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Investigation of lead and cadmium in counterfeit cigarettes seized in the United States



Yi He, Klaus von Lampe, Laura J. Wood, Marin Kurti


The information on the content of toxic elements of lead (Pb) and cadmium (Cd) in counterfeit cigarettes offers insight of the potential impact of consuming counterfeit cigarettes on public health and the criminology strategy for investigation of the illicit cigarette trade. In this study, Pb and Cd concentrations in twenty-three packs of counterfeit cigarettes seized in the US by various law enforcement agencies and their genuine equivalents were determined using microwave digestion followed by inductively coupled plasma - mass spectrometry (ICP-MS) analysis. Both Pb and Cd contents in counterfeit cigarettes were found markedly higher than those in their genuine equivalents, and exhibited greater sample to sample variability. The average Pb and Cd concentrations in counterfeit cigarettes were (5.13 ± 0.17) mg/kg (n=23) and (5.13 ± 1.95) mg/kg (n=23) respectively, compared to (0.59 ± 0.08) mg/kg (n=9) and (1.08 ± 0.02) mg/kg (n=9) respectively in the genuine equivalents. Analytical results suggested that counterfeit cigarettes potentially imposed higher risks to public health, and provided important information for understanding the illicit trade, including the level of organization among counterfeiters, who broker between availability of supplies (i.e., premium tobacco leaves, filter tips, cigarette paper, etc.) and consumer demand for a cheaper product that is assumed to be genuine.
Forensic Science International


Counterfeit cigarette, lead, cadmium


He, Y. , von Lampe, K. , Wood, L. and Kurti, M. (2015), Investigation of lead and cadmium in counterfeit cigarettes seized in the United States, Forensic Science International, [online],, (Accessed May 18, 2024)


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Created April 7, 2015, Updated October 12, 2021