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The Brisk, Shady Sale of ‘Loosies’
April 5, 2011 9:37 AM   Subscribe

With the crackdown on smoking and higher cigarette taxes in New York City, people who sell individual cigarettes, also known as loosies, are rapidly gaining new customers.
posted by reenum (69 comments total) 4 users marked this as a favorite

 
I noticed today that a pack costs $5.49 or so at Meijers in Ohio and thought "wow, that's high" and patted myself on the back (which got more a few odd looks from the other customers) for quitting 25 years ago.
Then I read this article and see NY can charge $12.50 a pack. No wonder the loosies are booming!
posted by Old'n'Busted at 9:42 AM on April 5, 2011


The bodega on my corner also sells candy "circus peanuts" as loosies!

Also once I cut my foot when I was out walking around, and went into a bodega and asked if they sold band-aids. "Sure," he said, fishing them out of an opened box. "How many do you want?" I bought two for fifty cents.
posted by hermitosis at 9:46 AM on April 5, 2011 [6 favorites]


Loosies are illegal in NYC though (as the article says), and although I think there are some bodegas that will risk it and sell them, most won't.

I was just talking to a friend about how cigs are so expensive and loosies not really available, that now when people offer her $1 for one of her cigarettes, she takes it. She says used to really enjoy the communal spirit of the "bumming culture" but with the much higher cost these days, she can't just give them away anymore. People used to make a lot of friends that way too, and I wonders about the social effects that this has.
posted by rmless at 9:48 AM on April 5, 2011 [2 favorites]


Loosies are illegal in NYC though (as the article says), and although I think there are some bodegas that will risk it and sell them, most won't.

Also illegal: EBT fraud (like allowing EBT benefits to be used for hot sandwiches), but many many bodegas do it (though many do not.)
posted by Jahaza at 9:50 AM on April 5, 2011


I wonders about the social effects that this has.

Less people dying prematurely = more socializing?
posted by basicchannel at 9:51 AM on April 5, 2011 [3 favorites]


There's a whole culture of this in the city that I haven't seen in suburbia. I have a guy at a newsstand near where my choir sings who sells loose pencils to me out of the box. Another guy who sells me loose stamps.
posted by Jahaza at 9:52 AM on April 5, 2011


When I was a smoker, I considered it bad manners to charge for singles, no matter how much someone offered. Then again, I was paying only $5-$6 a pack. Can't say I would have felt the same way if they were $12.

Is loose tobacco taxed the same way in NYC?

I don't regret quitting 4 years ago, but damn I'm missing the smell Bali Shag right now
posted by Cat Pie Hurts at 9:52 AM on April 5, 2011


I'll stick to smoking crack when I'm in NYC since it's cheaper.
posted by Burhanistan at 9:54 AM on April 5, 2011 [15 favorites]


And while we're on the topic of things sold on the street, what happened to discount newspapers? I seem to remember being able to buy the Times for half price in the afternoon near the train stations, but this doesn't seem to be the case anymore.
posted by Jahaza at 9:55 AM on April 5, 2011


Jahaza: "Also illegal: EBT fraud (like allowing EBT benefits to be used for hot sandwiches), but many many bodegas do it (though many do not.)"

Fraud? Grocery stores around here take yesterday's hot food, put it in the refrigerated food section, label it cold, thus making it EBT eligible and tacking an extra $1-$2 on the price. Talk about fraud.

/derail
posted by Cat Pie Hurts at 9:55 AM on April 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


Less people dying prematurely = more socializing?
posted by basicchannel at 11:51 AM on April 5 [+] [!]


Well then, I guess we should illegalize everything that's unhealthy. Surely utopia will follow.
posted by goethean at 9:56 AM on April 5, 2011 [16 favorites]


I know a guy who would ask if he could "hold" a dollar for a few minutes, then proceed out to the street. He's Russian, and he could always locate a Russian speaker and offer him a dollar for a cigarette. They would never take the dollar, and he often returned with two cigarettes, and the dollar.
posted by StickyCarpet at 9:56 AM on April 5, 2011 [17 favorites]


Nice story. I cracked up at the end. Bodegas will sell you loosies once they get to know you, no problem.

Man, the sooner Bloomberg is gone the better. The man's overstayed his welcome by one term (he's on his third of what was supposed to be a two term limit), and has sold the city out to the developers who've built so much crap into the sky.

But the thing about that story that really got my attention, sorta half seriously here, is that Rikers Island provides free healthcare and I'm wondering if I can get booked there for a coupla hours for jay walking or smoking in a park or something. That might be a good deal.
posted by Skygazer at 9:58 AM on April 5, 2011 [2 favorites]


Several older gentlemen on my block in Baltimore, who don't smoke, sell single cigarettes. Folks who know this just knock on the door. Many corner stores advertise how many food stamps they charge for each sandwich (yes, I know they aren't food stamps anymore).

