Date of Award

Summer 8-2020

Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)


Forensic Science



First Advisor or Mentor

Yi He, Guy Robinson

Second Reader

Guoqi Zhang

Third Advisor

Marin Kurti


Cigarette counterfeiting negatively impacts government revenue and undermines tobacco control policies. Tracking geographical origins and potential trade routes of counterfeit cigarettes is important for investigation illegal trade in tobacco products. Traditional pollen extraction techniques provide clear residues of pollen trapped on tobacco leaves and used for geographical identification; however, such methods are time-consuming and utilize concentrated chemicals. This study developed a simple, fast and environmentally friendly method for extraction of pollen grains used in differentiating genuine and counterfeit cigarettes. Experimental factors that may affect pollen recovery including number of cigarettes, extraction solution, and extraction temperature, were optimized. The optimum parameters were using 1% dishwashing detergent solution to extract three cigarettes per sample at room temperature (23 °C). Method validation included analyzing ten genuine and ten counterfeit Marlboro Gold, the most counterfeited brand globally. Significant amounts of Ambrosia (ragweed) pollen, a plant native to North America, were found in genuine samples while counterfeit samples contained zero to trace amounts of Ambrosia pollen, suggesting its viability as a marker of authentic cigarettes produced in North America. The method was applied to analyzing 138 cigarette samples, including sixty variously branded counterfeit and thirty genuine Marlboro Gold packs obtained internationally and forty-eight variously branded counterfeit packs seized in the U.S. Consistent results showed the usefulness of Ambrosia for differentiating genuine and counterfeit American-branded cigarettes, especially those seized domestically. No trace of Ambrosia was found in U.S. seized counterfeit samples and a significant number of international samples.



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