Backlash Against Cigarette Manufacturer’s “Green” Marketing Campaign

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, 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.”


Akhila is the Founding Director of GreenDen Consultancy which is dedicated to offering business analysis, reporting and marketing solutions powered by sustainability and social responsibility. Based in the US, Europe, and India, the GreenDen's consultants share the best practices and innovation from around the globe to achieve real results. She has previously written about CSR and ethical consumption for Justmeans and hopes to put a fresh spin on things for this column. As an IEMA certified CSR practitioner, she hopes to highlight a new way of doing business. She believes that consumers have the immense power to change 'business as usual' through their choices. She is a Graduate in Molecular Biology from the University of Glasgow, UK and in Environmental Management and Law. In her free-time she is a voracious reader and enjoys photography, yoga, travelling and the great outdoors. She can be contacted via Twitter @aksvi and also

5 responses

  1. err… tobacco without tar and such are technically safer to smoke. Its not cannabis but its still better than what you get from Marlboro brand cigarettes and such.

  2. I think a lot of these problems would be solved it it were simply against the law to advertise cigarettes (and possibly alcohol too). So much of their popularity is due to marketing, I wonder if banning ads would naturally (no pun intended) reduce usage to something much less harmful to society.

    As for Santa Fe, I wouldn’t call them healthy, but in their defense, the use of organic tobacco and reducing various other chemicals and so on is definitely a good thing!

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