Arsenic, cadmium and lead levels in tobacco filler and cigarette smoke were determined in a 568-sample worldwide survey. Median tobacco levels for arsenic, cadmium and lead were 237, 769 and 397 ng/g respectively, comparable to those previously reported albeit somewhat lower for lead and cadmium. Median mainstream smoke yields for arsenic, cadmium and lead were <3.75, 18.2, and <12.8 ng/cig. under ISO, and <8.71, 75.1 and <45.7 ng/cig. under Health Canada Intense (HCI) smoking regime respectively. In the case of cigarettes with activated carbon, a selective retention of cadmium but not lead or arsenic was observed. This effect was more pronounced under ISO than under HCI smoking regimes. Cadmium selective retention by activated carbon was confirmed by testing specially designed prototype cigarettes and the causes for this selective filtration were investigated. The differences between cadmium, arsenic and lead in terms of their speciation in tobaccos and in cigarette smoke could be related to their distribution in the ash, butt, mainstream (in gas-phase and particulate-phase) and sidestream smoke of a smoked cigarette. The possible formation of organometallic cadmium derivatives in the smoke gas-phase is discussed, the presence of which could adequately explain the observed cadmium selective filtration.