Healthcare Blog

Global Study Finds Chinese Cigarettes Contain Three Times The Level Of Lead, Cadmium, Arsenic Compared To Canadian Cigarettes

June 18, 2017

The International Tobacco Control (ITC) Project today released a series of 11 research studies - published as an online supplement to the journal Tobacco Control. The series examines the Chinese tobacco epidemic, raising concerns about tobacco industry practices and tobacco control policies in China, and the health impacts of Chinese cigarettes in China and around the globe. In China, approximately one million smokers die each year from tobacco-related diseases, and approximately 100,000 people die each year from exposure to secondhand smoke. If current trends continue, China's death toll from tobacco will reach 2 million per year by 2020.

One study compared the content of Chinese cigarettes with those from other countries. All 13 Chinese cigarette brands tested were found to have significantly elevated levels of heavy metals, with some containing about 3 times the level of lead, cadmium, and arsenic, compared to Canadian cigarette brands. The presence of high levels of heavy metals in Chinese cigarettes may constitute a potential global public health problem as exports of Chinese cigarettes continue to increase.

Professor Geoffrey T. Fong from the University of Waterloo in Canada, and lead researcher of the ITC China Project, said, "It is fundamentally wrong that consumers in many countries know about the content of the chocolate bars they eat, but know nothing about what is in the cigarettes they smoke. There is a need for more such studies that measure the content of cigarettes and of cigarette smoke to help consumers and governments around the world make informed decisions."

Dr. Richard J. O'Connor, of the Roswell Park Cancer Institute in Buffalo, New York, lead author of the article, noted, "The presence of such contaminants in an already-deadly consumer product demonstrates the need for strong regulation of tobacco products, as called for under the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC). Smokers and non-smokers in China and elsewhere deserve to know what is in their cigarettes."

In addition, the research reveals key areas in which China's failure to implement strong tobacco-control policies is placing people in China and around the world at risk.

- Knowledge about the harms of cigarettes in China is much lower than in other ITC countries. Only 68 percent of current smokers in China believe that smoking leads to lung cancer and only 36 percent believe that smoking causes coronary heart disease.

- An experimental study found that 1200 people (adult smokers, non-smokers, and youth) across 4 Chinese cities judged the current warning labels to be much less effective than warning labels from other countries, especially those with graphic images. The warning labels on the back of every pack in China are written in English; fewer than 10% of the smokers understood these foreign-language messages.

- More than 70 percent of Chinese smokers wrongly believe that "light" or "low tar" cigarettes are less harmful.

Dr. Wang Ke'an, former President of the Chinese Academy of Preventive Medicine, now Director of Think Tank Research Center for Health Development said, "The ITC results show that the pack warnings are ineffective at educating the public about the serious consequences of smoking. China's warnings are well below the international standards and the strong guidelines for warnings of the FCTC."

Professor Fong commented, "These results demonstrate how far China needs to go in tobacco control. Among the Chinese people, knowledge is low, misperceptions are high, and unless stronger action is taken, China will soon find itself in the midst of an even more devastating public health disaster than they are experiencing now."

The ITC research also addressed the issue of secondhand smoke in China. The FCTC treaty requires countries that have ratified it to implement scientifically proven measures to reduce tobacco use and its terrible toll in health, lives and money, including 100 percent smoke-free environments and large, pictorial health warning labels. As a country that has ratified the FCTC, China should adopt strong tobacco control policies to ensure that all individuals are protected from the dangers of tobacco use.

Very high levels of secondhand smoke were measured in 404 restaurants and bars in five Chinese cities: Beijing, Xi'an, Wuhan, Kunming, and Guiyang, highlighting the need for stronger smoke-free laws. Forty-three percent of smokers and 53 percent of non-smokers support smoke-free workplaces and 21 percent of smokers and 40 percent of non-smokers support smoke-free restaurants and bars in China. Support among Chinese smokers is comparable and in some cases higher than that found by ITC studies among smokers in Ireland and France before their very successful smoke-free laws were implemented, showing that strong smoke-free laws could work well in China if proper education and enforcement accompanied those laws.


About The ITC China Supplement For Tobacco Control

The Tobacco Control supplement includes 11 articles from the ITC China Project, a collaboration of the ITC Project, centered at the University of Waterloo in Canada, the National Office of Tobacco Control, China CDC, Roswell Park Cancer Institute in Buffalo, New York, and The Cancer Council Victoria in Australia. The research was conducted by ITC Project team experts on tobacco product design and testing, health warnings, smoke-free laws, and on behavioral models of smoking.

International Tobacco Control Policy Evaluation Project