Disclosure of constituents and emissions has presented a unique challenge to government regulators. Cigarette smoke contains approximately 4,000 chemicals, including over 60 carcinogens and toxins such as polonium-210, benzene, and arsenic.75 Although there is general agreement that cigarette packages should include some information on the toxic and addictive properties of tobacco products, regulators continue to struggle with how to communicate this information in a feasible and meaningful way to consumers.
At present, national authorities have taken different approaches to labelling constituents and emissions. The traditional regulatory practice in many jurisdictions has been to require manufacturers to print levels for three emissions in the mainstream smoke: tar, nicotine, and carbon monoxide (CO). These numbers are typically printed on the side of packages. In fact, communicating emissions numbers to consumers was originally an industry practice. Tobacco manufacturers have communicated tar and nicotine numbers directly to smokers ever since the health risks of smoking became publicly known.76 These early forms of “product disclosure” were motivated less by consumer protection than by a marketing strategy intended to capitalize upon widespread misperceptions of “lower tar” products. Despite early objections by regulatory authorities such as the U.S. Federal Trade Commission, this industry practice has become a common regulatory practice throughout the world.
The underlying premise for communicating tar and nicotine numbers directly to consumers – that “low tar” cigarettes are less harmful – has been rejected. Not only has the epidemiological data failed to detect differences in risk, but the serious limitations of emission testing methods have also become apparent. Scientific consensus is that tar, nicotine, and carbon monoxide emission numbers do not offer smokers meaningful information on the amount of tar and nicotine they will receive from a cigarette, or on the relative amounts of tar and nicotine exposure they are likely to receive from smoking different brands of cigarettes.