Tar (tobacco residue)

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For other uses, see tar (disambiguation).

Tar is the common name for the resinous, partially combusted particulate matter produced by the burning of tobacco and other plant material in the act of smoking. Tar is toxic and damages the smoker's lungs over time through various biochemical and mechanical processes.[1] Tar also damages the mouth by rotting and blackening teeth, damaging gums, and desensitizing taste buds. Tar includes the majority of mutagenic and carcinogenic agents in tobacco smoke (IARC, 1986). Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH), for example, are genotoxic via epoxidation.[2]

There is a common misconception that the tar in cigarettes is equivalent to the tar used on roads.[citation needed] As a result of this, cigarette companies in the United States, when prompted to give tar/nicotine ratings for cigarettes, usually use "tar", in quotation marks, to indicate that it is not the road surface component. Tar is occasionally referred to as an acronym for total aerosol residue,[3] a backronym coined in the mid-1960s.[4]

Tar, when in the lungs, coats the cilia causing them to stop working and eventually die, causing such conditions as lung cancer as the toxic particles in tobacco smoke are no longer trapped by the cilia but enter the alveoli directly. Thus, the alveoli cannot come through with the process that is called ‘gas exchange’ which is the cause of rough breathing.

The tar from cigarette smoke is similar to that of marijuana smoke.[5]


  1. ^ Nicole Wolverton (Sep 2, 2010), Effects of Tar in Cigarette Smoke, Livestrong, retrieved Jan 16, 2013 
  2. ^ Luch, A. (2005), The Carcinogenic Effects of Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons, Imperial College Press, ISBN 1-86094-417-5 
  3. ^ Cigarette Manufacturer and Production - British American Tobacco Malaysia - Tar and Nicotine
  4. ^ British American tobacco (21 September 1966). "Minutes of the 32nd Meeting of the Chemistry Study Group". 
  5. ^ Tomar, Rajpal C.; Beaumont and Hsieh (August 2009). "Evidence on the carcinogenicity of marijuana smoke" (PDF). Reproductive and Cancer Hazard Assessment Branch Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment, California Environmental Protection Agency. Retrieved 23 June 2012.