Analysing cigarette filters could detect fakes, even if smoked

A lab technique focusing on the filter of a cigarette can be used to detect whether it is a legitimate or counterfeit product, even after it has been smoked, say researchers in India.

The team from the Institute of Forensic Science and Criminology at Panjab University reckon they have carried out the first study looking at a technique called ATR-FTIR spectroscopy to analyse the fibres of cigarette filters and explore how it could be used to fight the illicit tobacco trade.

In the journal Forensic Chemistry, Akanksha Sharma and Vishal Sharma write that the approach can be used to distinguish between brands of cigarettes without destroying the sample and requiring little preparation beforehand, and distinguish genuine products from fakes.

It could also be used as part of investigations into other forms of crime, where the aim is to extract DNA from a filter and build a profile of a suspect, as cigarette consumers tend to have a preference for specific brands. It can also help determine if fibres are from a cigarette or some other material.

They collected 71 samples of filtered cigarettes all in pristine condition from local vendors in Himachal Pradesh and Chandigarh and extracted fibres for analysis, which were then compared to non-cigarettes fibre samples.

ATR-FTIR spectroscopy was able to differentiate between cigarette filter and non-cigarette fibres with a 100 per cent degree of accuracy and to distinguish between brands, from the pattern of peaks on the resulting spectra.

The researchers then road-tested the approach using smoked genuine samples, showing that they could be identified when cross-referenced with the database of spectra from the original sample in five out of six cases (83 per cent).

So far the researchers have not tested the technique specifically to identify counterfeit cigarettes, which are thought to be widespread in the Indian market and available for a fraction of the cost of genuine brands.

"Counterfeit cigarette brands represent a significant threat because they comprise several times the concentration of harmful materials as legitimate cigarette brands owing to the use of low-cost fertiliser throughout the production phase," write the researchers.

Using their approach, a cigarette filter "can be used as evidence to identify legitimate brands," they conclude.

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