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American Spirit Cigarettes — Reduced Risk Marketing Pitch


I want “all natural” in everything I consume. Why? Because it is better for you. Right?

What does natural mean to us? “Unaffected”, “genuine”, “native” “natural”. All clean feeling words that provide the impression that something is good for you, or at least its natural and so it not bad for you.

In food we use the term natural and it conjures up an image of wholesomeness and health. American Spirit cigarettes have been advertised as “natural”, but no one, smoker or not, would consciously consider cigarettes to be healthy. Right?

Wrong. It is almost entirely about subconscious perception; advertising, manipulating the consumer’s thought process. Isn’t it an addicted cigarette smoker’s private hell to have the addiction of nicotine and other ingredients in cigarettes, but to yearn for reduced risk products? Wouldn’t the best world for the addicted smoker be to offered something healthy, something natural., something reduced risk?

American Spirit cigarette boxes

But, what is the goal of cigarette manufacturers? Like other manufacturers of products, they need to sell their product; and as much as possible. In Big Tobacco’s world, that means keeping them addicted. They do that by selling nicotine and other chemicals and use the cigarette as the thoroughly engineered, most efficient nicotine delivery device ever conceived; and processed with chemical additives to make them easier to smoke and to prolong their shelf life.

About “natural tobacco”:

“As elaborated by one 1975 focus group member(s), ‘I think of the Indians and their tobacco, and it’s all pretty natural. … [I]t’s … something that grows and they wrap it and you smoke it and that’s about it. Advertising a cigarette as ‘‘all natural’’ or ‘‘100% tobacco’’ seemed redundant to these smokers; according to one 1997 focus group member, ‘it’s like buying fish and saying 100% fish’.”

Studies in the 1970’s and 1980’s demonstrated that smokers are surprised when discovering that “natural” cigarettes have anything but tobacco in them. It was not until 1994 that the tobacco industry finally disclosed to the US Department of Health and human Services that cigarettes contain any of 599 additives, including many carcinogens:

  • Ammonia
  • Formaldehyde
  • Pepper spray
  • Ethyl alcohol
  • Lead
  • Isobutyl alcohol (commonly a solvent)
  • Vinyl chloride
  • Benzene

Make the cigarette natural and suddenly, smokers feel warmly about the manufacturer. Such as when interviewed in 1997, a group of Natural American Spirit cigarette smokers stated that they were drawn to the brand, partly because the small company that then manufactured them ‘‘cares more about its customers’’. Not surprising that American Spirit would start their campaign with the image of a native American Indian as their ambassador.

The brand American Spirit is now owned by RJ Reynolds. RJ Reynolds was one of the companies who developed the natural, additive free approach to selling cigarettes. RJ decided to develop them, but not actively market natural cigarettes until they felt consumer backlash about cigarette ingredients. Since they fought releasing those ingredients until 1994, consumers only then began to slowly question the ingredients.

Santa Fe Natural Tobacco Company (SFNTC) marketed their natural cigarettes in Mother Earth News, Whole Earth Review and similar places; using the picture of a Native American Indian and offered free samples. Free samples were accompanied by literature from ‘‘America’s leading natural foods teacher’’ extolling the ‘‘medicinal’’ virtues of chemical-free tobaccos, which, the teacher suggested, had allowed Native Americans to smoke ‘‘for centuries… without developing cancer’’

In order to market “natural cigarettes”, tobacco companies needed the ingredients in “regular cigarettes” to become controversial in order to then advertise the attractiveness of “Natural” cigarettes. This conundrum was best summarized by an article by Patricia McDaniel and Ruth Malone on the consumers “perceptions” about natural cigarettes:

“CONCLUSION The tobacco industry is adept at easing smokers’ health concerns through such product modifications as filters and (seemingly) reduced tar. American tobacco companies have understood, for decades, that ‘‘natural’’ is similarly misleading and implies unwarranted health claims. They have also understood that the most effective advertising campaign for a natural cigarette will be a cigarette ingredient controversy generated by external forces. This poses a dilemma for tobacco control, and suggests a need to direct attention to the unnaturalness of smoking itself rather than to unnatural cigarette ingredients.” (emphasis added)

American Spirit is no more natural than any other cigarette in terms of the health risks and is simply one of the developing products in Big Tobacco’s product line of addiction. Not surprising, but marketed otherwise.

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Posted By: Bud Wilder