Herbal cigarettes (also called tobacco-free cigarettes or nicotine-free cigarettes) are cigarettes that do not contain any tobacco, instead being composed of a mixture of various herbs and/or other plant material.
Like herbal smokeless tobacco, they are often used as a substitute for standard tobacco products (primarily cigarettes), and many times are promoted as a tobacco cessation aid.
Herbal cigarettes are also used in acting scenes by performers who are non-smokers, or—as is becoming increasingly common—where anti-smoking legislation prohibits the use of tobacco in public spaces.
Herbal cigarettes are tobacco-free and nicotine-free, but they are far from risk-free. "Many people assume that anything herbal or natural isn't dangerous, and that's not true," Professor John Banzhaf of George Washington University said in an interview.
Herbal Gold cigarettes are a prime example. They look exactly like regular cigarettes and come in different flavors including menthol, cherry, and vanilla. Because they don't contain tobacco, they can be sold legally to smokers of any age. Herbal Gold cigarettes contain a blend of herbs including marshmallow (the plant, not the hot chocolate topping), passion flower, jasmine, and ginseng. These herbs are staples of health-food stores, and they're generally safe -- until they're set on fire.
According to a report by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), Herbal Gold and other herbal cigarettes produce many of the same toxins found in tobacco smoke, including tar and carbon monoxide.
In April 2000, the commission ordered the makers of Herbal Gold (as well as another herbal cigarette manufacturer) to add the following warning to all packages: "Herbal cigarettes are dangerous to your health. They produce tar and carbon monoxide." Another FTC complaint against Alternative Cigarettes and Santa Fe Natural Tobacco Company -- the makers of "Natural American Spirit" cigarettes -- ended with the manufacturers agreeing to discontinue advertising claims that their cigarettes were safer because they contained no additives.