Bonnie Henry

Ron Medvescek/Arizona Daily Star

Ate some organic strawberries the other day for dessert. Delicious. But it still left me craving for something else to follow up the meal. Naturally, I reached for a cigarette.

Oh, but this wasn’t just any cigarette, mind you. Nope, this one happened to be a Natural American Spirit cigarette, “made with organic tobacco, grown on American soil,” containing, “100 percent additive-free natural tobacco.” No word yet on whether it’s also gluten-free. If not, I’m sure they’re working on that.

Disclaimer here: No, of course I didn’t actually smoke a cigarette. Fact is, I’ve never smoked in my life — a decision I credit less to good sense than to the fact that every time I tried a puff, it left me dizzy and somewhat nauseated.

Still, I grew up in an era when everyone and his uncle seemed to carry a pack of Camels, “Luckies,” or Marlboros in their left front shirt pockets. My dad, who got hooked on cigarettes when he was 13, smoked the Winston brand just about all of his adult life. He finally quit for good in 1999 but the damage was done. Lung cancer took him seven years later.

I’m sure he would have scoffed at the thought of organic “additive-free natural tobacco.” And to be fair, the full-page ad that caught my eye in a recent Time magazine does carry disclaimers that “Organic tobacco does NOT mean a safer cigarette,” and “No additives in our tobacco does NOT mean a safer cigarette.”

So why bother?

Well, from perusing various blogs and articles on the subject, the consensus that I drew seems to be: Hey, if you’re a socially and environmentally conscious individual (being vegan is almost a given) who just happens to be hooked on something that pollutes your lungs every time you inhale and pollutes the atmosphere every time you exhale, you might as well go organic – at least while you’re still breathing.

And believe me, the Santa Fe Natural Tobacco Co. — which produces Natural American Spirit cigarettes — spins its product in such an environmentally friendly way that you’d swear they were sold in health food stores.

Turns out, the company, which began in a Santa Fe rail yard in 1982 and was acquired by R.J. Reynolds in 2001, did sell its cigarettes out of health food stores back in the 1990s, according to a 1997 Chicago Tribune article.

Whether that’s still the case, I have no idea. But if you scroll through Santa Fe Natural Tobacco Co.’s website, you’ll find just about all that’s missing is an endorsement from Walden Pond’s Henry David Thoreau.

According to the website, the company:

  • Recycles 6 to 10 tons of tobacco dust each month into commercial grade compost, diverting it from landfills.
  • As of 2012, replaced 82 percent of its national sales fleet with hybrid vehicles.
  • Substituted its cigarettes’ foil pack liner with a “new, more environmentally friendly paper inner liner,” thus eliminating the need for the aluminum mined to make foil in favor of paper made from “trees grown in North America under certified sustainable forestry programs.”
  • Cautions customers not to throw its cigarette butts hither and yon. (Apparently the company has yet to find a way to go green on butts.)

Then again, if you truly want to do the right thing, environmentally speaking, while cleansing the air and your lungs at the same time, you could always just say no to cigarettes — organic or otherwise.

Bonnie Henry’s column runs every other Sunday. Contact her at