My eyes are drawn to eco-friendly packaging when I shop for groceries. It is how I pick my laundry detergent, dish soap and many other products from the litany of options. But I've learned to double-check whether these items are actually better for the environment, because there are a lot of misleading labels.
Companies know that pro-environmental marketing works. A new Stanford study shows it is even effective for cigarettes.
The researchers surveyed over 900 adults on their perception of two major cigarette brands: Pall Mall and Natural American Spirit. Pall Mall is marketed as a discount brand, while Natural American Spirit is marketed as environmentally friendly. For instance, the Natural American Spirit's "Respect the Earth" campaign advertises a "zero-waste-to-landfill" facility and uses a logo with three tobacco leaves that mimics the recycling symbol.
The study participants were a mixture of current smokers, former smokers and people who have never smoked. All three groups consistently ranked Natural American Spirit cigarettes as being healthier and better for the environment than the Pall Mall cigarettes.
"Ecofriendly and natural food products are seen as safer for health," said the study lead author Anna Epperson, PhD, a postdoctoral fellow with the Stanford Prevention Research Center, in a Stanford news release. "That couldn't be farther from the truth when it comes to cigarettes."
Both brands are actually manufactured by the same company, Reynolds American. And they have the same health impacts, including a significantly higher risk of heart disease, cancer and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. They are also commonly discarded, resulting in toxic chemicals leaching into the soil and water supplies.
"All commercially available cigarettes will kill more than half of long-term users if smoked as intended. Marketing language that obscures these health harms, even indirectly through questionable pro-environment claims, ought to be prohibited," the study authors concluded.
This warning may be particularly important to the San Francisco Bay Area and other pro-environment and pro-health regions, where Natural American Spirit cigarettes are especially popular, Epperson said.
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