RIVM has measured the amount of tar, nicotine and carbon monoxide (TNCO) in all filter cigarettes sold in the Netherlands with the WHO Intense method. The TNCO levels measured with this method were more than 15 times higher than those measured with the legally prescribed ISO method.

For this study, which was commissioned by the Netherlands Food and Consumer Product Safety Authority (NVWA), RIVM analysed all filter cigarettes sold in the Netherlands. In all brands, the levels of tar and carbon monoxide measured with the WHO method exceeded the legal limit. Three brands had a nicotine level within the legal limit.

Differences in measurement techniques

RIVM compared the TNCO levels measured with the WHO Intense method with the TNCO levels entered into the European database by the manufacturer or importer. The latter values were determined using the ISO method. The ISO (International Organization for Standardization) method and the WHO (World Health Organization) Intense method measure cigarette smoke differently. The WHO Intense method simulates more intense smoking behaviour: the machine captures larger and more frequent puffs from the cigarette than the ISO method. Furthermore, the ventilation holes in the filter are fully blocked when using the WHO method. These holes are located at the position where a smoker normally holds the cigarette (between their fingers or lips). Due to these differences the WHO Intense method better mimics a smoker’s behaviour.

Study background

This study was prompted by a debate about the relevance of the ISO method. The Dutch Tobacco and Related Products Act stipulates this method for measuring TNCO levels in cigarette smoke. The Youth Smoking Prevention Foundation and others have filed a lawsuit asking the NVWA to take action against cigarettes ‘rigged’ in this way. They claim that smokers inhale much more TNCO per cigarette than the amounts measured with the ISO method. In response to this lawsuit, the NVWA asked RIVM to measure the TNCO levels in the smoke from filter cigarettes sold in the Netherlands using the WHO Intense method.

Confirmation of previous study

The results confirm the findings of a previous study. This study also showed that much higher TNCO levels were found when using the WHO Intense method instead of the ISO method. RIVM recommends the WHO method should be included into legislation, because it provides more accurate measurements of the substances smokers inhale.