Cadmium, lead, and thallium in smoke particulate from counterfeit cigarettes compared to authentic US brands

Food Chem Toxicol. 2007 Feb;45(2):202-9. doi: 10.1016/j.fct.2006.08.001. Epub 2006 Aug 30.


Smoking remains the leading cause of preventable disease in the United States. Exposure to tobacco smoke leads to cancer, heart and lung disease, and addiction. The origin of the tobacco and cigarette manufacturing practices of counterfeit cigarettes are unknown. Because toxic metals are incorporated into the tobacco lamina during cultivation, the ambient metal content of the soil could produce significant differences in metal levels in both the tobacco and smoke of counterfeit cigarettes. We compared mainstream smoke cadmium, thallium, and lead deliveries from counterfeit and authentic brands. Mainstream smoke levels of all three metals were far greater for counterfeit than the authentic brands, in some cases by an order of magnitude. Significant differences still existed even after normalizing mainstream smoke metal levels with nicotine delivery; the counterfeits typically delivered much higher levels of all three analytes. Our findings, based on 21 different counterfeit samples, suggest that counterfeit cigarettes potentially result in a markedly greater exposure to toxic heavy metals than authentic brands, even after correcting for differences in nicotine intake. In view of the unknown health risks associated with inhaling higher levels of toxic metals, it is prudent to minimize exposure to toxic substances whenever possible.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study

MeSH terms

  • Cadmium / analysis*
  • Cadmium / isolation & purification
  • Chromatography, Gas
  • Environmental Pollution / analysis
  • Humans
  • Lead / analysis*
  • Lead / isolation & purification
  • Nicotiana / chemistry*
  • Nicotine / analysis
  • Smoke / adverse effects
  • Smoke / analysis*
  • Smoking / adverse effects
  • Thallium / analysis*
  • Thallium / isolation & purification
  • Tobacco Smoke Pollution / analysis*
  • Volatilization


  • Smoke
  • Tobacco Smoke Pollution
  • Cadmium
  • Lead
  • Nicotine
  • Thallium