Santa Fe Natural Tobacco took a hit last year for allegedly ripping off Native Americans by using Indian customs to promote its products. A national newsletter called Health Letter blasted the local firm in an article headlined "All-Natural Cigarettes: Exploiting Native American Traditions."

Put out by Public Citizen's Health Research Group, the newsletter relied in its article on the expertise of Felicia Hodge, a doctor of public health and a principal investigator for the American Indian Cancer Control Project in Berkeley, Calif.

As an example of how Santa Fe Natural distorts the Indian image to promote smoking, Health Letter wrote last September, the company frequently publishes "a series of 'tobacco vignettes,' several of which are Native American folktales.

[One of these] tells about how tobacco is 'a great gift from Tabaldak, our maker,' and concludes, 'So it is said that to this day, when The People use tobacco as Tabaldak intended, it does them no harm.'" "We all know that some folktales are not true, but Santa Fe Natural Tobacco romanticizes tobacco as part of sacred Native American tradition and, in doing so, misleads people into believing that their natural tobacco also will not harm today's smokers…" Not surprisingly, perhaps, Robin Sommers of Santa Fe Natural rejects the notion that his company wrongfully exploits Indian culture and myth.

"Native Americans are not a target market for American Spirit, and the company does not attribute any significant portion of its sales to the population segment," he told the Reporter. "The company believes contemporary culture should use tobacco closer to the way Native Americans used it when they introduced it to Western civilization in the 15th century. To them, tobacco was associated with peace and friendship and was used consciously, with moderation and respect, and on special occasions. It is specifically because Native Americans traditionally used tobacco in such a carefully considered manner than the company chose this imagery to represent its product."

"Santa Fe Natural is a regular contributor to Native American causes and interests, with the amount each year increasing as revenues increase," Sommers went on…One of the firm's long-range goals is to grow organic, residue-clean tobacco on Indian lands, "thus providing a much needed economic base for the Native American population."

This year marks SFR’s 40th anniversary. Celebrate with us by reading excerpts of stories that have graced our pages through the years. This week’s is our “Mind, Body, Spirit” edition. Comments? Suggestions? Email: