Empty Discarded Pack Data and the Prevalence of Illicit Trade in Cigarettes

Alberto Aziani*, Jonathan Kulick*, Neill Norman*, James E. Prieger*

*Corresponding author

Research output: Working paper


Illicit trade in tobacco products (ITTP) is big business in the United States and creates many harms including reduced tax revenues; damages to the economic interests of legitimate actors; funding for organized-crime and terrorist groups; negative effects of participation in illicit markets, such as violence and incarceration; and reduced effectiveness of smoking-reduction policies, leading to increased damage to health. To improve data availability for study in this area, we describe and make available a large, novel set of data from empty discarded pack (EDP) studies. In EDP studies, teams of researchers collect all cigarette packs discarded (either in trash receptacles or as litter) in the public spaces of selected neighborhoods. Packs are examined for the absence of local tax stamps, signs of non-authentic packaging or stamps, and other indications of potential tax evasion or counterfeit product. We describe the data and analyze the prevalence of ITTP. Data from 23 collections in 10 U.S. cities from 2010 to 2014 are available, yielding 106,500 observations (by far the largest dataset of its kind available for academic study). Each observation includes dozens of variables covering the brand, location to the ZIP code level, tax status, counterfeit status, and other information about the pack. There is significant evidence of tax avoidance (up to 74% of packs in New York City). In some markets there is also a significant amount of illicit trade (up to over half the market in New York City), which includes bootlegging, counterfeits, cigarettes produced for illicit-market sales, and cigarettes without any tax stamps. These data will be highly useful for research in illicit markets and organized crime.
Original languageEnglish
PublisherPepperdine University
Number of pages73
Publication statusPublished - 2017


  • Black Markets
  • Contraband
  • Counterfeit Cigarettes
  • Excise Taxes
  • Garbology
  • ITTP
  • Interstate Smuggling
  • Smoking
  • State and Local Taxation
  • Tobacco


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