevent wildfires." The subtle word change is part of a new advertising campaign to focus on the threat not only from campfires in a forest, but also from threats in the suburbs, such as backyard trash fires and discarded cigarettes.

    Smokey Bear appeared in his first ad in 1945 and the original slogan was introduced in 1947. Since then, the bear in a ranger hat has become as recognizable as Santa Claus and Mickey Mouse, and Smokey's campaign has had remarkable success. Forest acreage destroyed by fire decreased from 22-million acres per year when Smokey started to 4-million acres today. But wildfires outside forests, which can be ignited by something as simple as discarded barbecue coals or an idling automobile, have increased.

    Floridians should know what Smokey is talking about. A man burning weeds in his back yard started a wildfire in February that shut down Interstate 4 for 10 days. In the past 10 years, human carelessness has caused 102,000 wildfires while lightning has started only 13,000. According to recent research, most adults admit they are sometimes careless with fire but still don't think they could start a wildfire, according to the Ad Council, which runs the Smokey Bear campaign for the U.S. Forest Service. "We thought it was time to revise, refresh and re-awaken Smokey's message to the American public," said Peggy Conlon, Ad Council president.

    Let's hope Smokey Bear, who is approaching retirement age, is still up to the job.

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