Up In Smoke

Horror of all horrors. The Mexican government is renewing its assault on us smokers, with renewed vigor and intensity. By that I mean to say they’re slapping another 6 or 7 pesos on the price of a pack of twenty. That’s a cheap shot. As if general price rises aren’t hurting already. Smoking is a pleasure of the less well off you know. But I guess something and someone has to start making up for the drop in oil revenue.

When I arrived in Mexico in 2005, the cost of a packet of Marlboro Azul or Camel was 18 or 19 pesos. Now the prices will be getting toward 40 pesos, pretty much double. There are cheaper brands, such as Delicados, Pall Mall and the marvellously named Boots, which also accurately describes the taste and smoking pleasure obtained from lighting and inhaling one of them.

This has had me wondering, how much is a packet of smokes in Guatamala? Or Belize, Honduras or El Salvador? If at any stage the difference is great enough, a smugglers market will be created, and Mexico may find itself with a new drug trafficking business on its southern border. If so, let’s hope it’s less traumatic than the one on the northern border. I suspect it would be.

This happened in the UK, when the British government kept increasing the duty on cigarettes by an annual, hefty sum. To encourage people to quit. The prices went up, the number of smokers went down. But before you knew it, smugglers switched from dope to smokes, and the prices of smokes (legal and illicit) came down, along with tax revenues. And the number of smokers increased again, along with the costs of enforcing customs policies.

At one stage, Drum tobacco was the most popular brand of rolling tobacco in the UK. And, at that time, it wasn’t actually legally on sale in the country. There’s a balance to be struck. I hope Mexico finds that balance and accepts it, works with it, rather that starting another futile fight.

In my last couple of years in the UK, I did smoke roll ups, with Golden Virginia being my choice of poison. A little milder than the throat splitting Old Holborn, and a lot milder than Drum, which has a kick to rival a donkey. And for those who think I have no time for religion whatsoever, think again. I always had a small pocket Gideon bible handy, having stolen it from a hotel somewhere.

And in the event I ran out of cigarette papers after the stores had closed, I’d choose myself a cheery little verse, usually Old Testament, carefully remove the page, fill it with tobacco and smoke it. There’s no length a hardened nicotine addict won’t go to for a hit of the good stuff. Desperate, yes. But good practise for my future life with hellfire and brimstone and stuff.

Rolling tobacco isn’t something Mexicans are into, yet anyway. I’ve never seen any on sale here. Ready rolled have always been too cheap. One thing they do have here that died some time ago in the UK and elsewhere. Tobacco art. As seen in the pictures of a couple of recent packets of Camel I have purchased. Pride. Love. I’ve not been paying much attention to the words till now to be honest. Are there more designs to complete the set? Life and Liberty perhaps.

I should make a quick defence of smoking while I’m on the subject. Against the whining non smokers in the UK who complain that us smokers cost them money they’ve paid in taxes to fund the NHS. Fact: smokers cost the NHS less money than non smokers. We all die. Smokers just die sooner and more quickly, saving the dear tax payer the cost of elderly care. And ourselves the indignity of having pretty young nurses change our granny nappies and comodes.

Non smokers should have a look at the state of the pensions system while they’re at it. Want to ban smoking? Sure. Well you subtract that enormous chunk of revenue the government gets from cigarette duty, and add a big chunk of expense to the cost of pensions with all those ex smokers living longer. Do the math.

And then take a chill pill relax and enjoy the status quo. I hope to join you this Thursday when I embark on my 50th effort to quit this year. 🙂 One of these days it’l work out! If only I didn’t enjoy some of those daily smokes so much…


16 thoughts on “Up In Smoke

  1. My cigs were 9 pesos when I got here! As of Jan. 1st, they’ll be 31 pesos. Time to quit. Mind you, with a pack in Canada at over 10 dollars, I won’t be complaining to any smoking friends back home about Mexico.


      • I prefer Marlboro Azul, but I rarely pronounce it to the shopkeeper’s satisfaction and get given a packet of Pall Mall. Hence Camel.

