Addiction Nicotine Addiction Coping and Recovery The Health Risks of Cadmium in Cigarette Smoke By Terry Martin Terry Martin Facebook Twitter Terry Martin quit smoking after 26 years and is now an advocate for those seeking freedom from nicotine addiction. Learn about our editorial process Updated on September 26, 2021 Medically reviewed Verywell Mind articles are reviewed by board-certified physicians and mental healthcare professionals. Medical Reviewers confirm the content is thorough and accurate, reflecting the latest evidence-based research. Content is reviewed before publication and upon substantial updates. Learn more. by Armeen Poor, MD Medically reviewed by Armeen Poor, MD Armeen Poor, MD, is a board-certified pulmonologist and intensivist. He specializes in pulmonary health, critical care, and sleep medicine. Learn about our Medical Review Board Fact checked Verywell Mind content is rigorously reviewed by a team of qualified and experienced fact checkers. Fact checkers review articles for factual accuracy, relevance, and timeliness. We rely on the most current and reputable sources, which are cited in the text and listed at the bottom of each article. Content is fact checked after it has been edited and before publication. Learn more. by Aaron Johnson Fact checked by Aaron Johnson Aaron Johnson is a fact checker and expert on qualitative research design and methodology. Learn about our editorial process Print Halfpoint Images / Getty Images Table of Contents View All Table of Contents Cadmium in Cigarettes Health Risks Neurological Effects Other Sources of Exposure Treatment Quitting Smoking Cadmium is a natural element and a toxic metal found in cigarettes and in some foods. High levels of cadmium in the body have been linked with adverse health effects like chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). One study found that people who smoke have four or five times higher cadmium concentrations in their blood than people who don't smoke. If you smoke cigarettes, it's important to become aware of the potential side effects of cadmium. The best way to prevent health risks from cigarettes is to quit smoking. Cadmium in Cigarettes Cadmium is released into the environment through industrial processes like mining. It is transmitted into the soil and water. Cadmium is commonly present in the soil where tobacco leaves grow, and tobacco plants then absorb cadmium through the soil and water. When you smoke a cigarette, cadmium turns into cadmium oxide, which goes into your lungs. Cigarettes contain 2.0 micrograms (μg) of cadmium. Up to 50% of that cadmium is absorbed by your lungs and your bloodstream. Health Risks The main parts of your body that are affected by acute cadmium exposure are your lungs, kidneys, and bones. Studies have linked short-term exposure to high concentrations of cadmium oxide to: Chest painCoughingDiarrheaDizzinessIrritated respiratory systemLabored breathingNauseaPersistent coughPrecordial constrictionStomach irritationThroat irritationVomitingWheezing Acute inhalation of cadmium has also been linked with the development of health conditions over time like: Bacterial infections in the lungsCardiovascular diseaseChronic bronchitisChronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)Decrease in bone densityKidney nephropathy (deterioration of the kidneys)Pulmonary emphysema Cadmium has been found to cause lung cancer and has been linked with kidney and prostate cancers. Neurological Effects Studies have shown that cadmium can affect the central nervous system (CNS), which affects how our bodies move, feel, think, speak, and recall information. Some people who have had severe exposures to cadmium went on to experience: Behavior changes Intellectual disabilities Learning disabilities Motor activity impairment Neurological disturbances Olfactory dysfunction (impaired ability to smell) Peripheral neuropathy (nerve damage near the brain and spinal cord) Severe cadmium exposure has been linked with Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's disease, and multiple sclerosis (MS). More studies are needed to fully understand the health effects of long-term exposure to cadmium inhalation. Non-Cigarette Cadmium Exposure There are other ways aside from cigarette smoke that you can be exposed to cadmium, such as through food and even at the workplace. While levels of cadmium exposure can be affected by a person's diet and occupation, the amount to which people are exposed through these sources is minimal and regulated by several government agencies for safety, which is not the case with cigarettes. Food and Water Cadmium occurs naturally in many foods because it can be in the soil and water. Shellfish, animal kidneys, liver, mushrooms, and root crops are commonly high in cadmium. However, most people in North America consume what is considered a safe amount of cadmium through food. The World Health Organization (WHO) issued a report stating that the "tolerable intake" of cadmium via food sources is 25 micrograms per kilogram of body weight per month (25 μg/kg bw/month). Many national and international agencies have regulations in place to monitor the amount of cadmium that can be in soil (where food is grown) and in water. