A number of harmful substances in tobacco- and nicotine products and their emissions are measured at RIVM to support risk assessments, ongoing research, and regulation. This webpage provides a brief description of some of the harmful components in tobacco products.

The Dutch Tobacco Act, in line with the European TPD, specifies upper limits for ‘tar’, nicotine and carbon monoxide in mainstream smoke of cigarettes and RYO as measured using the ‘ISO’ machine smoking protocol. RIVM periodically conducts measurements of TNCO emissions of products sampled from the market by the Dutch Food and Consumer Product Safety Authority (NVWA) to check compliance with the regulation.

TSNAs are a number of chemically related, carcinogenic compounds that form by nitrosation of tobacco alkaloids (such as nicotine and anabasine). They are present in tobacco in variable concentrations. Nicotine extracts derived from tobacco may contain small amounts of TSNAs as an impurity. To verify whether e-liquids on the Dutch market do not contain TSNAs (as an impurity), RIVM measures TSNAs in e-liquids sampled from the Dutch market by the NVWA.

Aldehydes are present in emissions of e-cigarettes, heated-tobacco products and regular tobacco cigarettes. Aldehydes in e-cigarette emissions are thought to form mainly by thermal decomposition of e-liquid ingredients, such as propylene glycol and glycerol. The contribution of sugars to the aldehyde levels in cigarette smoke has been the subject of several RIVM studies. RIVM has also studied aldehydes in the emissions of e-cigarettes to support health risk assessment and bystander risk assessment and as an indicator of 'dry puffs'.

Volatile organic compounds are organic compounds that are characterised by high volatility. This definition encompasses a large number of compounds that are not chemically related, but that can be measured using similar analytical chemical methods (typically GC-MS or GC-FID). Several of the compounds described elsewhere (such as flavourings or aldehydes) can be considered VOCs as well. Some VOCs have a comparatively large impact on the health risks of tobacco- and nicotine products. RIVM measures these compounds, to help assess the health risks of tobacco products and the effects of product design and composition. For example, we have investigated the contribution of sugars to VOC levels in cigarette smoke.

PAHs are a group of organic compounds that have multiple aromatic rings in their chemical structure. They are formed during incomplete combustion of organic material, and are found in tobacco smoke. Exposure to PAHs is of concern because they are carcinogenic. As such, they are thought to make an important contribution to the health risks of tobacco products. PAHs are therefore measured by RIVM, as part of health risk assessment of tobacco products in relation to product design and composition.

Heavy metals are a poorly defined group of elements that in their metallic (elemental) form have a relatively high density and are often toxic. Examples are lead, chromium, cadmium and mercury. Tobacco plants may take up metals from the soil or fertilizer, which is one route by which these metals can end up in tobacco products. In e-cigarettes and HTPs, leaching from metallic components may also contribute to the exposure of users of these products to metals. RIVM research on toxic heavy metals mainly concerns their levels in (emissions of) e-cigarettes and HTPs and the effects of product design and composition.