Contraband Cigarettes: Tobacco Smoke Analysis

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Organization: Health Canada

Type: Fact sheet

Date published: Revised 2011
ISBN: 978-1-100-13156-6
Cat. No.: H128-1/09-584E
HC Pub.: 5929

Key Messages

  • Smoking contraband cigarettes poses the same risk of harmful health effects as smoking legal cigarettes.
  • The smoke from contraband cigarettes contains the same chemicals as the smoke from legal cigarettes sold in Canada.

Background

Contraband cigarettes raise several questions, mainly with regard to differences in ingredient composition and harmful health effects when compared to cigarettes that are sold legally in Canada.

Contraband cigarettes are often sold in non-conventional packages, such as plastic bags. The cigarette packaging does not provide information required by current regulations, including:

  • illustrated health warnings;
  • toxic emissions information;
  • stamp or tear tape indicating that the manufacturer has paid applicable taxes and duties;
  • name and address or license number of the manufacturer.

Contraband cigarettes also pose an additional problem: since they cost less, they are more affordable and their availability has increased.

Because exposure to the chemicals in tobacco smoke is responsible for causing harmful health effects, Health Canada analyzed and compared the tobacco smoke of contraband and legal cigarettes. The Department selected four samples of contraband cigarettes from products seized in 2006 by the Canadian Border Services Agency. The cigarettes had been packaged in transparent plastic bags containing approximately 200 units each. These were analyzed according to methods described in the Tobacco Reporting Regulations.

Results

Table 1 compares the tobacco smoke of contraband and legal cigarettes (see the Appendix).

The same chemical substances are present in the smoke of both contraband and legal cigarettes. There was no notable difference in the quantity of most of these chemicals found in the smoke of either contraband or legal cigarettes.

Tobacco smoke contains over 4,000 different chemicals that are formed when tobacco is burned. At least 70 of these chemicals are known to cause, trigger, or promote cancer. The minor differences in quantity seen for some of the chemicals would have relatively little impact on the risk of harmful health effects for those exposed to cigarette smoke.

Smoke composition depends on several factors, including growing conditions (fertilizer, water, lighting), the geographical environment where the tobacco was cultivated, type of tobacco, and the combination of different tobacco varieties. These factors account for any differences observed in smoke composition between contraband and legal cigarettes. The differences are mainly seen in the nitrosamines that are specific to tobacco (NNN, NAT, NNK), 1-aminonaphthalene, 2-aminonaphthalene, 3-aminobiphenyl, ammonia and isoprene. However, by way of comparison, the quantities of these chemicals in contraband cigarette smoke are similar to those found in the smoke of cigarettes sold in other countries.

Conclusion

The smoke composition of contraband and legal cigarettes is very similar. Health Canada considers that smoking contraband cigarettes poses the same risk of harmful health effects as smoking legal cigarettes sold in Canada.

References

  1. Baker, R.R. Smoke Chemistry in Tobacco: Production, Chemistry and Technology, Davis, D.L., Nielsen, M.T., Eds., Blackwell Science: Malden, Massachusetts, 1999, pp. 398-439.
  2. Green, C.R. Some Relationships between Tobacco Leaf and Smoke Composition. Proceedings of 173rd American Chemical Society Symposium, 1977, pp. 426-470.
  3. Health Canada, Tobacco Products Information Regulations, SOR/2000-272, P.C. 2000-1039, Ottawa, June 2000.
  4. Health Canada, Tobacco Reporting Regulations, SOR/2000-273, P.C. 2000-1040, Ottawa, June 2000.
  5. Leffingwell, J.C. Leaf chemistry: Basic chemical constituents and differences among tobacco types in Tobacco: Production, Chemistry and Technology, Davis, D.L., Nielsen, M.T., Eds. Blackwell Science: Malden, Massachusettes, 1999, pp. 272-281.
  6. National Revenue, Stamping and Marking of Tobacco Products Regulations, SOR/2003-288, P.C. 2003-1202, Ottawa, August 2003.

Appendix

Table 1: Chemical composition of cigarette smoke for contraband cigarettes, for legal cigarettes sold in Canada, and for an American cigarette.
Chemicals Quantity in the smoke
Mean   ±   Standard deviation
  Smoking conditionFootnote 1 Contraband cigarette Legal cigarette sold in Canada American cigarette - Kentucky 2R4F

