Smoke ‘Em If You . . . Roll ‘Em?

Amusing op-ed piece in Monday’s Boston Globe by Steve Moore (Tag: Steve Moore sells wine, cheese, and cigarettes to persons of legal age.)

Headlined “Smoking out the nanny state,” it chronicles Steve’s Excellent Adventure attending a “[Massachusetts]-mandated training session for tobacco retail clerks.”

Class? To sell cigarettes?

Aside from the bewildering variety of smokes (“I’d like a pack of Pulmo 100 Lites in the fliptop box and carrying case. No, no, the green pack, stupid’’), the question for the tobacco retail clerk quickly becomes, why is anyone still smoking who does not roll his own?

Coincidental Monday Wall Street Journal headline:

Roll-Your-Own Cigarette Machines Help Evade Steep Tax


Scores of tobacco retailers in the U.S. are taking advantage of a federal tax loophole to offer deep discounts on roll-your-own cigarettes. But the practice is attracting scrutiny from regulators and cigarette manufacturers.

At Smoke Zone, a store in this Chicago suburb, customers one recent afternoon flocked to two high-speed rolling machines that produce a carton of cigarettes in eight minutes. The price: $21—less than half the cost of a carton of Marlboro cigarettes.

The trick is, retailers are rolling “pipe tobacco” instead of “rolling tobacco.”

This substantially reduces the stores’ and smokers’ costs because the federal excise tax on pipe tobacco is $2.83 a pound—compared with $24.78 a pound for the rolling tobacco traditionally used to make hand-rolled cigarettes.

Other fun facts to know and tell:

In the 14 months since the tax increase, the volume of pipe tobacco sold in the U.S. more than tripled to about 21 million pounds, according to data from the U.S. Treasury’s Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau. Rolling-tobacco sales volumes, in contrast, fell about 60%.

There are no smarter marketers in the U.S. than tobacco companies.

(See also Monday’s Boston Globe Page One piece on tobacco signage in poor neighborhoods versus affluent ones.)

American tobacco companies spend about $15 billion a year on marketing.

Have you seen any of it?

How smart is that?

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