Like a Puff of Smoke

A friend of mine recently returned from a trip to Buffalo, NY. He was commenting on the paying $150 for a scalped “cheap seat” ticket to a Buffalo Bills game and what he had to shell out for a small bottle of liquor, $40. The stunner was the statement that a carton of cigarettes, with state, local and federal taxes, was $207.06.

If you travel you may have known for years that vice is not cheap in New York state and even more expensive in New York City. In the early 80s, when I still smoked, a pack of cigarettes in a NY machine was $2. Well above what the same would run in most other states.

When I began smoking in the 50s I can remember buying cigarettes from machines for a quarter and inside the cellophane wrapper would be three pennies making the cost .22 cents. In the Navy at that time we could buy cigarettes for .10 a pack when outside the continental limits of the US. Obviously government hadn’t discovered yet the potential revenues that sin taxes can produce.

I did just a smidgen of research this morning about tobacco taxes and to no one’s surprise NY is at the top of the list. Whatever the state tax, there are also local taxes in some places and the federal government taxes all cigarette packs at $1.01. Here are some samples of state taxes per pack of cigarettes:

  • Missouri, .17 cents
  • Virginia, .30
  • North Carolina, .45
  • Ohio, $1.25
  • Hawaii, $3.20
  • New York, $4.35 with NYC exceeding the $5 mark

My brother was recently in Maine and New Hampshire and reported per pack prices ranging between $7 to $9. I still can’t figure how a carton could exceed $200 but will make more inquires. Regardless, tobacco consumption is not a cheap habit these days. I gave up the devil weed in 1982 and can’t imagine how much money I’ve been able to waste on other things. But at least I can look around and see some of those things. The money I did and would have spent on cigarettes would have disappeared like a puff of smoke. 

UPDATE: I checked back with the person who told me about the $20 a pack cigarettes in NY and he had based his calculations on believing a carton contained twenty packs. It only has ten packs making the per pack cost slightly over $10. That doesn’t change the reality that smoking and tobacco use is extremely expensive. While having this conversation another person related that between him and his wife they spent $24 a day on cigarettes. You could just about double that if they lived in NY. Doing the math this couple is paying out more for tobacco a month than I did on a house and car payment combined in the 1980s.

8 thoughts on “Like a Puff of Smoke”

  1. We were discussing the high price of smokes at work the other day and made an observation. Has anyone noticed that most of the people that smoke are the ones that really can’t afford it? When going into several of our lower income housing areas the rate of smokers to non always seems relativly higher than in the general population.

    1. Maybe it’s always been that way. One truth is that the higher one’s income level and educational level the less chance they’ll smoke or abuse alcohol or drugs. Sit outside the Truck Stop on Friday evening and watch the number of those who arrive with an uninsured piece of junk, buy $10 worth of gas, a 12-pack, several packs of smokes and a handful of lottery tickets. No food, no milk, no balogna for the kids.

  2. After ten years smoking, and the last twenty-five not smoking, I still miss it, even if I can’t stand to be around it anymore. I also either smoke in my dreams or have occasional dreams of those little buggers dancing just out of reach in front of me. I quit when they hit $1 a pack in Highland County; can’t imagine spending all that money now.

  3. Larry, it just occured to me that perhaps your friend purchased his stuff at a tourist-trap sort of store. I just happened to remember a store like that on the corner of Canal and Tchoupitoulas, I think, in New Orleans. I once went in to buy a can of pop, I think, though it could have been a bottle, but – regardless – they wanted over three dollars for it; I didn’t buy it. Of course, pop wasn’t cheap in the French Quarter, across the street, but one could easily find it much cheaper than that.

  4. Makes me glad I don’t smoke! I remember trying it as a teenager and thinking “this is so stupid! Why would I want to pay 25 cents for a pack of cigarettes that I’m going to suck in and blow back out”? A candy bar made more sense to me.

  5. I remember, as recent as ten years ago, one could buy a a pack of cigarettes in Kentucky, made in Kentucky, for just a dollar. Probably, the federal tax was less then, but, nevertheless, it prompts me to ask the question of whether, or not, the federal tax is tied into interstate commerce, somehow, so that there’d be no, or less, federal taxes on cigarettes sold in Kentucky that were made in Kentucky? (But, even then, it wasn’t that cheap for all Kentucky-made cigarettes made in Kentucky, but there were a few brands, I think. I didn’t buy cigarettes back then, but just recall that. I may have bought a pack of Harley Davidson cigarettes to put on a shelf, though.)

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