Abstract Background There are no independent studies measuring the availability of premium brand counterfeit cigarettes in New York City from licensed retailers. Methods We forensically analyzed the cigarette packaging of Marlboro Gold (n = 1021) purchased from licensed tobacco retailers in New York City, using ultraviolet irradiation and light microscopy to determine whether they were counterfeit. Results We find that while only 0.5% (n = 5) of our sample exhibits at least one characteristic synonymous with counterfeit packaging, none of our packs can be conclusively classified as counterfeit. Conclusions We do not find any counterfeit Marlboro Gold packs purchased at full price from licensed cigarette retailers throughout New York City. Future research using test purchases should include other venues (eg, street and online) and specifically ask for discounts to ascertain the overall presence of counterfeit cigarettes. Implications This is the first study to independently measure the availability of counterfeit cigarette packs purchased at full price from licensed retailers in New York City. We find that none of the Marlboro Gold packs purchased from licensed cigarette retailers are counterfeit. Introduction The illegal cigarette market in New York City is largely defined by cigarettes that are bootlegged from out of state and resold on the streets, via social networks and licensed cigarette retailers.1–4 In 2014, Silver et al.3 found that approximately 15% of cigarette packs purchased from licensed cigarette retailers at full price in New York City bore illegal tax stamps, most of which were genuine out-of-state stamps while some were counterfeit tax stamps. More recent research conducted in 2016 suggests that the packaging design (eg, print, logo embossing) and materials (eg, inner frame, outer frame, and foil) can provide clues irrespective of the tax stamp to specifically identify counterfeit packs.5 In addition to the substantial, known risks to health posed by smoking cigarettes manufactured by tobacco companies, smoking counterfeit cigarettes may pose additional risks due to higher concentrations of trace elements such as lead and cadmium.6,7 This article answers the call to a recent Institute of Medicine report on the need for more data regarding the size of the illicit market (whether bootlegged or counterfeit) and purchasing pathways by measuring the availability of counterfeit cigarette packs (identified by their packaging rather than tax stamps) in licensed cigarette retailers in New York City.8 Identifying Counterfeit Cigarettes Independent researchers have used litter pack surveys, garbology, and in-store purchases to measure the extent of tax avoidance/evasion in New York City, a high-tax jurisdiction.1–3,9 These studies have relied on examining tax stamps affixed on the bottom of the pack to determine where cigarette packs were sold and whether the stamps were counterfeit. Local law enforcement agencies have helped these researchers authenticate tax stamps using forensic tools provided by the tax stamp manufacturer. Counterfeit tax stamps can be indicative of illegal distribution schemes in various ways. However, counterfeit tax stamps are not indicative of whether the cigarette packs themselves are counterfeit. For example, bootleggers can purchase packs of genuine cigarettes from a low-tax jurisdiction such as Virginia, peel off the state’s tax stamps and iron on counterfeit joint NYC/NYS tax stamps to evade New York City and State taxes.10 Distinguishing the type of counterfeiting, as noted by the Institute of Medicine, can aid in developing effective regulatory and law enforcement approaches to mitigate this activity. Specifically, focusing on additional characteristics of the cigarette packs appears necessary to determine whether cigarettes are counterfeit. Indeed, tobacco industry–sponsored research provides more parsed estimates of the illicit cigarette marketplace that distinguishes between out-of-state tax stamps, counterfeit stamps, and counterfeit packaging. For example, Aziani et al.11 find that among all illegal cigarette packs collected in New York City between 2011 and 2014, 5.8% bore counterfeit packaging, 29.2% had no tax stamp, 58.9% had a counterfeit tax stamp, and 6.2% were so-called “illicit whites” (also known as “cheap whites”) cigarettes that are legally produced but largely distributed illegally without payment of all applicable duties. Currently, there are no independent studies that have attempted to verify these estimates. Moreover, if such counterfeit packs are available in New York City, there is no evidence regarding where and how these packs were purchased: from retailers at full price, from retailers illegally discounted, from nonlicensed street vendors, online, from other jurisdictions, or from another source. One difficulty in independently verifying whether cigarette packs are counterfeit is compounded by the fact that such information is considered proprietary. Forensic research on cigarette counterfeiting has focused on tobacco leaves using a variety of instrumentation including inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry, inductively coupled plasma–atomic emission spectrometer, and X-ray fluorescence spectrometry.6,7,12,13 These methods are limiting because they can be prohibitively expensive for small public health departments dedicated to tobacco control and inapplicable to researchers who collect empty packs without any tobacco. Recently, Kurti et al.5 reviewed data from the Truth Tobacco Legacy Documents Library located laboratory reports from the late 1990s to early 2000s that detail six identifiers used to distinguish between genuine and counterfeit cigarettes including the presence of optical brightening agents and poor print quality (ie, evidence of offset printing) on Marlboro and Newport products.5 These researchers test their methods on a sample of genuine and seized counterfeit packs obtained from local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies in the United States. They find that across Marlboro Gold, Marlboro “Red,” and Newport, the most prevalent counterfeit identifier is fluorescence, followed by poor print quality.5 The purpose of our pilot study is to assess the presence of counterfeit packs in one sector of the cigarette market by applying methodology of Kurti et al.5 to in-store full-price purchases of Marlboro Gold packs in 2014–2015 in New York City. Methods Data This study uses Marlboro Gold cigarette packs (box and 100s; n = 1021) that were purchased at the price offered from licensed tobacco retailers in 92 randomly selected retail dense neighborhoods across the five boroughs in three waves (March–April 2014, September–December 2014, and April–June 2015) for another study which examined tax evasion and compliance with minimum legal access age laws. Marlboro Gold was selected for that study because it is a popular premium brand cigarette. Additional details of that study are reported elsewhere.3,14 That study, which relied on assessment by the New York City Sheriff’s Office, reported that 14% of the packs purchased were classified as illegal with 4.0% bearing tax stamps from out of state and 10% counterfeit stamps.3 The current study focuses on the packaging materials (eg, inner frame, foil, outer frame) with a view to the nature of the packs as genuine or counterfeit. Forensic Procedure We forensically analyzed these cigarette packs using a validated method detailed in Kurti et al.’s5recent study that entails examination of the packaging with respect to fluorescence (using ultraviolet (UV) irradiation) and print quality (using light microscopy). In spring of 2016, four of the study’s authors (VM, MK, FT, and HY) partook in the forensic analysis at John Jay College of Criminal Justice’ Crime Lab. All of the raters were trained how to identify counterfeit cigarette packs using UV irradiation and light microscopy by following a standard operation procedure. The training samples were seized counterfeit cigarettes obtained from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives and their genuine equivalents. First, all of the raters measured the dimensions of each cigarette pack including length (mm), height (mm), and width (mm); width of the tear tape (mm) and weight (g). The product date codes on the bottom of the pack were also recorded and translated to specify the date of production (using the Julian calendar).15 Then, raters were randomly chosen as Rater 1 or 2 for a specific subset of the sample. Raters were urged not to speak to one another during the analysis including asking questions regarding whether they suspected a sample was counterfeit. The first rater unraveled the tear tape. Then each rater exposed the (1) outer frame, (2) inner frame, and (3) foil backing inside a mini viewing cabinet (Model C-10; UVP, LLC) to UV long-wave irradiation at approximately 365 nm (UVGL-25 Compact UV Lamp, 4 W; UVP, LLC). Then, they viewed specific parts of the pack: (1) the “M” on the front label, (2) eyes of the Philip Morris logo, and (3) embossing of the Philip Morris logo under a light microscope (Olympus SZH Zoom Stereo Microscope System; Olympus America). Illustrations of these identifiers are available elsewhere (see Kurti et al.5). After each observation, raters coded the presence (=1) and absence (=0) of the respective counterfeit identifier on an Excel sheet not accessible by other raters. Statistical Analysis The data from all of the raters were combined. To determine the interrater agreement across each counterfeit identifier, we used Cohen’s kappa (κ) statistic. This is a statistic used to evaluate the extent to which two raters agree between categorical variables beyond what could be expected by chance alone. Values for kappa range from perfect agreement (1.0) to absolute disagreement (−1.0). A kappa score of 0 indicates that two people agree on chance alone. Useful guidelines on appropriate level of agreement are provided by Landis and Koch16. For example, values between 0.41 and 0.60 are viewed to be “moderate,” between 0.6 and 0.80 “substantial,” and between 0.81 and 1.00 as “perfect.”16 Results Across our six identifiers, kappa was only calculated for foil fluorescence (κ = 0.53, p < .001) and jagged lettering on the “M” (κ = 1.0, p < .001) (Table 1). Kappa values for outer frame fluorescence, inner frame fluorescence, logo embossing, and emblem eyes were not calculated because they were not observed by either rater (ie, there were no suspected cases). Agreement among raters on foil fluorescence was “moderate,” while for jagged lettering of the “M” in “Marlboro” the values indicated “perfect” level of agreement. One possible reason for the discrepancies is that jagged edges under the microscope are easier to identify than fluorescence. Despite the absence of optical brightening agents, legal cigarette packs under UV light still emit some light. However, it is at a much lower intensity on the color spectrum than counterfeit packs. There was no significant variation in dimensions across the packs. On average, Marlboro Gold box measured in width of 56.38 mm, height of 23.71 mm, length of 86.29 mm, and tear tape width of 3.8 mm. Marlboro Gold 100s, on average, yielded a pack width of 57.69 mm, height of 25.81 mm, length of 99.81 mm, and tear tape width of 3.77 mm. Table 1. Rater Agreement Across Counterfeit Identifiers (n = 1021) Counterfeit identifier κ Outer frame fluorescence —a Inner frame fluorescence —a Foil fluorescence 0.53*** Logo embossing —a Jagged lettering (on “M”) 1.00*** Emblem eyes —a Counterfeit identifier κ Outer frame fluorescence —a Inner frame fluorescence —a Foil fluorescence 0.53*** Logo embossing —a Jagged lettering (on “M”) 1.00*** Emblem eyes —a ***p < .001. aNo counterfeit identifiers were reported. View Large Table 1. Rater Agreement Across Counterfeit Identifiers (n = 1021) Counterfeit identifier κ Outer frame fluorescence —a Inner frame fluorescence —a Foil fluorescence 0.53*** Logo embossing —a Jagged lettering (on “M”) 1.00*** Emblem eyes —a Counterfeit identifier κ Outer frame fluorescence —a Inner frame fluorescence —a Foil fluorescence 0.53*** Logo embossing —a Jagged lettering (on “M”) 1.00*** Emblem eyes —a ***p < .001. aNo counterfeit identifiers were reported. View Large Across the six identifiers, Rater 1 observed 10 packs with foil fluorescence (1%) when compared to Rater 2 who observed 5 packs (0.5%). Neither rater found any packs that displayed outer frame foil fluorescence, inner frame foil fluorescence, lack of logo embossing, or enlarged emblem eyes. Overall, there were five packs (Marlboro Gold box; 0.5% of our sample) for which both Rater 1 and Rater 2 found at least one counterfeit identifier and which, therefore, had a score of at least 1. These packs were revaluated by a trained third rater using UV light and microscopy. In addition, the five packs were resubmitted to the New York City Sheriff’s Office for forensic examination of the tax stamp using a penlight instrument provided by Meyercord Revenue Inc. These subsequent tests revealed that one pack (0.01% of the entire sample) presented foil backing that emitted fluorescence and had a counterfeit tax stamp. The other four packs had genuine joint NYC/NYS tax stamps while displaying a counterfeit physical marker (fluorescence or jagged edges) (Table 2). The width, height, and length of these packs did not statistically differ from packs with no indicators. The only statistically significant difference between the packs with at least one counterfeit indicator to those with no indicators was the width of the tear tape. Suspected counterfeits had a shorter tear tape width (M = 3.7, SD = 0.3) when compared with the rest of the samples (M = 3.8, SD = 0.07) (t(1001) = 2.2, p = .023). Despite these findings, none of the packs yielded the desired cutoff value of four counterfeit identifiers that previous research finds has a high rate of specificity (100%) and sensitivity (100%).5 Thus, we cannot classify them as being counterfeit. Table 2. Suspected Counterfeits (n = 5) Pack ID Production date Rater 1 Rater 2 Rater 3 Tax stamp 1441 February 6, 2014 Foil fluorescence Foil fluorescence Foil fluorescence Legal 1008 January 6, 2014 Foil fluorescence Foil fluorescence Foil fluorescence Counterfeit 1113 January 15, 2014 Foil fluorescence Foil fluorescence Foil fluorescence Legal 3487 March 10, 2015 Jagged letter (“M”) Jagged letter (“M”) Jagged letter (“M”) Legal 1364 January 27, 2014 Foil fluorescence Foil fluorescence Foil fluorescence Legal Pack ID Production date Rater 1 Rater 2 Rater 3 Tax stamp 1441 February 6, 2014 Foil fluorescence Foil fluorescence Foil fluorescence Legal 1008 January 6, 2014 Foil fluorescence Foil fluorescence Foil fluorescence Counterfeit 1113 January 15, 2014 Foil fluorescence Foil fluorescence Foil fluorescence Legal 3487 March 10, 2015 Jagged letter (“M”) Jagged letter (“M”) Jagged letter (“M”) Legal 1364 January 27, 2014 Foil fluorescence Foil fluorescence Foil fluorescence Legal View Large Table 2. Suspected Counterfeits (n = 5) Pack ID Production date Rater 1 Rater 2 Rater 3 Tax stamp 1441 February 6, 2014 Foil fluorescence Foil fluorescence Foil fluorescence Legal 1008 January 6, 2014 Foil fluorescence Foil fluorescence Foil fluorescence Counterfeit 1113 January 15, 2014 Foil fluorescence Foil fluorescence Foil fluorescence Legal 3487 March 10, 2015 Jagged letter (“M”) Jagged letter (“M”) Jagged letter (“M”) Legal 1364 January 27, 2014 Foil fluorescence Foil fluorescence Foil fluorescence Legal Pack ID Production date Rater 1 Rater 2 Rater 3 Tax stamp 1441 February 6, 2014 Foil fluorescence Foil fluorescence Foil fluorescence Legal 1008 January 6, 2014 Foil fluorescence Foil fluorescence Foil fluorescence Counterfeit 1113 January 15, 2014 Foil fluorescence Foil fluorescence Foil fluorescence Legal 3487 March 10, 2015 Jagged letter (“M”) Jagged letter (“M”) Jagged letter (“M”) Legal 1364 January 27, 2014 Foil fluorescence Foil fluorescence Foil fluorescence Legal View Large Discussion This is the first independent study that assess the availability of premium brand (Marlboro Gold box and 100s) counterfeit cigarettes in New York City using in-store purchases and a recently developed forensic methodology. Our estimates that rely solely on the analysis of packaging design and materials indicate that none of the cigarette packs sold at licensed retail stores in New York City were conclusively counterfeit. Partnering field purchasing with forensic measurement could provide a powerful tool for measuring the availability of counterfeit cigarettes. The overall costs of such procedures are low. Researchers first need to develop a standardized protocol (eg, cigarette purchasing script), generate a sampling frame, and then train test purchasers. Once the desired number of packs have been purchased, researchers need to train a set of raters how to identify counterfeit cigarettes using two scientific tools commonly available in most college/university science laboratories (eg, light microscope and UV light). This forensic method is inexpensive in terms of the equipment (~$500) and the time it requires to process (~5 min per sample). Local law enforcement and public health jurisdictions concerned about counterfeit cigarettes may also seek to replicate these methods. Our findings suggest that counterfeit Marlboro Gold cigarettes are not available for purchase at full price from licensed tobacco retailers in New York City at the time of the survey, March 2014–June 2015. Furthermore, our findings suggest that the concerns raised by tobacco companies regarding counterfeit cigarettes may be overstated. Nonetheless, continued surveillance of counterfeit cigarettes could be warranted to ensure that the robust regulatory tools employed to reduce tobacco consumption (eg, increased taxation) are not undercut by retailers selling tobacco products that circumvent existing laws. Despite our findings, we cannot conclude that counterfeiting of other brands (Marlboro Red, Newport, and others) is not present in the market. Moreover, counterfeit cigarette packs may be more available on the street rather than licensed cigarette retailers. This finding resonates with past research that suggests that consumers, at least in some New York City neighborhoods (eg, South Bronx), find street purchases less preferable than in-store purchases because of quality concerns.4 Some smokers have claimed they could tell the difference between genuine and counterfeit product by taste or burn characteristics. Accordingly, licensed retailers might be reluctant to market counterfeit cigarettes for fear of losing customers or being reported to the authorities. Lastly, the availability of cheap cigarettes in low-tax states such as Virginia and North Carolina makes it profitable for dealers operating illegally to sell bootlegged cigarettes rather than counterfeit cigarettes. Our study faces some limitations. First, we cannot compare our results to previously mentioned industry estimates because our packs only come from in-store purchases. Conceivably, the litter pack survey represents a more heterogeneous sample of packs from other sources including Internet cigarette vendors, street dealers, and friends and family. Our analysis was limited to Marlboro Gold (box and 100s). Future analyses should extend to other premium brands like Marlboro (Red), which according to the World Customs Organization is the most counterfeited cigarette brand in the world.17 Also, the test purchasers we employed could have biased sales because they were not residents of the neighborhoods where cigarettes were purchased and did not specifically request discounted (illegal) cigarettes. Research in the South Bronx, for example, finds that illegal cigarette sales inside legal outlets (like bodegas) might be impervious to outsiders. In certain cases, consumers of illegal cigarettes reported using subterfuge when shopping outside of their neighborhoods, for example, pretending to know retailers.4 Ethics Approval This study was approved by New York University’s University Committee on Activities Involving Human Subjects in January 2014. Funding This study was funded by the Institute for Human Development and Social Change at New York University and the Professional Staff Congress-City University of New York (69474-00 47). Declaration of Interests None declared. Acknowledgments We thank the New York City Sheriff’s Office for verifying the tax stamps on the cigarette packs collected. References 1. Davis KC, Grimshaw V, Merriman D, et al. Cigarette trafficking in five northeastern US cities. Tob Control . 2014; 23( e1): e62– e68. Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS PubMed 2. Chernick H, Merriman D. Using littered pack data to estimate cigarette tax avoidance in NYC. Natl Tax J . 2013; 66( 3): 635. Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS 3. Silver D, Giorgio MM, Bae JY, Jimenez G, Macinko J. Over-the-counter sales of out-of-state and counterfeit tax stamp cigarettes in New York City. Tob Control . 2016; 25( 5): 584– 586. Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS PubMed 4. von Lampe K, Kurti M, Johnson J, Rengifo AF. “I wouldn’t take my chances on the street” navigating illegal cigarette purchases in the South Bronx. J Res Crime Del . 2016; 53( 5): 654– 680. Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS 5. Kurti M, He Y, von Lampe K, Li Y. Identifying counterfeit cigarette packs using ultraviolet irradiation and light microscopy. Tob Control . 2017; 26( 1): 29– 33. Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS PubMed 6. He Y, von Lampe K, Wood L, Kurti M. Investigation of lead and cadmium in counterfeit cigarettes seized in the United States. Food Chem Toxicol . 2015; 81: 40– 45. Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS PubMed 7. Pappas RS, Polzin GM, Zhang L, Watson CH, Paschal DC, Ashley DL. Cadmium, lead, and thallium in mainstream tobacco smoke particulate. Food Chem Toxicol . 2006; 44( 5): 714– 723. Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS PubMed 8. National Research Council. Understanding the US Illicit Tobacco Market: Characteristics, Policy Context, and Lessons From International Experiences . Washington, DC: National Academies Press; 2015. 9. Consroe K, Kurti M, Merriman D, von Lampe K. Spring breaks and cigarette tax noncompliance: Evidence from a New York city college sample. Nicotine Tob Res . 2016; 18( 8): 1773– 1779. Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS PubMed 10. Keifer E. New Jersey’ “Tobacco Road”: cops make cigarette counterfeiting bust . Montclair Patch. September 2016. Available at: https://patch.com/new-jersey/montclair/new-jerseys-tobacco-road- cops-make-interstate-counterfeiting-bust 11. Aziani A, Kulick J, Norman N, Prieger JE. Empty discarded pack data and the prevalence of illicit trade in cigarettes. January 2017. Available at: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2906015 12. Pérez-Bernal JL, Amigo JM, Fernández-Torres R, Bello MA, Callejón-Mochón M. Trace-metal distribution of cigarette ashes as marker of tobacco brands. Forensic Sci Int . 2011; 204( 1–3): 119– 125. Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS PubMed 13. Stephens WE. Chemometric and trace element profiling methodologies for authenticating, crossmatching and constraining the provenance of illicit tobacco products. Tob Control . 2016; 26( 5): 502– 508. Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS PubMed 14. Silver D, Bae JY, Jimenez G, Macinko J. Compliance with minimum price and legal age for cigarette purchase laws: Evidence from NYC in advance of raising purchase age to 21. Tob Control . 2016; 25( 3): 289– 294. Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS PubMed 15. Philip Morris USA. Domestic Product Date Codes. April 2001. Available at: http://legacy.library.ucsf.edu/tid/gka91c00/pdf 16. Landis JR, Koch GG. The measurement of observer agreement for categorical data. Biometrics . 1977; 33( 1): 165. Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS 17. World Customs Organization. Customs and Tobacco Report. June 2009 Available at: http://www.wcoomd.org/en/media/newsroom/2010/june/~/media/83967DFEB9F74D388924A4C61F279DC4.ashx [ May 2016]. © The Author(s) 2018. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the Society for Research on Nicotine and Tobacco. All rights reserved. For permissions, please e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. This article is published and distributed under the terms of the Oxford University Press, Standard Journals Publication Model (https://academic.oup.com/journals/pages/about_us/legal/notices)
Nicotine and Tobacco Research – Oxford University Press
Published: May 26, 2018
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