Is tar measurement useful?
If we only take the weight into account, tar measurement is not useful. It could contain a high proportion of highly toxic chemicals and a low proportion of less toxic ones – or just the opposite. There is no way of knowing because only a weight is reported. The weight gives no indication of residue content, nor the risk of harm, because the level of toxicants within that weight is unknown.
When comparing tobacco products, whether they are cigarettes or smoke-free alternatives, it is even more important to analyze the levels of individual toxicants in the smoke or aerosol. It’s the specific chemicals that are widely recognized as being relevant to the health effects of smoking.
When we look at the content of cigarette smoke, there are thousands of chemicals released and of those, around 100 have been identified by public health authorities as harmful and potentially harmful constituents (HPHCs). It's these chemicals, that are linked to smoking-related diseases.
Tar measurements can be misleading
There is a public health and scientific consensus that “tar” is not an accurate or precise indicator of risk or harm, and that reporting of “tar” measurements can be misleading to consumers. This is why many governments and public health organizations have supported removing tar measurements from cigarette packaging.
The World Health Organization (WHO), in a recent report on the scientific basis for tobacco product regulation, rejected the usefulness of including tar indications for consumers: “Tar need not be measured, as it is not a sound basis for regulation, and the levels can be misleading.”
WHO has removed the “tar” from its list of analytes to be measured in smoke, and their most recent list comprises 39 toxicants, i.e., HPHCs.