December 2006

Policy research on the scope for regulation

Cigarette makers have known how to reduce the poisonous gases in smoke for over 40 years - by using charcoal filters. Regulation is now overdue.


The Reality of Smoking

        At a personal level, quitting smoking is the best advice: smokers concerned for their health should contact the Quitline (0800 778 778) and discuss their options.

  • At a population and policy level, until New Zealand’s million smokers quit smoking, it makes sense to expect government to regulate to require all cigarettes to have adequate charcoal filters.

(1) Current (lack of) government policy

        Government has sufficient legislative powers to regulate, and in 2004-5 reviewed its (lack) of such regulations.

        As of May 2005, not a single regulation was in place to protect smokers by regulating cigarette smoke poisons.

        The government has given no date by which it will regulate to fix this problem.

        Health New Zealand’s position: has changed since our 2006 research showed that filtration could not be guaranteed to save smokers’ lives. Instead smokeless products pose truly reduced risk. See

Why a policy is needed

80% of the identifiable toxicity of cigarette smoke is due to invisible poisonous gases – the rest is due to tar.

        Many poisonous gases can be removed by charcoal.

        Charcoal was used in gas masks in World War 2 – to absorb poisonous gases.

        Sufficient charcoal of reasonable quality has to be inserted to give the maximum protection. (probably over 100 mg)

        In the few brands sold in New Zealand with charcoal filters very little charcoal appears to be used. The Mild Seven brand tested failed to reduce hydrogen cyanide in the smoke in comparison to a brand using an acetate filter only.

        Charcoal filters taste a little different, and so have not become popular: but smokers have not had the importance of charcoal explained to them.

Figure 1. Token charcoal filters on sale, 2005. The slit shows a grey dusting of charcoal on the white filter between the white acetate filter and the tobacco. These two charcoal brands sold in New Zealand (Mild Seven and Kent) contain very little charcoal. Smokers smoke for nicotine, not for poisonous gases, and would surely appreciate regulation to require more effective filters.


Figure 1.

(2) The proposed policy

        Regulation of New Zealand cigarettes (currently being revised by Ministry of Health) to reduce their toxicity.

        As one of the important ways of achieving this, the regulations can be worded to require manufacturers to insert efficient charcoal filters.

Caution: Smokers should not assume that because charcoal can filter out the most poisonous gases, that all will be well. At this point in time, only about half of the cancer caused by cigarettes can be accounted for by chemicals that can be measured in the smoke. Carbon monoxide for example, generally cannot be filtered out. Free radicals (trillions per puff) are not easily measured, have important damaging effects, and are not easily removed.

Nevertheless, because many smokers are highly addicted, government has a duty of care to filter out those major poisonous gases which can be removed.





(3) Editorial on the scope of cigarette regulation

NZ Smokefree e-News 15 April 2005; 9 (4): based on

New Zealand  Medical Journal  15-April-2005 v.118 no.1213


Background  In the next few months the Ministry of Health is due to report to Cabinet on the regulation of tobacco products.


Main Messages of the NZMJ editorial

  1. There is currently no regulation at all controlling the poisons in cigarette smoke, which kill over 4000 New Zealanders annually.
  2. Government has power in the Smokefree Environments Act to regulate these poisons.
  3. The poisons in cigarettes and smoke are the same for all brands but the amounts can vary by 40-60 times between brands. This shows manufacturers can reduce emissions if they are required to do so. 
  4. Cigarette smoke is unduly and excessively dangerous. The only New Zealand brand fully tested,  Holiday Extra mild, was the most toxic of 37 brands studied from Australia and Canada.   
  5. Extra mild can mean extra toxic. Tar is not the main problem causing under 20% of the toxicity in cigarette smoke. 80% is due to poisonous gases.
  6. Two thirds of the identified poisonous emissions in NZ cigarette smoke comes from three gases - butadiene, (cancer) hydrogen cyanide (cardiovascular disease) and acrolein (respiratory disease), and most of the rest come from the next 10 gases.
  7. These toxic gases can be tested for, but regulations are needed to make this happen.
  8. Smoke risk is partly reducible if regulations force cigarette companies to use charcoal filters and low emission brands.
  9. Regulation of cigarettes can reduce cigarette cancer deaths (mainly cancer lung) by 80 cancer deaths a year, and may also reduce heart and lung deaths. 
  10. Smoking will remain a dangerous habit, and the best advice is to quit.
  11. Cigarettes cause fires, and New Zealand can regulate the cigarette, as New York has, to prevent such fires.  For further analysis press on this link: 

For the editorial itself, see editorial15apr05nzmj.pdf

For the two research papers by Health New Zealand which this editorial refers to, see under toxicitypubs.htm

For the Health New Zealand research papers on toxicity reduction, click on

Copyright Health New Zealand 2006. All rights reserved.