Cigarette smoking and nickel exposure

J Environ Monit. 2003 Apr;5(2):198-201. doi: 10.1039/b209065c.


The tobacco plant contains nickel and several other toxic metals, most probably absorbed from the soil, fertilizing products or from pesticides. It has been stated that nickel in a burning cigarette might form the volatile, gaseous compound, nickel tetracarbonyl, and thereby be introduced into the respiratory tract. Accordingly, the main objective of the present study was to find out if nickel content in inhaled smoke from ordinary cigarettes and nickel-contaminated cigarettes handmade by nickel process workers might be a supplementary source of nickel exposure to cigarette smoking process workers leading to additional risk of occupational respiratory cancer in these workers. Blood and urine samples from 318 randomly selected employees from Falconbridge Nickel Refinery in Kristiansand, Norway, allocated to 197 smokers and 121 non-smokers, were analysed for nickel content. Nickel quantities in tobacco from various cigarette brands, from nickel-contaminated cigarettes made by process workers or from cigarettes added known amounts of various nickel salts were analysed before being smoked. The cigarettes were smoked in a smoking machine device applying an electrostatic filter. Blood and urine, tobacco, ash and precipitates in the filter from the main stream smoke of the cigarettes were analysed for nickel quantities by atomic absorption spectrometry methods as previously described by the authors. The nickel concentrations in blood plasma and urine were quite similar among smokers and non-smokers, 6.2 and 48.1 microg L(-1) in smokers, and 6.4 and 50.5 microg L(-1) in non-smokers respectively. We recovered 1.1% or even less of nickel in the mainstream smoke after smoking the entire cigarettes without leaving any butt. Most of the tobacco nickel was recovered in the ash. We conclude that the inhaled nickel in the working atmosphere is probably the main source of the nickel exposure to the respiratory tract in these workers. It remains to be determined why cigarette smoking still seems to be a decisive cofactor in the development of respiratory tract cancer in nickel workers.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Environmental Exposure*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Metallurgy
  • Middle Aged
  • Nickel / analysis*
  • Occupational Exposure*
  • Smoking / adverse effects*
  • Spectrophotometry, Atomic
  • Tobacco Smoke Pollution


  • Tobacco Smoke Pollution
  • Nickel