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Youth-Oriented Condom Targets Teen Buyers

November 25, 1991

SARASOTA, Fla. (AP) _ The nation’s first youth brand condom hits stores next year, targeting buyers as young as 14 years old. Critics say the Safe Play Condoms for Young Lovers could encourage teens to have sex.

″It’s almost like putting a loaded gun in a child’s hand,″ said Wendy Flint of the American Parents Association. ″It’s says to them, ’I might as well do it, it’s something I should be doing by this age anyway.‴

But Barry Miller, vice president of marketing for Schmid Laboratories, which makes the condoms, said they only target sexually active teens.

″We’re not promoting promiscuity among young people, but we recognize it takes place - we can’t just stick our heads in the sand,″ Miller said.

The condoms, billed as the nation’s first to specifically target youths, aren’t different from the Ramses and Sheik brands the company also makes.

What’s different about Safe Play is a planned marketing mix aimed at teens - a $3 price tag, compact six-condom package with neon graphics, free condom key chains or rub-off tattoo kits inside and advertising on MTV. Miller said a main focus is protection against AIDS.

″Everything we do is geared toward the sexually active teen - not the teen who is not having sex,″ Miller said. ″Our message is: If you do choose to have sex - wear a condom. ... It’s about saving lives.″

Critics say youth-oriented condoms aren’t the answer to pregnancies and the spread of AIDS among teens.

″Despite all the talk about abstaining, those who do choose to abstain are made to feel like fools because they aren’t practicing safe sex,″ said Gary Bauer, president of the Family Research Council, a conservative Washington, D.C., think tank.

Schmid introduced Safe Play Condoms for Young Lovers in England last year and already has a 3 percent market share there. The company unveiled plans for the product in the United States just three days before Magic Johnson announced he has the AIDS virus.

While company marketers hope to capitalize on that good timing, they contend the statistics long cried out for a condom aimed at teen-agers.

A recent study by the federal Centers for Disease Control reported that 57 percent of all high school students in the nation said they have had sexual intercourse. There are about 670 cases of adolescent AIDS, with the number logged annually rising from 36 in 1985 to 160 in 1990.

There are an estimated 1 million pregnancies and 2.5 million cases of sexually transmitted diseases occurring among teen-agers every year.

Safe Play packages warn that condoms aren’t absolute protection against AIDS or pregnancy. A Consumer Reports study found that about one latex condom in 140 breaks.

Schmid, which Miller said targets condom buyers as young as 14, is the second-ranked manufacturer in the nation’s $350 million condom market.

Carter-Wallace Inc., which dominates 50 percent of the market with its Trojan brand, has taken recently to advertising its condoms using a comic- strip character. But a company spokeswoman said it doesn’t have a youth- oriented condom.

″It takes some courage to take a realistic approach to the teen-age sex problem, even though you know it might be controversial,″ said Trish Moylan- Torruella, educational director for Planned Parenthood. ″Whenever you talk about sex and teen-agers, people get extremely emotional.″

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