Source and health implications of high toxic metal concentrations in illicit tobacco products

Stephens, W. E., Calder, A. and Newton, J. (2005) Source and health implications of high toxic metal concentrations in illicit tobacco products. Environmental Science and Technology, 39(2), pp. 479-488. (doi: 10.1021/es049038s) (PMID:15707047)

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A significant flux of heavy metals, among other toxins, reaches the lungs through smoking. Consequently, contaminated soil is usually avoided for tobacco cultivation. Here we compare the heavy metal concentrations in tobacco from a sample of 47 counterfeit products, representative of the substantial market for these products in the U.K., with their genuine equivalents and find significantly higher concentrations of heavy metals in the counterfeits. Trace element patterns suggest that over-application of fertilizers (phosphate and/or nitrate) is the most likely cause. Nitrogen isotopes showed no significant enrichment in 15N (δ15N range from +1.1 to +4.6‰ in counterfeits and from +2.5 to +3.3‰ in genuine tobaccos) as might be expected from a sewage or manure source of nitrate, and a mineral phosphate source is considered the more likely source of metals. Stable carbon isotopes in the same tobaccos have a wide range (δ13C −18.3 to −26.4‰), indicating the influence of multiple controls during cultivation and possibly post-harvesting. A review of the health effects of heavy metal transfer from tobacco via smoke to the lungs indicates that habitual smokers of counterfeits may be risking additional harm from high levels of cadmium and possibly other metals.

Item Type:Articles
Glasgow Author(s) Enlighten ID:Newton, Dr Jason
Authors: Stephens, W. E., Calder, A., and Newton, J.
College/School:College of Science and Engineering > Scottish Universities Environmental Research Centre
Journal Name:Environmental Science and Technology
Publisher:American Chemical Society
ISSN (Online):1520-5851
Published Online:14 December 2004

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