The Santa Fe Natural Tobacco Company has come under fire for the introduction of its ‘eco-friendly’ cigarettes. Beyond questioning whether or not cigarettes can ever truly be ‘green,’ the ads for these cigarettes have environmentalists up in arms because of the way they divert attention from the very unhealthy reality of the company’s actual product. The advert for Natural American Spirit cigarettes lists environmental efforts by the manufacturer as evidence of the product’s eco-friendly nature. They began appearing in March in magazines such as Esquire, Field & Stream, Wired, Mother Jones, Elle and Marie Claire.
The company is owned by Reynolds American Inc., maker of many cigarette brands not usually seen as “natural” or “green”. The company claims that the ‘eco friendly’ moniker does not speak to the health and safety of the Natural Spirit cigarettes, only their manufacturing. It says its facilities are wind-powered, its farmers use fewer chemicals and 70% of its sales staff drive hybrid vehicles. “We try to be good stewards of the environment,” says spokesman Seth Moskowitz, who also said that their sister company helps fund Keep America Beautiful.
In 2000, after Santa Fe Natural Tobacco Company advertised its cigarettes as free of additives, the Federal Trade Commission negotiated a settlement that required the company to include this statement: “No additives in our tobacco does NOT mean a safer cigarette.” In 2010, after marketing its “organic” tobacco, 33 state attorneys general demanded the company include a statement saying the cigarette was not safer as a result.
On the current advert Vince Willmore of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids has been quoted saying, “It’s an egregious ad. It’s trying to greenwash a deadly and addictive product. When you hear a product is eco-friendly, you think it’s better for you.” He added that research shows cigarettes are also the No. 1 source of litter.
“It is misleading to talk about being eco-friendly in a cigarette ad,” given the problems of littering and secondhand smoke, says Jeanne Finberg, a deputy attorney general in California who focuses on tobacco litigation.
“This is a perfect example of why green marketing is broken,” says Joel Makower, executive editor of GreenBiz.com, which covers business environmental efforts. He says marketers latch on to anything that can be considered green so the term becomes meaningless. Makower says the company may be accurate in describing its greening initiatives, which he welcomes, but adds, “Products that harm people should not be marketed as green.”