Differential exposure to 33 toxic elements through cigarette smoking, based on the type of tobacco and rolling paper used

Environ Res. 2019 Feb;169:368-376. doi: 10.1016/j.envres.2018.11.021. Epub 2018 Nov 22.


Environmental pollution due to various elements is increasing all across the planet owing to their use in industrial processes. The tobacco plants and the vegetables used in the manufacturing of smoking paper may accumulate these elements from the environment. Thus, tobacco and smoking paper may be relevant contributors among the content of elements in cigarettes, including some emerging pollutants such as rare earth elements (REEs). Thirty-two elements related to hi-tech industrial processes were analyzed in tobacco, rolling paper, and filters (n = 257 samples) by ICP-MS. A variety of industrial brands and "roll-your-own" cigarette papers were considered. The potential maximum daily exposure to these elements by a hypothetical heavy smoker was calculated for each type of cigarette. We found significant differences in the levels of most elements, both in the tobacco and in the paper. Black tobacco cigarettes contained the maximum levels. We found that the paper used in roll-your-own cigarettes may significantly modify their concentration of elements. Fast-burning, bleached, and flavored papers also contribute to higher levels of these pollutants. Thus, the differences in theoretical exposure depending on the type of cigarette consumed-either branded or hand-rolled-may be very striking, of up to 35-40 times. In addition to the number of cigarettes consumed per day, it is necessary to consider the type of cigarette consumed to assess the risk of exposure to toxic elements. Tobacco paper is a prominent source of exposure to toxic elements. Cigarette smoke is another source of exposure to emerging contaminants such as REE.

Keywords: Black tobacco; Hand-rolled cigarettes; Heavy metals; Rare earth elements; e-waste.

MeSH terms

  • Cigarette Smoking*
  • Environmental Exposure / analysis*
  • Hazardous Substances / toxicity*
  • Smoke
  • Smoking
  • Tobacco
  • Tobacco Products*


  • Hazardous Substances
  • Smoke