When I asked Jodi Prochaska, PhD, MPH, what inspired the new Tobacco Labeling Assessment project she's co-leading with Eric Lambin, PhD, a professor of earth system science, she sent me a photo in reply.
The image shows the backs of packs of Natural American Spirit Cigarettes, each with the logo "Respect for the Earth" emblazoned at the top.
In an email accompanying the photo Prochaska explained that, "American Spirit brand's sales have increased over 400 percent since 2002, despite tobacco use declining nationally and despite it being a premium brand that costs more."
Tobacco companies have run ad campaigns claiming environmentally friendly aspects of their product before, but Natural American Spirit's "Respect for the Earth" campaign is the first example of corporate social responsibility advertising that is literally printed on the pack of cigarettes.
With advertising on the packaging, "a pack a day smoker would view the messaging upwards of 7,300 times in a year," Prochaska told me.
In an editorial published earlier this year in Tobacco Control, Prochaska, senior research scientist Lisa Henriksen, PhD, and postdoctoral fellow Anna Epperson, PhD, called out this new form of on-the-pack advertising as an area in tobacco control policy and research in need of study.
Now, Prochaska, Henriksen and Epperson have teamed up with Lambin and senior research scientist June Flora, PhD, to study how Natural American Spirit's packaging campaign may be influencing consumers' perceptions of the product and what evidence there may be to support its environmentally friendly claims.
It's relatively new to focus on the environmental harms of tobacco, Prochaska said. Health tends to be the focus of tobacco control policy and efforts to motivate people to quit smoking, but tobacco production and use is also linked to the environment and behavioral factors that influence how likely people are to continue a habit.
Many tobacco users know smoking is bad for their health, but they may be less aware of its environmental impacts. "Deforestation occurs in the production and curing of tobacco, forest fires are ignited by lit cigarettes or hot ash, tobacco smoke causes air pollution and cigarette butts are the largest form of litter globally," Prochaska explained.
The team's cross-discipline composition will help them address this multifaceted problem. Lambin's research aims to better understand the causes and effects of humans altering the landscape through events such as deforestation or fire. Flora's research links heath and the environment; she examines human behavior changes related to health and climate change.
"Physical and environmental health are inextricably interlinked, and we are pleased to have this opportunity to merge the science from our respective fields," Prochaska said.
Previously: False advertising? "Natural" cigarettes are bad for nature, Stanford researchers say, Everything adolescents should know about the dangers of tobacco and Group urges ban on methol-flavored tobacco, which is marketed to African Americans
Photo by Jodi Prochaska