Criminal mercury vapor poisoning using heated tobacco product


We report an unusual case of mercury vapor poisoning from using a heated tobacco product. The suspect had added grains of mercury into 20 cigarettes in a pack. When a 36-year-old Japanese man inserted one of these cigarettes into the battery powered holder, it was heated to a temperature of 350 °C, and he inhaled vaporized mercury. After using 14 of the cigarettes over 16 h, he noticed he had flu-like symptoms so he visited the hospital. Although no physical abnormalities were revealed, 99 μg/L of mercury was detected in his serum sample. His general condition improved gradually and his whole blood mercury level had decreased to 38 μg/L 5 days later. When the remaining six cigarettes in the pack were examined, many metallic grains weighing a total of 1.57 g were observed. Energy dispersive X-ray fluorescence spectrometry confirmed the grains as elemental mercury. Accordingly, the victim was diagnosed with mercury poisoning. Because the mercury was incorporated into cigarettes, an unusual and novel intoxication occurred through the heating of the tobacco product. Both medical and forensic scientific examination confirmed this event as attempted murder.

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Correspondence to Masahito Hitosugi.

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Written informed consent for publishing this scientific report was obtained from the victim of this case.

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Hitosugi, M., Tojo, M., Kane, M. et al. Criminal mercury vapor poisoning using heated tobacco product. Int J Legal Med 133, 479–481 (2019).

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  • Mercury vapor
  • Poisoning
  • Heated tobacco product
  • Blood concentration
  • Crime