What is cigarette tar?

      Scientifically speaking, tar is the weight measurement of solid and liquid residue in cigarette smoke, after nicotine and water have been subtracted. Cigarette tar is a typically brown or yellow residue of cigarette smoke. Some of the chemicals present in cigarette smoke, and thus in cigarette tar, can lead to smoking-related diseases. 

      This measurement, also known as nicotine-free dry particulate matter (NFDPM), is reported as weight of “tar” per cigarette on cigarette packs in some countries. It is measured by passing the aerosol through a device that traps the particulate matter of the smoke on a filter. The mass of that particulate matter, excluding the weight of nicotine and water, is the NFDPM.

      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. 

      The European Union’s 2014 Tobacco Product Directive clarified that tar ratings are not the appropriate metric to identify a cigarette’s level of harm: “the indication of the emission levels for tar, nicotine and carbon monoxide on unit packets of cigarettes has proven to be misleading as it leads consumers to believe that certain cigarettes are less harmful than others.” 

      Smoke-free products versus cigarettes 

      For the comparison of tobacco products, we need to look closely at the composition of the residue. Scientifically substantiated smoke-free products are designed and developed to generate aerosols that contain much lower levels of toxicants than cigarettes, and the composition of the residue is very different than that of cigarettes, which is why tar is not an accurate measurement for it.

      With our heated tobacco products, there is no combustion of tobacco. For example, for our tobacco heating system (THS), the tobacco is heated to generate an aerosol with on average 90-95% lower levels of harmful chemicals compared to the smoke of a cigarette. We have also demonstrated that the THS aerosol does not contain solid particles, which are present in cigarette smoke. In short, science shows that the THS aerosol is fundamentally different to cigarette smoke.

      A residue can still be found in heated tobacco products, but its composition is so different that it doesn’t provide meaningful information to help assess health risks. Indeed, the German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR) measured NFDPM levels of one of our heated tobacco products in a recent scientific assessment, but they chose not to report a direct comparison in their publication and instead cautioned: “Although the NFDPM value for HNB [Heat not Burn] products can be formally calculated as for the conventional cigarettes, direct comparisons would be misleading.”