Popular 'natural' smokes still harmful

By Nancy Motherway
Arizona Daily Wildcat
March 18, 1996

In a time when consumers are choosing organic foods and dye-free detergents, more smokers are going "natural" with their choice of cigarettes.

The trend began 10 years ago when Santa Fe Natural Tobacco Company introduced Natural American Spirit, a new "natural" additive-free cigarette with whole leaf rather than reconstituted tobacco which does not contain the stems, flavorings and humectants found in regular cigarettes, said Robin Sommers, President and CEO of the Santa Fe Natural Tobacco Company.

Natural American Spirit and Sherman's, the additive-free cigarettes available locally, also cost 25 to 75 cents more per pack than the regular brands.

"They are selling well because they're additive-free. They taste better and they last longer," said Kent Progar, cashier at the Crescent Smoke Shop, 216 E. Congress.

"Many of our customers report that not only is the taste different, but the entire smoking experience is different," Sommers said.

The main difference in taste may be attributed to the absence of chemical components, he said.

A UA Student Health Services annual survey conducted last March found that 21 percent of all students smoke tobacco from once a week up to more than half a pack per day.

In a demographic survey taken in December 1993, Santa Fe Natural Tobacco Company found that 16.4 percent of Natural American Spirit cigarette smokers are under 30 while the bulk of its users are between 30 and 39 at 28.3 percent usage.

Smokers may think they are living a healthier lifestyle by switching to brands such as Natural American Spirit and Sherman's. But the promotional descriptions on the sides of additive-free cigarette cartons do not make any claims that they are healthier than regular cigarettes.

Scott J. Leischow, assistant professor of family and community medicine at the University of Arizona, said that smoking additive-free cigarettes will do nothing to improve a smoker's health.

"Any smoke, anything that burns that you inhale, whether it's cigarette smoke, pot smoke or the so-called 'natural' tobacco products,

is going to be harmful to the lungs," said Leischow, director of the Arizona Program for Nicotine and Tobacco Research.

Eventually, smoking damages the lungs enough so that it impedes the ability to exchange oxygen, leading to such lung diseases as lung cancer and emphysema, he said.

Although the major benefit of natural cigarettes is that they have none of the additives that are put into regular cigarettes, there is no evidence that shows they decrease the occurrence of health problems associated with the use of regular cigarettes, Leischow said.

By switching to additive-free cigarettes, smokers are spending more money than they would on regular cigarettes for a product that will harm their body just as much, he said.

While anti-smoking activists warn smokers that additive-free cigarettes are not any healthier than the regular brands, many users simply relish the better smoke of the natural cigarettes.

Johnna Gale, restaurant manager of Tooley's, 299 S. Park Ave., said when she goes back to Camel and Marlboro cigarettes it "just isn't the same."

"These burn slower than cigarettes," she said, referring to the Natural American Spirit cigarettes she had just purchased.

Psychology freshman Allison Branstad agreed: "I usually smoke Camels, but (Natural) American Spirits are good."