All things considered, cigarettes are probably one of the most difficult products to market as “earth-friendly”, right up there with gas-guzzling SUVs and disposable drink cups. Cigarette butts are unsurpassed as the most littered item in the world (trillions per year). Growth and curing of tobacco contributes massively to deforestation in developing countries. With this in mind, how could it be possible to have a believable green ad campaign as a cigarette company? Somehow, American Spirit is managing to do just that.
It starts with the packaging. Every pack of American Spirit cigarettes has the word “Natural” and depicts a Native American smoking on the front of the carton. Some packs also contain an insert with advertising claims similar to the ones made above. Before knowing anything about the company, consumers are bombarded with green implications. According to Terrachoice’s “Seven Sins of Greenwashing”, this falls right in line with the sin of “Lesser of Two Evils”. Much like an SUV being marketed as fuel-efficient, the notion of an environmentally friendly cigarette is somewhat ludicrous — from an outside perspective. However, to a regular smoker, this kind of advertising can be harder to see through; in fact, it actually seems to be working.
Let’s look at the claims that American Spirit makes as a company. Being 100% wind-powered is a great achievement, as are the other environmental advancements the company is making. But there is absolutely no information about the actual product — take away the brand name and these “eco-friendly” attributes could be for any company. Just to recap; NO claims are made about the environmental sustainability of American Spirit cigarettes, and yet they are considered to be an environmentally friendly alternative to Marlboro or Camel. It’s amazing how deceptive an ad campaign can be without actually telling any outright lies.
Fortunately, regulation against cigarette advertisements on TV and radio have made it difficult for these ads to reach mainstream consumers. However, cigarette companies are at an advantage because they have a captive audience: in fact, many smokers will actually turn to American Spirits instead of quitting because they feel that they are a better alternative. (My main motivation for researching this company was a coworker telling me that American Spirits don’t cause cancer because they’re organic). Is it true that overall, American Spirit cigarettes are better for the environment? Yes, fractionally. But all the hand dryers and hybrid cars in the world can’t cover up selling the most littered product on the planet.