Tar in Cigarettes – the Paradox Continues

Lowering tar content in cigarettes was one of the original reduced harm concepts in the tobacco market, with new filter technology enabling lower tar delivery. Although the concept of ‘light’ and ‘mild’ cigarettes was rendered toxic in many markets by product liability litigation, consumers still appear to like the idea and lowering tar content is still a primary driver of new product development.

The position of tar within the reduced risk canon remains a paradox: although it is accepted that the carcinogens in cigarettes are in the tar produced by burning tobacco, to suggest that a cigarette that delivers low tar is safer than one which delivers high tar is not acceptable. This is because, to accept it would be to accept that any cigarette is anything other than completely unsafe and, to the anti-smoking lobby and most regulators, degrees of safety for cigarettes are as much of a non-sequitur as degrees of pregnancy.

There is another side to the paradox: despite the fact that it is generally accepted that the proportion of carcinogens in a cigarette is based on the tar yield just over 30 countries out of the 80 analysed by Euromonitor International still have no tar limit. Furthermore, where there are tar caps, these vary significantly. Generally, the stricter the tobacco control regime the lower the maximum tar level. Euromonitor International divides tar levels as follows: high tar
cigarettes deliver tar content of greater than 10mg; mid tar 6-10mg; low tar 4-6mg; ultra low less than 4mg. In most markets, the long-term trend has been for the proportion of high tar cigarettes to fall since smokers seem generally to accept the idea of low tar equating to lower risk and, this is a trend which is forecast to continue.

Tacit acceptance

The fact that some countries have no tar limit is another aspect of the paradox: for some, the view is that the imposition of a legal tar limit would be a tacit acceptance that one cigarette is safer than another (eg Canada). This view is also at the heart of the banning of terms such as “light”, “mild” and “low” in many markets (most recently in the US in 2010). In Western Europe, most countries (including non EU countries) observe the (EU Directive)10mg tar maximum.

High tar continues to shrink due to official tar limits though globally it still dominates accounting for 62% by volume in 2010 (medium 26%, low 9%, ultra low 4%)Strangely the mid tar category is declining. This is because low tar users are switching to ultra which was is the fastest growing tar category (+13% 2005-10).

Tar attitudes

Attitudes to tar very considerably worldwide. Tar levels in Australia are still very high compared to the maximum tar limit in the EU, but there appear to be no plans to introduce legislation lowering the tar level below 16mg. Antismoking organisations in Australia (and elsewhere) view any tar level as dangerous to health, which prevents them encouraging the government to set a lower maximum tar yield. In Malaysia, CTPR93 states that maximum tar is 20mg with the level printed on the pack. The vast majority of Malaysian smokers have a traditional preference for
high tar cigarettes and do not associate high tar with health dangers.

In Thailand increasing health awareness and aggressive anti-smoking campaigns have prompted a shift from high to mid-tar cigarettes, particularly among better educated smokers. This encouraged the Thailand Tobacco Monopoly – the only domestic cigarette manufacturer in the country – to begin producing low tar products, although these have not been well received by the smoking population. There is no mandatory requirement to print information concerning tar and nicotine content on packaging in Thailand.

Ultra low tar is very popular in Japan and South Korea. Mild Seven Impact One delivers 1 mg tar. A 1mg tar variant of Marlboro Black menthol – Marlboro Black Menthol One – was launched in Japan and other markets in 2009. In Japan, the ‘One’ (1 mg of tar) versions of Mild Seven were first launched in February 1998. The most recent launches offer of 1 mg also offer JT’s D-spec technology, which claims to reduce unpleasant tobacco smoke odours.

Puffs and intensity

One reason for the paradox in tar thinking is that, according to research, the intensity of a smoke – the amount of tar actually delivered by smoking a cigarette – can be influenced by factors such as the number of puffs and the treatment of the filter tip by the smoker. In New Zealand, where there is no maximum level, there is a view that imposing a cap would increase smoking volumes as smokers accustomed to high tar increase the number of units consumed in order to compensate. Yet another view is that offering cigarettes with lower tar content reduces the number of smokers quitting the habit by means of the introduction of what might be regarded as an alternative.