List of abbreviations used in the table

  • NNN: N-nitrosonornicotine
  • NAT: N-nitrosoanatabine
  • NNK: 4-(N-nitrosomethylamino)-1-(3-pyridyl)-1-butanone
Tar (mg/cig) ISO 17.0   ±   0.5 14.4  ±  0.6 9.11  ±  0.37
Modified 36.3  ±  1.4 36.1  ±  1.5 28.2  ±  1.4
Nicotine (mg/cig) ISO 1.36  ±  0.05 1.26  ±  0.05 0.77  ±  0.03
Modified 2.82  ±  0.10 2.75  ±  0.16 1.95  ±  0.09
Carbon monoxide (CO) (mg/cig) ISO 16.0  ±  0.5 15.4  ±  0.8 12.0  ±  0.6
Modified 29.9  ±  0.8 30.8  ±  1.0 32.7  ±  1.1
NNN (ng/cig) ISO 53.8  ±  4.3 7.7  ±  3.6 163  ±  5
Modified 98.9  ±  8.4 16  ±  4 340  ±  23
NAT (ng/cig) ISO 77.1  ±  4.7 15.1  ±  5.2 146  ±  9
Modified 127  ±  7 29.0  ±  5.3 286  ±  16
NNK (ng/cig) ISO 52.9  ±  5.2 14.1  ±  2.4 144  ±  8
Modified 97.1  ±  9.1 30  ±  3 298  ±  20
Benzo[a]pyrene (ng/cig) ISO 16.2  ±  0.4 10.3  ±  4.7 6.11  ±  0.50
Modified 27.6  ±  3.8 22  ±  5 16.2  ±  1.3
1-aminonaphthalene (ng/cig) ISO 24.0  ±  1.9 11.7  ±  4.2 15.7  ±  1.3
Modified 36.6  ±  1.6 21  ±  4 27.7  ±  3.7
2-aminonaphthalene (ng/cig)  ISO 15.7  ±  1.0 7.2  ±  2.4 11.3  ±  1.2
Modified 24.2  ±  0.9 13  ±  2 18.9  ±  2.2
3-aminobiphenyl (ng/cig) ISO 3.01  ±  0.20 1.9  ±  0.6 2.76  ±  0.38
Modified 5.17  ±  0.40 3.7  ±  0.6 5.46  ±  0.24
4-aminobiphenyl (ng/cig) ISO 2.26  ±  0.16 1.5  ±  0.5 2.04  ±  0.16
Modified 3.96  ±  0.24 3.0  ±  0.5 3.96  ±  0.12
Ammonia (µg/cig) ISO 17.8  ±  1.7 10.2  ±  3.6 11.4  ±  0.8
Modified 33.3  ±  2.7 27  ±  4 31.3  ±  1.6
Hydrogen cyanide (µg/cig)  ISO 194  ±  18 146  ±  45 120  ±  7
Modified 348  ±  19 376  ±  46 412  ±  31
Formaldehyde (µg/cig) ISO 64.0  ±  2.2 76  ±  32 26.1  ±  1.2
Modified 120  ±  16 204  ±  32 84.7  ±  6.1
Acetaldehyde (µg/cig) ISO 691  ±  38 641  ±  205 511  ±  33
Modified 1333  ±  89 1453  ±  208 1367  ±  61
Acetone (µg/cig) ISO 377  ±  119 374  ±  120 258  ±  9
Modified 691  ±  31 830  ±  122 727  ±  25
Acrolein (µg/cig) ISO 83.1  ±  4.5 81  ±  26 52.5  ±  3.1
Modified 153  ±  4 196  ±  27 163  ±  7
Propionaldehyde (µg/cig) ISO 65.0  ±  2.7 58  ±  19 43.1  ±  2.8
Modified 120  ±  6 135  ±  20 125  ±  5
Crotonaldehyde (µg/cig)  ISO 27.0  ±  1.7 28  ±  10 12.2  ±  0.9
Modified 62.2  ±  2.9 73  ±  10 56.4  ±  3.0
Butyraldehyde (µg/cig) ISO 48.7  ±  4.1 42  ±  15 33.9  ±  4.1
Modified 91.3  ±  7.6 98  ±  16 89.9  ±  3.9
1,3-Butadiene (µg/cig) ISO 56.8  ±  4.8 54  ±  20 35.9  ±  1.5
Modified 108  ±  4 125  ±  20 96.8  ±  8.8
Isoprene (µg/cig) ISO 551  ±  30 319  ±  129 344  ±  10
Modified 1015  ±  32 708  ±  132 927  ±  87
Acrylonitrile (µg/cig) ISO 14.8  ±  1.2 10.4  ±  4.5 8.70  ±  0.55
Modified 26.5  ±  3.2 24  ±  5 26.9  ±  2.9
Benzene (µg/cig) ISO 53.3  ±  2.3 47  ±  18 38.3  ±  1.3
Modified 95.4  ±  4.5 100  ±  18 90.7  ±  4.5
Toluene (µg/cig) ISO 93.1  ±  6.0 78  ±  27 66.9  ±  4.3
Modified 188  ±  5 171  ±  27 176  ±  9
pH   ISO 5.94  ±  0.07 5.97  ±  0.18 6.06  ±  0.07
Modified 5.79  ±  0.06 5.64  ±  0.18 5.85  ±  0.05
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