Tar, nicotine, and carbon monoxide emission numbers are misleading. They represent neither the amount of chemicals present in the cigarette (i.e. tobacco “constituents”), nor the amounts actually ingested by human smokers. This is because the emission numbers are determined by a machine that “smokes” cigarettes according to a fixed puffing regime. This machine method does not predict the amount of smoke inhaled by individual consumers or account for design elements such as “filter ventilation” tiny holes poked in the filter that yield low emission levels under machine smoking, but much higher levels under human smoking. As a result, there is no association between the machine-generated numbers printed on packages and the health risk of different brands. In short, the underlying premise for communicating tar and nicotine numbers directly to consumers – that “low tar” cigarettes are less harmful has since been rejected.
Research has repeatedly shown that although many smokers are not able to recall the specific tar level of their brand, a substantial proportion nevertheless equate lower numbers with a reduction in exposure and risk, and many use these numbers to guide their choice of brands. Recent findings suggest that smokers even in the most affluent and educated countries continue to hold false beliefs about emission numbers. For example, 75% of smokers from Australia, Canada, the U.S., and the UK recently reported that the tar numbers on packs are related to exposure.86 Among smokers in the same study who believe that some brands are less harmful than others, 81% believe that the tar and nicotine levels indicate the brands that are less harmful.86 When shown emission labels on two cigarette brands from the European Union, 92% of smokers recently reported that the 4 mg product would deliver less tar than the 10 mg product, and 90% reported that they would buy the 4mg product if they were trying to reduce the risks to their health. These findings are consistent with the ways in which smokers have been shown to perceive emission numbers when conveyed through advertising.
Current International Best Practice
A number of countries have removed regulations requiring manufacturers to print tar and nicotine numbers on packages, including Venezuela, Australia, Malaysia, Thailand, Brazil and others. Countries such as Canada and the European Union have indicated their intention to do the same.