Some contraband cigarette traffickers have taken to manufacturing counterfeits of popular brands, such as Marlboro and Camel. We wrote about this extensively in our 2008 study, and since that time, there have been major investigations, indictments and convictions of people trafficking counterfeit brands.

In July 2009, for instance, 12 million counterfeit cigarettes were seized by the ATF in Virginia alone.[46] In October 2010, the federal government secured a conviction in a Southern California case involving a conspiracy to smuggle counterfeit cigarettes, smuggled cigarettes, drugs and shoulder-fired missiles.[47] According to an FBI press release, this case and related work in New Jersey led to indictments of 87 people on smuggling charges.[48]

In November 2009, the British Journal of Criminology published the research paper “The Dragon Breathes Smoke: Cigarette Counterfeiting in the People’s Republic of China.” The authors report that from 2002 through 2008, nearly 1.5 million “cases of cigarette counterfeiting became known to the Chinese authorities.”[49] During this time, Chinese officials discovered more than 22,200 cigarette production areas and 8,800 machines for rolling counterfeit cigarettes. More than 30,800 people were arrested, though only about one-third were sentenced. The authors note that these are just the cases known to the authorities.[50]

International smuggling is so extensive that some smugglers have established their own brand: “Jin Ling,” the only one known to have been created for the sole purpose of smuggling. It is typically produced in China, Russia or Russia’s former satellites.[51] The October 2010 pictures featured in Graphic 9 show Jin Ling cigarettes shipped from China and encased in cement barriers as part of a smuggling operation to England.[*], [52]

Graphic 9: Jin Ling Cigarettes Smuggled in Concrete Barriers

Graphic 9: Jin Ling Cigarettes Smuggled in Concrete Barriers - click to enlarge

Source: ukhomeoffice photostream (flickr), “Cigarettes hidden in a concrete block,” www.flickr.com/photos/49956354@N04/5135789331/in/photostream/, “Concrete concealed cigarettes,” www.flickr.com/photos/49956354@N04/5135789323/in/photostream/.

Illegal cigarettes may be adulterated. In our 2008 study, we mentioned that counterfeit smokes often used sawdust as a filler.[53] The study “The Dragon Breathes Smoke,” discussed above, indicated that counterfeits may also contain rotten tobacco, sulfur, carbamide and “heavy metals to a greater extent than cigarettes produced by authorized manufacturers.”[54]


[*]Tax Foundation economist Patrick Fleenor has written that in 1967, the chairman of a smuggling investigative body said that legitimate tobacco-related workers were “confronted almost daily with the risk and dangers of personal violence which are now inherent in their industry.” Patrick Fleenor, “High Cigarette Taxes Stoke Bootlegging, Violence” (Tax Foundation, 2010), http://www.taxfoundation.org/news/ show/26132.html (accessed Dec. 13, 2010).


[46] Freeman Klopott, “ATF Seizes 12 Million Counterfeit Marlboro Cigarettes Made in China,” The Washington Examiner, July 14, 2009, http://www.washingtonexaminer.com/local/Feds-ATF-makes-largest-counterfeit-cigarette-seizure-in-area-history.html (accessed Nov. 4, 2010).

[47] “Southern California Man Faces at Least 25 Years in Prison for Convictions in Smuggling Schemes, Including Plot to Bring Surface-to-Air Missiles into United States” (United States Attorney’s Office, Central District of California, 2010), http://losangeles.fbi.gov/ dojpressrel/pressrel10/la100610.htm (accessed Nov. 2, 2010).

[48] Ibid.

[49] Anqi Shen, Georgios A. Antonopoulos, and Klaus Von Lampe, “The Dragon Breathes Smoke: Cigarette Counterfeiting in the People’s Republic of China,” The British Journal of Criminology 50, no. 2 (2010): 243.

[50] Ibid.

[51] Roman Shleynov et al., “Made to Be Smuggled” (Center for Public Integrity, 2008), http://www.publicintegrity.org/investigations/ tobacco/articles/entry/763/ (accessed Nov. 16, 2010).

[52] “File:Cigarettes Hidden in a Concrete Block Ba1.Jpg” (Wikimedia Commons, 2010), http://bit.ly/i14wbx (accessed Dec. 13, 2010).

[53] LaFaive, Fleenor, and Nesbit, “Cigarette Taxes and Smuggling” (Mackinac Center for Public Policy, 2008), 8, http://www.mackinac.org/ archives/2008/s2008-12.pdf (accessed Dec. 10, 2010).

[54] Shen, Antonopoulos and Lampe, “The Dragon Breathes Smoke: Cigarette Counterfeiting in the People’s Republic of China,” The British Journal of Criminology 50, no. 2 (2010): 245.