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Fake Cigarettes Laced with Asbestos, Other Toxic Substances

Everyone knows that smoking is hazardous to your health. What people might not know is purchasing fake cigarettes poses an even greater health risk. Not only do counterfeit cigarettes have excessively high tar levels, some contain toxic chemicals, mold, sawdust, and even asbestos. According to Birmingham Live, “there is often no control whatsoever on the content or quality of illicit smoking material,” so counterfeiters are free to use whatever ingredients they can find to create an authentic “looking” cigarette. And business is booming.

It is believed that half of the cigarettes smoked in the UK are counterfeit, and not too long ago, it was reported that Chinese counterfeit cigarette factories churn out a staggering 400 billion cigarettes a year. In Staffordshire, UK, officials seized over a quarter of a million counterfeit and illicit cigarettes and more than 120 pounds of hand rolling tobacco in 2016-17 alone. In Paraguay, South America, one criminal organization reportedly moved a whopping $6.8 million in smuggled cigarettes per month.

If you think the counterfeit cigarette industry is confined to other countries, think again. Just last year, several men were convicted of smuggling counterfeit cigarettes into the U.S. And not just a box or two. The individuals attempted to smuggle approximately 68,600 cartons of counterfeit cigarettes bearing the “Newport” brand name. Busts have been made in Chicago, New York, Miami, and everywhere in between.

Because fake cigarettes represent a multibillion-dollar industry, and with tobacco prices at an all-time high, the illegal market for smokes shows no signs of slowing down. This means some cash-strapped smokers may continue to seek out counterfeits to save a few bucks.

For those who choose to purchase cigarettes legally, while officials do not encourage smoking of any kind, they say there are ways to identify counterfeits. Signs to look out for include typos and spelling mistakes, incorrect logos or typefaces, foreign health warnings or no health warnings at all, loose tobacco, and a foul taste. reported that some counterfeits contain feces.

Though disturbing, some of the ingredients in fake cigarettes are not likely to be fatal. Inhaling asbestos fibers can be. When asbestos fibers are inhaled, they can reach the ends of the small airways in the lungs or penetrate into the outer lining of the lung and chest wall (known as the pleura). These fibers can irritate the cells in the lung or pleura and eventually cause lung cancer or mesothelioma. While it is possible to cure lung cancer in its early stages, there is no cure for mesothelioma.

If you have been exposed to asbestos, see your doctor right away. Even small amounts of exposure can lead to mesothelioma. The sooner you see your doctor the better as early detection could lead to better treatment options and outcomes. 



"Asbestos and Cancer Risk." American Cancer Society. American Cancer Society, Inc., 2018. Web. 20 Feb. 2018.

"Criminal Investigations." U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Office of Regulatory Affairs, 2018. Web. 21 Feb. 2018.

Keller, Alex. "Health Warning over Dangerous Fake Fags Laced with ASBESTOS." Birminghammail. Trinity Mirror Midlands, UK, 26 Oct. 2017. Web. 20 Feb. 2018.

Truc, Henry. "How to Identify Fake Cigarettes." Leaf Group Ltd./Leaf Group Lifestyle, 27 July 2017. Web. 20 Feb. 2018.