Asbestos and Human Excrement Among Ingredients of Fake Cigarettes

Illicit “fake” cigarette sales cost the UK billions of dollars each year.  They’re cheap, they look like the real thing, but they’re manufactured by criminals (usually with ties to organized crime) and contain ingredients that will make you cringe – that according to an investigative report published on September 9th in the UK’s Mail Online.

As part of a concentrated effort to not only assess the infiltration of Black Market cigarettes but to understand the underground industry in order to shut it down, investigators from top tobacco companies rummaged through trash bins across the country looking for contraband packs, cartons, and butts.

What they found was shocking.  Nearly 1/3 of all the cigarettes packs found were Black Market- unregulated packs brought overseas by European smugglers.  But that wasn’t the most disgusting part.

When the remnants of these cigarettes were tested, it wasn’t just the usual nicotine and tar uncovered.  Indeed, these illicit cigarettes were found to contain a host of unsafe, unhealthy, and just plain dangerous ingredients including:  human excrement, asbestos, mold and dead insects.  One bust in Derbyshire uncovered a load of fake smokes made from crushed flies.

The study was the second such in a year and showed a shocking increase of counterfeit cigarettes.  The first study found just over 14% of packets uncovered to be illegal.  This 200% increase has health officials worried.  It is estimated that the illicit smuggling of cigarettes cost the industry over three and a half billion pounds each year.  That translates into $5.6 billion US dollars.  But the health costs may be more staggering than that.

While the discovery of fecal matter and insects is disturbing, the revelation that asbestos is a common additive in these unregulated cancer sticks is alarming.  The United States cigarette industry still bears the scars from when it used asbestos in cigarette filters.  Companies are still paying out millions of dollars to asbestos victims suffering from mesothelioma, lung cancer, asbestosis and more.  With a new wave of asbestos tainted cigarettes crossing the seas, health officials wonder just how long it will take them to start seeing the after effects.

Asbestos, even in small concentrations, can prove deadly.  Federal regulatory bodies such as the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and OSHA place strict limits on allowable levels of asbestos.  Indeed, OSHA limits ”acceptable” levels of airborne asbestos to just 1 tenth of one fiber per liter of air.

Now imagine asbestos being directly inhaled into the lungs.  The danger level increases by several orders of magnitude.

Many of these fake cigarettes come via Europe from China and are visibly unidentifiable as fake.  With China quickly becoming one of the United States’ most active trade partners, people are speculating about just how much of the trade is illicit smokes.  There’s no doubt about it, these counterfeit cigarettes are already within our borders.  In fact, one study found that 99% of the fake cigarettes within the US come directly from China.

The cost of manufacturing a fake cigarette in China is one tenth of what it takes to make the real thing here in the United States.  With the potential for such huge profits the prevalence of these asbestos-tainted cigarettes will only rise.

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