Just how bad is tar in cigarettes for your lungs?
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We sometimes see it listed on cigarette packages and in brand communication: tar.

When cigarettes are “low-tar,” many smokers somehow feel relieved that their brand choice is perhaps in some way less-lethal than other brands.  But what exactly is tar, and why does it matter to smokers?  Here we’ll discuss what tar is and its effect on the body.


What is tar?

Among what are considered to be the more harmful substances contained in cigarettes are nicotine, tar and carbon monoxide. Contrary to the image it might bring to mind, the tar in cigarettes is not the same as the tar with which roads are paved.  Cigarette tar is formed when the tobacco plant and other substances in cigarettes are burned while smoking.  Around 5mg to 15mg worth of tar is contained in tobacco.  This substance often appears as a sticky brown resin around the cigarette filter and is actually quite toxic, containing over 200 different harmful substances that can have a bad effect on the body.


What is the effect of tar on the body

tar in tobacco cigarette smoke

Tar has several effects on the body, some of which are quite obvious visually.  For instance, over time smokers’ teeth become discolored by tar, turning brown or yellow.  This happens because tar particles are sticky and can readily adhere to teeth over time.

Given tar’s sticky property, it causes a number of health issues as it is inhaled.  Although the process tends to take time to perceive more readily, tar will gradually cling to and coat lung tissue.  This is often seen in photos comparing smokers’ lungs versus non-smokers’ lungs: smokers’ lungs tend to become grey to black over time, whereas non-smokers’ lungs are pink and clean.  As you can imagine, tar-coated lungs are not efficient at absorbing oxygen. As tar is an irritant that contains toxic particles, its presence in the lungs in fact can cause additional respiratory-related diseases.

Since tar is contained in cigarette smoke, it not only affects smokers directly but also the non-smokers around them who inhale the secondhand smoke.  As a result, cigarette smoke threatens the health of others without a smoker necessarily being conscious of it.  Tobacco tar also contains a number of carcinogenic substances that build up over time.  It is believed that smoking increases the risk of disease, as these substances have the ability to alter ordinary cells and cause malignant tumors.


How to avoid tarring into tears

tar copd disease smoking

Some smokers, who are aware of the dangers of tar, will specifically select cigarette brands that have as low a tar concentration as possible, so as to limit the intake of this toxin.  Many low-tar cigarettes will generally have a thicker filter and more air-holes to aid in the dilution of tar before it is inhaled.  Nevertheless, smoking even 1mg tar cigarettes will still yield similar health consequences as higher-tar cigarettes, even if symptoms may take a somewhat longer time to develop.  There is no way of eliminating this risk altogether with standard cigarettes.

When smoking a cigarette, some smokers will attempt to get a stronger drag and may chew on the cigarette filter somewhat in the process.  Actually, biting or chewing on the filter is not particularly good: it can have the effect of blocking ventilation openings and restrict the air flow even more.

If you smoke heavier cigarettes and are considering low-tar cigarettes, you can indeed reduce the amount of tar that enters your body – especially if you smoke lightly and try to stick to  the same number of cigarettes you smoked with the higher-tar brand.  Even if you are not fully considering quitting smoking at the moment, stepping down the a lower-tar brand may help limit the large number of toxins from entering your lungs and help prepare you ahead of a quit.


Final word

Tobacco contains a number of harmful substances, of which tar is a particularly bad one.  Inhaling tar not only affects a smoker directly, but has a negative health impact on the people surrounding them.  For your health and for that of others around you, it is recommended that if you do wish to smoke, that you at least consider switching to a low-tar (e.g. 1mg tar) variety.


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