CITY COUNCILMAN Juan Ramos keeps Hershey's kisses in his refrigerator because he likes them cold.
But this week, he'll turn up the heat on the company for making Ice Breakers Pacs, dissolvable breath-mint pouches that look exactly like bags of powdered street drugs.
Ramos will introduce a resolution at tomorrow's Council meeting denouncing the Hershey Company and urging it to "repackage the product in a more responsible manner."
"This is appalling," Ramos said yesterday of the new breath mints that are so similar to bags of cocaine and heroin and other powdered drugs that police narcotics veterans were fooled.
"I'd think a very prominent, successful company - someone in their marketing department would have noticed, unless they're that out of touch with what goes on," Ramos said.
If the company is that clueless, it won't be for long.
James Nevels, former chairman of the Philadelphia School Reform Commission, and former Gov. Tom Ridge were named to the Hershey's board of directors last month.
Clearly, both are familiar with the city's drug problems and the potential for trouble created by the look-alike breath mints - from children who'd mistakenly ingest the real thing to dealers who'd try to swindle customers and invite retaliation.
Will either of the prominent leaders pressure the company to change the way the mints are made - with powdered sweetener encased in tiny blue or orange dissolvable pouches?
I called both this week to ask. Ridge declined comment and Nevels didn't return my calls.
Hershey's is no doubt reveling in the free publicity the product has received since my column on Friday about the drug/twin mints ignited a national media storm and Internet frenzy.
You have to wonder if free publicity wasn't the point.
The mints are even sold in a plastic slide-top case that's similar to the magnetic key cases drug dealers use to hide their wares under cars. What an odd coincidence!
Philadelphia Family Court judges and police officials - including Chief Inspector William Blackburn, who's in charge of the narcotics bureau - were outraged at the packaging and urged consumers to push for a recall.
Hershey's continues to play dumb.
Company spokesman Kirk Saville wouldn't respond to the pending City Council action beyond repeating the praises of Ice Breakers Pacs.
"The general public clearly recognizes that it is a unique and innovative breath mint," he said yesterday.
"Beyond that, the product is clearly labeled with ingredients and nutritional information and it's clearly identified as an Ice Breakers product."
He refused to say whether the company had received any complaints.
Given the fervent response to my column, I'd be surprised if it hadn't.
Still, I've never seen an issue evoke such an intense and divided reaction, based on my e-mails and responses to blog posts and Internet stories I've seen.
I was mocked on the one hand and thanked on the other. People vowed to boycott Hershey's on the one hand and to buy the Pacs in defiance on the other.
"My husband and I were both shocked and dismayed to see Hershey's latest marketing gimmick," wrote Sandi Tuttle.
"This is irresponsible and beyond the pale. . . . We have decided to boycott all Hershey's products until they revise their packaging for this item."
On the other hand:
"This is one of the most ignorant and inflammatory articles I have ever read in my life," wrote Malcolm Little. "While it would not surprise me from your writing that you had an intimate knowledge of many street drugs, the fact of the matter is that these mints have very slight resemblance to any drugs, regardless of how many people of equally low intelligence you found to support your theory."
And then there was this, from a blogger:
"If Hershey did this on purpose, I gotta hand them props for brilliant marketing - kind of a Gen Y version of candy cigarettes. I've never seen a bag of heroin up close in my life, but I might have to start carrying around Ice Breaker Pacs - it could improve my street cred."
Clearly, one person's horror is another person's humor.
But Councilman Juan Ramos is among those in this city who aren't laughing. *
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