Descriptors such as “natural” and “made from organic tobacco” in the marketing of Natural American Spirit cigarettes imply reduced risk of toxic exposures.
Studies show that smokers perceive these cigarettes as being less harmful than other brands, which is why they choose them.
There is very limited data on the levels of key harmful chemicals in Natural American Spirit cigarettes.
To learn more, University of Minnesota researchers carried out a comprehensive chemical analysis of 13 different varieties of Natural American Spirit cigarettes.
The study, which was led by School of Public Health Associate Professor and Masonic Cancer Center member Irina Stepanov, was recently published in the journal Tobacco Regulatory Science.
The researchers investigated both the tobacco used in Natural American Spirit cigarettes and the smoke they produce.
The smoke was analyzed using a smoking machine, a device that simulates puffing on a cigarette and measures the chemicals emitted.
The study found:
levels of toxic and cancer-causing chemicals in Natural American Spirit cigarettes are generally similar to those found in other commercial cigarette brands; tobacco and smoke of Natural American Spirit cigarettes contain higher levels of nicotine than those typically present in other brands, which suggests they may be more addictive.
“The similarities between the cancer-causing chemicals in various Natural American Spirit cigarettes are consistent with the knowledge that harmful chemicals in cigarette smoke come from the tobacco plant itself or from the combustion process, and do not depend on tobacco being ‘organic’ or ‘natural,'” said Aleksandra Alcheva, a School of Public Health graduate student and study co-author.
“We also learned that there is more tobacco per cigarette and it takes more puffs to finish Natural American Spirit cigarettes than other king-size brands, which means a smoker can inhale more smoke from each cigarette.”
Stepanov emphasized that this study only compared machine-generated laboratory data for Natural American Spirit and other brands.
“Smokers smoke cigarettes differently from the laboratory machines,” said Stepanov. “However, this study clearly demonstrates that there are no major differences between Natural American Spirit and other brands that could be attributed to ‘natural’ or ‘organic’ qualities.”
“While some of the misleading descriptors that have been used in advertisements of Natural American Spirit cigarettes are no longer permitted, the use of words such as ‘organic’ and ‘tobacco and water,’ along with the ‘Natural’ in the name of the brand is still misleading,” said Stepanov.
“I hope the results of this study can reach at least some smokers of Natural American Spirit cigarettes and help in correcting the misperception that these cigarettes are somehow healthier than other brands.”
What do these terms actually mean when it comes to cigarettes?
And is organic tobacco actually any safer than conventional tobacco?
In the world of cigarettes and tobacco, “organic” and similar terms don’t mean much. This is partly why cigarette packing using these terms must also carry a disclaimer explaining that the product isn’t any safer than others.
In terms of plants, organic means a particular plant has grown in soil that’s only been treated with federally approved, non-synthetic pesticides and fertilizers. But the term isn’t regulated within the tobacco industry, so it’s mostly meaningless.
And even if the tobacco in a cigarette is truly organic, it doesn’t have much of an impact on how the cigarette will affect your health.
The concept of “organic” cigarettes or “natural” and “additive-free” tobacco comes from a popular misconception that it’s all the artificial additives in cigarettes, rather than tobacco, that makes cigarettes harmful. But this isn’t true.
When both organic and conventional tobacco burns, it releases a range of harmful toxins, including:
- carbon monoxide
You inhale all of these chemicals when you smoke a cigarette. In addition, sugars in tobacco produce a compound called acetaldehyde when burned. This compound is linked to respiratory problems and an increased cancer risk. It may also be related to the additive nature of tobacco.
If you fell for the marketing ploy of “organic” cigarettes, you aren’t alone.
A 2018 study explored the opinions of more than 1,000 adults, including over 340 people who smoke. The investigators noted that the use of “organic” and similar terms in cigarette ads had a big effect on how people perceived the harm caused by cigarettes.
And that disclaimer they have to put on the packaging, explaining that “organic” doesn’t mean it’s safer? It didn’t have much of an effect on the study’s participants, though it did seem to have a small effect on perceived harm. Still, some said they didn’t even notice the fine-print text, while others didn’t fully trust the information.
In short, there’s no evidence to show that “organic” or “additive-free” cigarettes are any less harmful than traditional cigarettes.
Many people know cigarette smoke can cause lung cancer, but cigarette smoke can negatively affect health throughout your entire body. People around you who inhale secondhand smokecan also experience negative health effects.
Here’s a look at some of the main side effects of smoking any kind of cigarette.
- trouble breathing or shortness of breath
- persistent cough (smoker’s cough)
- worsened asthma symptoms
- difficulty exercising or being active
- dry, dull skin
- early wrinkle formation
- loss of skin elasticity
- other changes to skin tone and texture
- yellowing teeth and nails
- dental issues, such as cavities, loose teeth, and tooth loss
- mouth sores and ulcers
- bad breath
- gum disease
- difficulty smelling and tasting things
Hearing and vision effects:
- reduced night vision
- cataracts (clouded eyes)
- macular degeneration (vision loss)
- inner ear damage (hearing loss)
Reproductive health effects:
- difficulty becoming pregnant
- pregnancy complications or loss
- labor complications, including heavy bleeding
- erectile dysfunction
- damaged sperm
Smoking can also:
- lower your immune system function, causing you to get sick more often and take longer to recover
- lower your bone density, causing your bones to break and fracture more easily
- decrease your body’s ability to heal from wounds and injuries
Smoking can have various long-term side effects on your health. If you smoke, you have a higher risk for multiple health issues, including cancer, respiratory disease, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and stroke.
People who smoke are more likely to die younger than those who don’t smoke, usually as a result of smoking-related health conditions.
These conditions include:
- Cancer. Smoking not only increases your risk of developing many types of cancer, it also increases the risk you’ll die from cancer.
- Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). COPD includes chronic bronchitis and emphysema. Your risk for COPD increases if you smoke for a long time or smoke frequently. There’s no cure, but if you quit smoking, treatment can help manage symptoms and prevent them from worsening.
- Thickened blood and blood clots. These can both increase your risk of having a heart attack or stroke. It can also lead to peripheral vascular disease (PVD). With PVD, the flow of blood to your limbs decreases, which can cause pain and trouble walking.
- Peripheral arterial disease (PAD). PAD is a condition that involves a buildup of plaque that begins to block your arteries. With PAD, you have a higher risk of heart attack, heart disease, and stroke.
More information: Vipin Jain et al. Comprehensive Chemical Characterization of Natural American Spirit Cigarettes, Tobacco Regulatory Science (2019). DOI: 10.18001/TRS.5.4.8
Provided by University of Minnesota