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Are organic or natural cigarettes safer to smoke?

"Organic,” “natural” or “additive-free” product labels may imply a healthier or safer choice, but that couldn’t be further from the truth when it comes to tobacco products.

A cigarette with organic tobacco or tobacco with no additives does not make it healthier or safer than other cigarettes. All cigarettes — including those marketed as "natural," "organic" or "additive-free" — have harmful substances such as heavy metals, tar and carbon monoxide. This means that inhaling burnt tobacco of any kind is harmful.

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Even though there is no evidence that “natural,” “organic” or “additive-free” cigarettes are any safer or are less harmful than other cigarettes, why do so many people think otherwise?

Misleading descriptors and other aspects of cigarette packaging and advertising can lead consumers to incorrectly believe that some cigarettes are less harmful than others. For example, a Truth Initiative® study found that nearly 64 percent of Natural American Spirit smokers think the cigarettes are less harmful than other brands. Natural American Spirit cigarettes are the only major cigarette brand that markets its products as “natural,” “organic” and “additive-free.” The study confirmed the findings of earlier research from Truth Initiative, which showed that 50 to 60 percent of adults viewed Natural American Spirit cigarettes as less harmful than a comparison pack of Marlboro Red cigarettes.

"Our research shows that a majority of Natural American Spirit smokers incorrectly believe that their cigarettes are safer than other cigarettes,” said Robin Koval, CEO and president of Truth Initiative.

“The truth is that they are just as dangerous as any other cigarette."

These product labels are dangerous because misperceptions about the harms of smoking cigarettes may make someone more likely to try a product, or encourage smokers to switch brands rather than quit smoking.

These labels are so problematic that the Food and Drug Administration has required Santa Fe Natural Tobacco Company, the maker of Natural American Spirit cigarettes, to remove the terms “natural” and “additive-free” from its product labels, advertising and promotional materials because they constitute reduced harm claims, which are banned without agency approval. The company is still permitted to use “Natural” as part of its brand name, and the FDA failed to address the use of “organic.”

Truth Initiative has urged the FDA to take enforcement action against Santa Fe and Reynolds American, Inc. for marketing Natural American Spirit cigarettes with reduced harm claims without approval. The FDA should determine that Natural American Spirit cigarettes are illegally on the market, and therefore prohibit the use of any term that suggests reduced risk or reduced exposure to harmful substances — including “organic” — in the promotion of products and in the brand name itself.