“Tar” is the term used to describe the toxic chemical residue left behind from burning cigarettes.

The concentration of tar in a cigarette determines its rating

  • High tar cigarettes contain at least 22 milligrams (mg) of tar
  • Medium tar cigarettes from 15 mg to 21 mg
  • Low tar cigarettes 7 mg or less of tar

Cigarette filters were first added to cigarettes in the 1950s when it was reported that the tar in cigarettes was associated with an increased risk of lung cancer. The idea was that the filter would trap harmful tars and nicotine, but the design never worked as well as hoped. Toxins still make it through and into the smoker’s lungs, exposing them to the risks of smoking related disease.

In solid form, tar is also known as third hand smoke. It is the brown, tacky substance left behind on the end of the cigarette filter. It stains a smoker’s teeth and fingers brown and coats everything it touches with a brownish yellow film. Imagine that settling into the delicate pink tissue of your lungs.

Tar is present in all cigarettes and tends to increase as the cigarette is burnt down, which can mean that the last puffs on a cigarette may contain as much as twice the amount of tar as the first puffs.

Tar in cigarette smoke paralyzes the cilia in the lungs, and contributes to lung diseases such as emphysema, chronic bronchitis, and lung cancer.

See also
Are Light Cigarettes Less of a Risk for Smokers?


“Up In Smoke The Truth About Tar and Nicotine Ratings” May, 2000. The U.S. Federal Trade Commission.

“A Vision for the Future.” Surgeon General’s Report 1981 Section 8. Centers for Disease Control.

“Low Tar Cigarettes Do Not Cut Cancer Risk.” 14 January, 2004. MIT News Office.

Smoking & cardiovascular disease (heart disease)

R.j. reynolds tobacco company

Cigarette and tobacco smoke, high blood cholesterol, high blood pressure, physical inactivity, obesity and diabetes are the six major independent risk factors for coronary heart disease that you can modify or control.

Cigarette smoking is so widespread and significant as a risk factor that the Surgeon General has called it “the leading preventable cause of disease and deaths in the United States.”

Cigarette smoking increases the risk of coronary heart disease by itself. When it acts with other factors, it greatly increases risk. Smoking increases blood pressure, decreases exercise tolerance and increases the tendency for blood to clot. Smoking also increases the risk of recurrent coronary heart disease after bypass surgery.

Cigarette smoking is the most important risk factor for young men and women. It produces a greater relative risk in persons under age 50 than in those over 50.

Women who smoke and use oral contraceptives greatly increase their risk of coronary heart disease and stroke compared with nonsmoking women who use oral contraceptives.

Smoking decreases HDL (good) cholesterol. Cigarette smoking combined with a family history of heart disease also seems to greatly increase the risk