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Counterfeit Cigarettes Contain Asbestos, Other Disturbing Ingredients

The counterfeit cigarette industry is a multibillion-dollar market that poses even more health risks than the legal tobacco industry. Not only do counterfeit cigarettes have extremely high tar levels, some contain dust and dirt, chemicals, mold, and even asbestos. “There is often no control whatsoever on the content or quality of illicit smoking material,” says a Birmingham Live report, so counterfeiters are free to choose whatever components they need to create an authentic “looking” cigarette. And guess what? Business is booming.

Chinese counterfeit cigarette factories churn out a staggering 400 billion cigarettes a year. In 2016-2017 alone, Staffordshire, UK officials seized over a quarter of a million counterfeit and illicit cigarettes along with more than 120 pounds of hand rolling tobacco. In Paraguay, South America, it was reported that one brazen criminal organization managed to move a staggering $6.8 million in smuggled cigarettes each month. 

The counterfeit cigarette industry is not confined to other countries either. Just last year, several men were convicted of smuggling approximately 68,600 cartons of counterfeit cigarettes into the U.S. Busts have been made in Chicago, New York, Miami, and in every city in between.

Because the counterfeit cigarette market rakes in billions each year, and with tobacco prices higher than ever, the illegal market for smokes is growing at a rapid pace. This means many cash-strapped smokers may continue to seek out counterfeits just to save a few bucks.

For smokers who choose to purchase cigarettes legally, officials say there are ways to identify counterfeits. Though they do not encourage smoking, if you must, they say to look out for incorrect logos or typefaces, foreign health warnings or no health warnings at all, loose tobacco, typos and spelling mistakes, and a foul taste. reported that some counterfeits even contain feces.

While some of the more distasteful ingredients in fake cigarettes are not likely to be fatal, 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. 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