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Green Cigarette, or Greenwashing?

The Santa Fe Natural Tobacco Company advertisement in question.

The Santa Fe Natural Tobacco Company (SFNTC)  – maker of the American Spirit cigarette brand – is being heavily criticized for its latest “eco-friendly” advertising campaign.

The company, which is owned by Reynolds American, says its green credibility is derived from the purchase of 100% wind power and the fact that roughly 75% of company staffers drive hybrid vehicles. In addition, the Environmental Protection Agency granted SFNTC membership in its 2010 Green Power Leadership Club, and the brand earned ISO 14001 environmental certification from the International Organization for Standardization for its headquarters in Santa Fe.

But some environmental and health advocates say that it is inherently wrong to call a cigarette eco-friendly, because of its dangerous health effects. 

“This is yet another attempt by a tobacco company to downplay how deadly and addictive cigarettes truly are, this time by marketing a cigarette brand as environmentally friendly,” says the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids. “Consumers should not be deceived: There is nothing healthy or environmentally responsible about Natural American Spirit cigarettes or any cigarettes.”

Prior to the current "eco friendly" campaign, Santa Fe has run ad campaigns claiming that its cigarettes contain "no additives" and are made with organic tobacco. In 2000, the Federal Trade Commission filed a deceptive advertising complaint and reached a settlement that required Santa Fe to add a disclaimer to its packages and advertising stating, "No additives in our tobacco does NOT mean a safer cigarette."

In 2010, attorneys general from 33 states and the District of Columbia, led by California, reached an agreement requiring Santa Fe to add a disclaimer stating, "Organic tobacco does NOT mean a safer cigarette."

Environmental groups also note that cigarette litter is a serious issue. According to calculations from researchers in this field and published in an issue of Tobacco Control funded by Legacy earlier this year, at least 5.6 trillion cigarettes are discarded into the environment worldwide annually.

Cigarette filters and butts are the most common form of litter and are the most common debris item collected from beaches and inland waterways during Ocean Conservancy's annual International Coastal Cleanup, with nearly two million cigarettes and cigarette butts picked up during the 2010 cleanup.  Cigarette butts contain heavy metals that can leach into waterways, posing a threat to aquatic life.

The new "eco friendly" ads began running in magazines such as Wired, Elle, Mother Jones and Marie Claire earlier this year.


simple solutions

just ban cigarette advertising, simple...

Bart King is the principal of New Growth Communications, a network of affiliated content producers and strategists serving clients in the emerging green economy. He is also Associate Editor of Sponsored Content for Sustainable Brands. Follow him @bart_king [Read more about Bart King]

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