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Identifying counterfeit cigarette packs using ultraviolet irradiation and light microscopy
  1. Marin Kurti1,
  2. Yi He2,
  3. Klaus von Lampe3,
  4. Yanlei Li2,4
  1. 1Rutgers University, School of Criminal Justice, Newark, New Jersey, USA
  2. 2Department of Sciences, John Jay College of Criminal Justice, New York, New York, USA
  3. 3Department of Law, Police Science and Criminal Justice Administration, John Jay College of Criminal Justice, New York, USA
  4. 4Shijiazhuang Municipal Public Security Bureau, Institute of Forensic Science, People's Republic of China
  1. Correspondence to Dr Yi He, Department of Sciences, John Jay College of Criminal Justice, Department of Sciences, 524 W 59th Street, New York 10019, NY, USA; yhe{at}


Objectives Develop a method that yields high rates of sensitivity and specificity for determination of counterfeit cigarette packs for three popular brands: Newport, Marlboro (‘Red’) and Marlboro Gold.

Methods Using systematic keyword searches, we identified industry documents from the University of California, San Francisco's Legacy Tobacco Documents Library that describe the use of ultraviolet (UV) irradiation and close examination of printing quality to distinguish between counterfeit and genuine cigarette packs. Guided by these documents, we identified six markers for counterfeit cigarettes across three popular brands using counterfeit cigarette packs (N=68) seized by law enforcement agencies in the USA. We assessed the diagnostic test accuracy of these markers and tested it against genuine packs (N=22) using receiver operating characteristic curves analysis.

Results We find that counterfeit cigarette packs fluoresce to long-wave UV irradiation and display poor printing quality. The optimal cut-off value varies among the three brands. For example, counterfeit Newport and Marlboro packaging can be reliably classified with two of six characteristics, while Marlboro Gold requires four.

Conclusions Researchers who conduct littered pack and pack swap studies are urged to include this method to assess the share of counterfeit cigarettes, and compare the result against tobacco industry figures.

  • Illegal tobacco products
  • Packaging and Labelling
  • Tobacco industry documents

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  • Contributors YH, MK and KVL conceptualised the study. YH, MK and YL forensically analysed the packs. Statistical analysis was conducted by MK. YH, MK, KVL and YL wrote and edited the article.

  • Funding This research was supported by a City University of New York, Professional Staff Congress (PSC CUNY) Grant No. 68177-00 46.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

  • Data sharing statement Data files will be shared on request made to the corresponding author.