Assessment of carcinogenic heavy metal levels in Brazilian cigarettes

Environ Monit Assess. 2011 Oct;181(1-4):255-65. doi: 10.1007/s10661-010-1827-3. Epub 2010 Dec 14.


Several studies have associated high cancer incidence with smoking habits. According to IARC, lead (Pb), cadmium (Cd), arsenic (As), nickel (Ni), and chromium (Cr) are carcinogenic to humans. These metals are present in cigarettes and their levels vary according to geographical region of tobacco cultivation, fertilizer treatment, plant variety etc. This study aims to assess these metal levels in cigarettes commercialized in Brazil. Three cigarettes of each 20 different brands were individually weighed, the tobacco filling removed, and homogenized. After desiccation, samples were subjected to microwave-assisted digestion. Analyses were performed by graphite furnace atomic absorption spectrometry. Mean levels for Pb, Cd, As, Ni, and Cr were, respectively, 0.27 ± 0.054, 0.65 ± 0.091, 0.09 ± 0.024, 1.26 ± 0.449, and 1.43 ± 0.630, in micrograms per gram of tobacco. No correlation was observed between Cd and any other metal analyzed. A mild correlation (r = 0.483, p < 0.05) was observed between Pb and Cr levels. Strong significant (p < 0.01) correlations were observed between Ni and Cr (r = 0.829), Ni and As (r = 0.799), Ni and Pb (r = 0.637), and between Cr and As (r = 0.621). Chromium and Ni levels were significantly higher in cigarettes from a multinational manufacturer. Our results show a high variability in heavy metal levels in cigarettes, representing an important exposure source of smokers and passive smokers to carcinogenic substances.

MeSH terms

  • Brazil
  • Carcinogens / analysis*
  • Environmental Exposure / statistics & numerical data
  • Humans
  • Metals, Heavy / analysis*
  • Smoking / epidemiology
  • Spectrophotometry, Atomic
  • Tobacco Smoke Pollution / analysis*


  • Carcinogens
  • Metals, Heavy
  • Tobacco Smoke Pollution