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) mandated that the maximum cadmium level that can be in bottled drinking water is 0.005 milligrams per liter (mg/L). The EPA also rules that "the ceiling" for the amount of cadmium that can be in the soil is 85 milligrams per kilogram (mg/kg). Workplace Those who work in industrial settings may be at risk of increased cadmium exposure. Jobs with increased exposure risk include alloy makers, battery makers, welders, pottery makers, glass makers, jewelers, refinery workers, paint makers, and textile workers. Due to increased awareness of the potential health effects of cadmium, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has issued a "permissible exposure limit" of 5 micrograms per cubic meter (µg/m3). The agency regulates air quality in workplaces to ensure they are safe. Treatment If you suspect you are having an adverse reaction from cadmium exposure, talk to your healthcare professional right away. They might perform an evaluation of your airways, breathing, and circulation. Your doctor may also clean out your gastrointestinal tract to get rid of any remaining traces of cadmium. You may be hospitalized so a doctor can understand the effects of cadmium on your system. Unfortunately, there is no proven treatment specifically for cadmium poisoning. Quitting Smoking If you currently smoke and are concerned about your exposure to cadmium, you can talk to your doctor about your options to quit smoking. Nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) is a gum, patch, or lozenge that administers small doses of nicotine to help you ween off of nicotine dependence. It may help you quit smoking. There are also medications designed to help people quit smoking such as Zyban (bupropion) and Chantix (varenicline tartrate). There are also many online support groups and in-person support groups that can help you quit smoking. You can even connect with others who are trying to quit smoking on a quit smoking app. Reaching out to someone who understands you're trying to quit can help keep you motivated. A Word From Verywell Cadmium is just one of many toxins in cigarette smoke that can cause severe health effects. If you smoke and are concerned about smoking's impact on your health, be sure to talk to your doctor. They can address your health concerns and recommend a method of quitting that can work for you. 13 Sources Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy. Satarug S. Long-term exposure to cadmium in food and cigarette smoke, liver effects and hepatocellular carcinoma. Current Drug Metabolism. 2012;13(3). Ganguly K, Levänen B, Palmberg L, Åkesson A, Lindén A. Cadmium in tobacco smokers: A neglected link to lung disease. Eur Respir Rev. 2018;27(147):170122. doi:10.1183/16000617.0122-2017 Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry. Where is cadmium found?. Fatima G, Raza AM, Hadi N, Nigam N, Mahdi AA. Cadmium in human diseases: It’s more than just a mere metal. Indian Journal of Clinical Biochemistry. 2019;34(4). doi:10.1007/s12291-019-00839-8 Ashraf MW. Levels of heavy metals in popular cigarette brands and exposure to these metals via smoking. The Scientific World Journal. 2012;2012:1-5. doi:10.1100/2012/729430 Chunhabundit R. Cadmium exposure and potential health risk from foods in contaminated area, Thailand. Toxicol Res. 2016;32(1):65-72. doi:10.5487/TR.2016.32.1.065 Branca JJV, Morucci G, Pacini A. Cadmium-induced neurotoxicity: Still much ado. Neural Regen Res. 2018;13(11):1879-1882. doi:10.4103/1673-5374.239434 M, Rafati-Rahimzadeh M, Kazemi S, Moghadamnia AA. Cadmium toxicity and treatment: An update. Caspian J Intern Med. 2017;8(3):135-145. doi:10.22088/cjim.8.3.135 Ciesielski T, Weuve J, Bellinger DC, Schwartz J, Lanphear B, Wright RO. Cadmium exposure and neurodevelopmental outcomes in U.S. children. Environ Health Perspect. 2012;120(5):758-763. doi:10.1289/ehp.1104152 Wang B, Du Y. Cadmium and its neurotoxic effects. Oxidative Medicine and Cellular Longevity. 2013;2013:1-12. doi:10.1155/2013/898034 Aliomrani M, Sahraian MA, Shirkhanloo H, Sharifzadeh M, Khoshayand MR, Ghahremani MH. Blood concentrations of cadmium and lead in multiple sclerosis patients from Iran. Iran J Pharm Res. 2016;15(4):825-833. World Health Organization. Evaluations of the joint FAO/WHO expert committee on food additives (JECFA). Kinuthia GK, Ngure V, Beti D, Lugalia R, Wangila A, Kamau L. Levels of heavy metals in wastewater and soil samples from open drainage channels in Nairobi, Kenya: community health implication. Scientific Reports. 2020;10(1). doi:10.1038/s41598-020-65359-5 By Terry Martin Terry Martin quit smoking after 26 years and is now an advocate for those seeking freedom from nicotine addiction. See Our Editorial Process Meet Our Review Board Share Feedback Was this page helpful? Thanks for your feedback! What is your feedback? Other Helpful Report an Error Submit Get Treatment for Addiction Advertiser Disclosure × The offers that appear in this table are from partnerships from which Verywell Mind receives compensation.