ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) _ Joe Camel's creator says the shades-wearing, big-nosed cartoon animal she dreamed up was never intended to lure kids into lighting up.

Lynn Beasley, executive vice president of marketing at R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., said Monday that company executives used Joe Camel in order to soften the brand's image, not hook teen-age smokers.

``We definitely do not want underage sales at all,'' said the 40-year-old stepmother of two children. ``I don't want kids to smoke; I don't think any responsible adult wants kids to smoke.''

Beasley estimated that underage smokers use just 2 percent of all cigarettes in the United States. During testimony at Minnesota's lawsuit against the tobacco industry, she said marketing to youths would backfire.

``It'd be crazy for us, because every time a kid lights up, we get blamed,'' Beasley said.

It has long been almost an article of faith among critics of the cigarette industry that America's No. 2 tobacco company devised the cartoon character to attract children to the brand.

The state and Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota have also maintained that the Joe Camel ad was aimed at recruiting young people to replace older smokers who quit or died.

The plaintiffs are seeking $1.77 billion they say they've spent treating smoking-related illnesses, plus punitive damages.

The lead attorney for the plaintiffs, Michael Ciresi, said that some of Reynolds' internal documents indicate the company did target underage smokers.

One of them, labeled a presentation by Reynolds marketing chief Charles Tucker to the company's board of directors in 1974, spoke of the ``growing importance of the young adult in the cigarette market.'' The document defined the ``young adult market'' as 14 to 24.

A 1975 memo to Tucker stated: ``To ensure increased and long-term growth for Camel Filter, the brand must increase its share penetration among the 14-24 age group, which has a new set of more liberal values and which represent tomorrow's cigarette business.''

Beasley disputed that the documents showed that her company was marketing to minors. She contended the average starting age is 18 to 19, and suggested that most teens who smoke below that age are just experimenting.

Under questioning from defense attorney Robert Weber, Beasley said the Joe Camel campaign was aimed at adult male smokers, mainly those aged 18 to 24.

Beasley said she was assistant brand manager for Camel in 1987 when the company was looking for a way to lighten the brand's image.

``One of the big problems we had with Camel was that it was considered to be a really harsh, bad-tasting brand, even though it wasn't,'' Beasley said.

Beasley said her team showed focus groups ideas for a new campaign as Camel's 75th anniversary approached. The biggest hit was a cartoon image from ads than had run in France showing the head of a camel, cigarette in his mouth, bursting through a pack of cigarettes.

``When that was shown to the adult smokers, they just lit up,'' Beasley said. ``A light bulb went off in my head.''

Beasley also noted that cartoon characters have been used to promote many other products sold to adults _ including the Exxon tiger, Speedy Alka Seltzer, Dow's scrubbing bubbles, Owens-Corning's use of the Pink Panther, Met Life insurance ads featuring Snoopy and a Minnesota State Lottery game featuring Bullwinkle the Moose.