Smoking Tar

Tobacco products, especially cigarettes, contain a number of chemicals and toxic substances that can seriously and permanently damage one’s health. For example, while tobacco naturally contains the addictive drug nicotine, it also emits tar and carbon monoxide as byproducts. This section takes a closer look at what tar, nicotine and carbon monoxide are in order to expose the negative health effects associated with ingesting them as you use tobacco products.

Tar in Tobacco Products

Tar in tobacco products refers to the resinous byproduct that results when the tobacco or other smoke-able plants, such as cannabis, is burned. This means that tar is a product of smoking tobacco products, such as cigarettes, rather than of chewing tobacco. As a tobacco user continues to smoke cigarettes, cigars or other tobacco products, more and more tar builds up in the smoker’s, preventing the lung’s cells from properly reproducing and repairing themselves.

Interestingly enough, the tobacco-related tar is different than tar used to pave roads. To clarify this distinction, many cigarette manufacturers list the ingredient tar in quotes (i.e. “tar”). Some claim that tar is an acronym that stands for total aerosol residue, although skeptics call this backronym, meaning that the acronym was made after the fact to soften the word tar.

Regardless of whether or not the acronym is suitable, the fact remains that the tar that results from tobacco smoke causes major damage to the lungs. The longer and more a person smokes tobacco, the more alveoli (small sacs in the lungs that take in oxygen for the rest of the body) are destroyed. Overtime, ingesting tar can cause:

  • bronchial infections
  • chronic respiratory disease
  • emphysema
  • lung cancer
  • mouth cancer
  • throat cancer.

Popular Tobacco Brands

As you read about the negative health effects of tobacco, you may think that the products you use are safer because they contain the word “light” on the packaging. Remember, this type of marketing doesn’t mean that these products are any less dangerous. Here is a list of popular tobacco brands that produce “regular” and “light” cigarettes and other tobacco products, both of which are harmful to your health:

  • Camel cigarettes
  • Clove cigarettes
  • Marlboro cigarettes
  • Kool cigarettes
  • Lucky Strike cigarettes
  • Pall Mall cigarettes
  • Salem cigarettes
  • Skoal tobacco (a smokeless tobacco)
  • Winston cigarettes.

Negative Health Effects of Nicotine

Nicotine is a highly addictive, toxic liquid that is a natural part of tobacco. Because of its addictive properties and its associated negative health effects, medical experts have deemed nicotine a drug. As you smoke tobacco products, the nicotine enters the body through your lungs, providing it with immediate access to your bloodstream. From here, nicotine goes directly to the brain, where it:

  • causes rapid, shallow breathing
  • elevates heartbeats
  • increases in blood pressure
  • speeds up your basal metabolic rate, your metabolism when you are at rest
  • triggers the release of the body’s glucose stores, giving a person more short-term energy and suppressing appetite.

All of this starts occurring in your body about 10 to 15 seconds after you take your first inhalation of a cigarette, cigar or pipe.

The dramatic way in which nicotine alters a smoker’s physiology each time he smokes highlights just exactly why nicotine is so addictive. The more nicotine a person ingests, the more a smoker’s body gets used to feeling the sensations caused by nicotine. Similarly, over time, nicotine can start to mimic the role of acetylcholine (ACH), an essential neurotransmitter that controls many of the body’s involuntary functions. Ultimately, extended use of nicotine causes smokers to become physically dependent on the drug.

Negative health effects of nicotine include:

  • hardened arteries
  • heart attack
  • heart disease
  • infertility
  • lung cancer
  • stroke.

Smokeless Tobacco

Although smokeless tobacco can contain fewer toxics than their smoke-able counterparts, keep in mind that it is still highly addictive and detrimental to your health. While smokeless tobacco lacks tar and carbon monoxide, it still contains nicotine, which has been proven to cause serious health problems if used for an extended period of time.

Carbon Monoxide and Smoking

Carbon monoxide is an odorless, colorless gas that is highly toxic in nature. While cars emit carbon monoxide, so too do cigarettes and other smoke-able tobacco products as the tobacco itself is burned. As you smoke cigarettes, the carbon monoxide they emit enters the lungs and the bloodstream. From here, the carbon monoxide molecules connect with hemoglobin, a red blood cell protein that carries oxygen.

Over time, as more and more carbon monoxide binds to hemoglobin, a smoker’s arteries harden, which can cause the following health complications:

  • blood clots
  • gangrene, which can lead to the need for amputation
  • heart attack
  • heart disease
  • pulmonary embolism, a condition in which a blood clot trapped in the lungs blocks the flow of oxygen to the body
  • stroke
  • vascular (vein-related) disease.

Carbon monoxide, along with tar and nicotine, are just 3 of the roughly 4,000 toxic substances that cigarettes and other tobacco products contain. The best way to protect yourself and prevent these serious, potentially fatal health problems is to quit smoking.


American Medical Student Association (n.d.). Tobacco. Retrieved January 3, 2008 from the AMSA Website:

Mayo Clinic (October 4, 2006). Nicotine Dependence. Retrieved January 3, 2008 from the Mayo Clinic Website: