Increasing the per-unit cost of tobacco products is one of the strongest interventions for tobacco control. In jurisdictions with higher taxes in the U.S., however, cigarette pack litter studies show a substantial proportion of littered packs lack the appropriate tax stamp. More limited but still present counterfeiting also exists. We sought to examine the role of tobacco retailers as a source for untaxed and counterfeit products. Data collectors purchased Newport Green (menthol) or Marlboro Red cigarette packs in a national probability-based sample of tobacco retailers (in 97 counties) from June–October 2012. They made no effort to buy counterfeit or untaxed cigarettes. In this cross-sectional study, we assessed the presence, tax authority, and type (low-tech thermal vs. encrypted) of cigarette pack tax stamps; concordance of tax stamps with where the pack was purchased; and, for Marlboro cigarettes, publicly available visible indicators of counterfeiting. We purchased 2147 packs of which 2033 had tax stamps. Packs missing stamps were in states that do not require them. We found very limited discordance between store location and tax stamp(s) (< 1%). However, a substantial minority of cigarette packs had damaged tax stamps (13%). This occurred entirely with low-tech tax stamps and was not identified with encrypted tax stamps. We found no clear evidence of counterfeit products. Almost all tax stamps matched the location of purchase. Litter studies may be picking up legal tax avoidance instead of illegal tax evasion or, alternatively, purchase of illicit products requires special request by the purchaser.
Lee, J. G. L., Golden, S. D., & Ribisl, K. M. (2017). Limited indications of tax stamp discordance and counterfeiting on cigarette packs purchased in tobacco retailers, 97 counties, USA, 2012. Preventive Medicine Reports, 8, 148–152. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.pmedr.2017.09.006