        But I might consider swapping to a cheaper brand sometime soon…


      • I bought a pack of Muratti today. The 24 peso price and the impending increase tempted me to be daring.

        Not to bad. Not quite got the kick of a Camel or Marlboro Blue, but they smoke the throat just enough. Flavour isn’t too bad either. I was expecting something obnoxious.

        Then again, after 22 years of a packet a day, I’m surprised I can taste anything…


  2. Pingback: Smoking Pop Art

  3. I have never smoked, but I find the savage Puritan campaign against smoking to be as merciful as the Red Terror crowd. Plenty of my friends are repelled by a mere whiff of tobacco smoke. To me, it is the smell of freedom. In my part of Mexico, everyone acknowledges the smoking restrictions and then ignores them — to the disgust of most of my American and Canadian friends, who have no trouble violating the law when it comes to matters financial.


    • I have to say I was astounded by the fact that restaurants, bars and the like all complied so diligently when the smoking law came out. I couldn’t quite believe how obedient they all were.

      I do respect non smokers wishes not to pollute their local atmosphere with my tobacco fumes in general. Indoors, anyway. But I do think there should be an obligation on employers to make an area available to smokers when possible.


  4. Elizabeth says:

    I thought your title referred to a revival of the great Cheech and Chong movie! Oh well, I would have enjoyed that discussion. I don’t smoke anymore…I started at 14 and quit at 50, but I’m told by friends that a pack in the US is now over $5! I well know the depths that smokers will go to when out of cigarettes…I can remember breaking open every butt in the ashtray with a boyfriend in spain, using the remaining tobacco to roll the cigarettes in the paper that packaged tampax! Exactly the same weight as a bible page!


    • Well I did blog about Machete a week or so ago, which had Cheech in it!

      And the butt breaking story….ewwww. Elizabeth!! But yeah, been there. Although in my defence, the butts had a magic ingredient that was worth rescuing…



  5. Kim G says:

    I’ll agree with Steve. The intensity with which the state has gone after smoking makes it rather appealing actually. And I do smoke a bit, though I’m out of cigarettes now. But I order posh cigarettes via the internet and get them imported for fractions of the cost of more ordinary smokes available here in the states.

    I suspect you’ll give up the habit when you return to the UK and have to pay 7-10 quid per pack. That’d work out 138-200 pesos per pack, or the cost of a decent dinner in Mexico City.

    As for the calculus of the impact of smoking on public finances, I’ve certainly heard the stories such as yours, but have never seen a proper study. But it does make sense that smoking saves the government money. Perhaps George Osborne will propose a tobacco subsidy to help improve British finances.


    Kim G
    Boston, MA
    Where the puritan impulse to put an end to such things is alive and kicking.


    • I would suggest it is more likely that George Osborne will stick his head up his own backside that propose a tobacco subsidy, but seeing as it has been there since the moment he got into No. 11, that seems a bit of a mute point. He was, and remains, in my opinion anyway, the weakest link in a fairly rusty chain that is the coalition govt.

      I’d like to give it up long before I get to the UK. I don’t lack for desire, just willpower. But I have that big mountain to climb in just a couple of weeks….

      Mmust motivate, must motivate…


  6. Gary, As a former smoker I have noticed that I don’t mind a whiff of smoke wafting over from another table… but I absolutely hate it when you get in an elevator or get kissed hello by someone who smells like yesterday’s ash tray. I used to keep Febreeze fabric spray in my purse and spritz myself after every smoke.

    A friend of mine – 20+ year smoker, just quit cold turkey and is doing great. I used Champix to finally break their spell. Good luck to you.


  7. Obet says:

    Well, you have until December 31st to store a big amount of cigarets before the tabacos gets ugly expensive. That’s gonna be a looooong agony for you Gary, sorry 😀

    Don’t worry Mexican and international smokers, this is México, the black market is alredy working for you.


    • The only thing that puts me off buying black market cigarettes is you don’t know what they’re made of. They could be genuine stolen or smuggled cigs, but these days there’s also a fair chance they’re fake and full of poisonous crap!


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