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In developing countries tobacco and cigarette production involves the diversion of arable land from food to tobacco production. It also involves child labor (despite tobacco company corporate social responsibility campaigns against the use of child labor in tobacco growing fields), heavy pesticide use (often bought from tobacco company on loan), and deforestation.1–7 Santa Fe Natural Tobacco Company (SFNTC) is a wholly owned subsidiary of Reynolds American Inc. (Winston-Salem, NC, USA), which is, in turn, 42% owned by British American Tobacco (BAT). Tobacco companies, and BAT in particular, have a long history of using Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) to support lobbying activities, to repair their reputation, and to turn non-tobacco non-governmental organizations (NGOs) into allies.3, 4, 8–17 RJ Reynolds also engages in environmental sustainability projects as part of Reynolds American Inc.18 Previously, BAT worked with NGOs such as Earthwatch to portray BAT as socially responsible.19 As part of its CSR activities, BAT engages in reforestation projects in many tobacco growing countries. However, these efforts are often used to replace trees lost as fuel for the flue-curing process (and thus serves to ensure that fuel is available at a later time point).7
SFNTC is using reforestation programs as a promotional activity. SFNTC produces American Spirit cigarettes, a premium brand with an “environmentally friendly” and “natural tobacco” image.20 In 2011 SFNTC used direct to consumer advertising to reinforce its eco-friendly image.
In the past, SFNTC embedded wildflower seeds in birthday cards sent to consumers on its direct mail lists.21 In 2011, SFNTC mailed out birthday cards (figure 1) which read, “We know how important the environment is to you. Instead of planting a seeded card, we want you to go global. This year, plant a tree in one of the many reforestation projects throughout the world.”22 Consumers “plant” trees by redeeming a code and choosing which country they wish their tree planted in. They can also obtain environmental information (such as a carbon calculator) and information about reforestation projects.
In 2011, Phillip Morris also offered an eco-friendly promotion using the Marlboro website, which included charting the company’s environmental activities, offering conservation tips, and allowing customers the opportunity to have Marlboro donate $5 to a conservation agency on their behalf and to enter an environmental project-themed sweepstakes. While Marlboro did not name who they were going to give the money to, on the website, placed directly below the offer to donate money, customers are invited to “learn more” about three conservation agencies: Keep America Beautiful, American Land Conservancy, and American Rivers.26
While in the past BAT has used CSR, such as the reforestation projects, to target policy elites, tobacco growers, and consumers,17 the low cost of activities such as “tree cards” (100,000 cards cost $0.66 each plus additional costs for a custom “landing” webpage)27 or email and web promotions like sweepstakes suggests that in the future corporations may direct more CSR efforts at consumers on their direct-mail-list using third parties.
Funding: This work was supported by National Cancer Institute at the National Institute of Health (grants CA-113710, CA-87472) and by the California Tobacco Related Disease Research Program (20FT-0077).
Competing interests: None
Contributorship Statement: MG came up with the idea for the paper and drafted the manuscript. PML and SG contributed to the analysis and interpretation of data, helped revise the manuscript, and worked with MG to revise the manuscript in response to the reviewers’ comments. All authors gave final approval of the version to be published.