Lawsuit Questions “Natural” Claims
Natural American Spirit cigarettes are made by Santa Fe Natural Tobacco Company Inc. and parent company Reynolds American. American Spirits have been sold in the U.S. since 1985, first under the name “Original American Spirit.”
Over the years American Spirits have been promoted as “natural,” “100% additive-free,” “organic,” and “unadulterated tobacco,” terms that, according to the lawsuit, “have a potent meaning for the health-and environmentally-conscious consumer.”
The suit claims that such marketing language has endeared American Spirit cigarettes to a core group of smokers who believe that the “natural tobacco” in the cigarettes makes them a healthier alternative to other brands. Despite cigarette sales declining 17 percent between 2009 and 2014, American Spirit sales have increased 86% over the same period.
A regulatory filing on the Reynolds American website states that American spirit is the “leading super-premium cigarette brand and is a top 10 best-selling cigarette brand. It is priced higher than most other competitive brands, and is differentiated from key competitors through its use of all natural, additive-free tobacco, including styles made with organic tobacco.”
But words like “all natural” and “additive-free” on American Spirits labeling, the suit says, belies the fact that Santa Fe/Reynolds adds ammonia to their cigarettes to maximize the amount of nicotine a smoker receives, with the result that American Spirits contain significantly more freebase nicotine than other major cigarette brands.
FDA Warning Letter
Some of the key lawsuit claims are supported by a U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) letter issued to Santa Fe Natural Tobacco Company on August 27, 2015. The letter point out that the descriptors “natural” and “additive free,” imply “that the products or their smoke do not contain or are free of a substance and/or that the products present a lower risk of tobacco-related disease or are less harmful than one or more other commercially marketed tobacco products.”
Santa Fe is bound through an agreement with the Federal Trade Commission to include certain disclosures, such as “No additives in our tobacco does NOT mean safer,” in advertising for American Spirits. These disclosures, however, don’t necessarily have to be imprinted on individual cigarette boxes or cartons.
Consumer research and tobacco industry documents show that terms such as “additive-free” and “natural” imply a safer cigarette, but no scientific studies to date support the idea that American Spirit cigarettes pose fewer health risks than other cigarettes.
Learn more about some of the bogus claims used to sell American Spirits at truthinadvertising.org.