It is expensive to be poor.
posted by QIbHom at 10:02 AM on April 5, 2011 [5 favorites]


I'll stick to smoking crack when I'm in NYC since it's cheaper.

You can also smoke crack in public parks.
posted by elwoodwiles at 10:02 AM on April 5, 2011 [10 favorites]


It's kind of interesting how this vaguely resembles people in very poor countries buying things in very small quantities at very high markup even though it makes little economic sense.
posted by fake at 10:05 AM on April 5, 2011 [3 favorites]


As best I can determine, the Das Efx song 'Looseys' is not about cigarettes.
posted by box at 10:06 AM on April 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


I wish I could buy loosies where I am. I don't smoke enough to buy a pack; I just want a cigarette maybe once a month. Instead, if I really want one, I buy a pack and the rest go stale.
posted by jb at 10:06 AM on April 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


Cat Pie Hurts: I don't regret quitting 4 years ago, but damn I'm missing the smell Bali Shag right now

Yeah, can't beat it. There was a time a few years ago that was the way to avoid the big tax hike on cigs, and still buy it for 5 or 6 bucks, but I guess they closed that loophole and pouches are about $10.50 last time I checked. Still a good deal as I could usually get about 2 to 2 and half packs outta a pouch of that stuff.

I have a friend who buys it by the can and makes his own cigarettes with filters and everything (there are a couple of neat little machines you can purchase online and sometimes in tobacco shops if you can find a good one) and has his own reusable fancy cig pack holder. I did that a few years ago. The cigs tasted fabulous, but it was too time consuming and messy, and eventually I needed to stop smoking for a while anyway.
posted by Skygazer at 10:08 AM on April 5, 2011


jb: Give the pack to a homeless person. That's what I did in Vegas. This was ultimately the tactic by which I finally kicked smoking.
posted by Ardiril at 10:09 AM on April 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


I often tell the tale of how I almost got killed over loosies. I was at a loft party in LA about a half block from 5th and Wall, the worst, scummiest place in downtown LA. There was a 24 hour liquor store on that corner that did business behind bulletproof windows, selling loosies and Thunderbird wine to the homeless.

My friend and I were at the party and ran out of cigarettes, we both lived downtown and the homeless didn't scare us, so we went down to buy a couple of loosies for 25 cents each. We were sure to not flash cash in front of the homeless that thronged on that corner.

OK, so my friend and I buy 50 cents worth of loosies, turn our back to return to the party, and are immediately surrounded by thugs with knives out. We were both frozen, trying to figure out how to escape with our lives, when suddenly an LAPD patrol car slammed to a stop at the curb, like 3 feet from us. The thugs ran off. The cop asked me what the hell I was doing at 5th and Wall at midnight. We explained, and the cop told us to get the hell out of there or he'd arrest us for inciting a riot. Yes sir ociffer sir, I am getting the hell out of here right now.
posted by charlie don't surf at 10:11 AM on April 5, 2011 [10 favorites]


I don't regret quitting 4 years ago, but damn I'm missing the smell Bali Shag right now

Funny you should say that...

I'm one of the idiots that still smokes. About six months ago, I switched to rolling my own and the savings are tremendous - at least 50%. The rolling is relaxing and I'm smoking less.

Bali Shag is muuuuuuch tastier than commercial cigs, too.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 10:13 AM on April 5, 2011


Loosies are illegal in NYC though (as the article says)

Aren't loosies illegal everywhere? Something about a tax stamp having to be part of every cigarette sale or something?

Non-issuance of tax stamps is how they made the sale of marijuana illegal, too.
posted by hippybear at 10:15 AM on April 5, 2011


75 cents for one? I remember when I was a kid growing up in the 80's, and my dad would send me to the corner store to buy some loosies. They used to cost 10 cents a piece! I figured they must have gone up, but since I don't live in the Big Apple anymore, I had no idea how much they cost now.
posted by KillaSeal at 10:27 AM on April 5, 2011


Awesome to see that he can finally afford health care. The system works!

He should start selling Coco Puffs to continue his move up the ladder.
posted by porn in the woods at 10:29 AM on April 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


I love loosies (heh).

I worked at the Tower Records on Broadway in maybe 1991 and just about every day at lunch my friend Jordan and I would walk to the newsstand on Bleecker (this one, I think? Funny that Tower is long gone, but that newsstand is (maybe?) still going) and buy loosies - the guy had Newports or Marlboros in two little fishbowls on the counter, 25 cents a piece. There was something great about it being this shady, yet totally mainstream, thing. I mean, there was always a line of people buying loosies on their lunch break. This was still the Dinkins era though, and although it was nicer than it had been it was still pretty rough around a lot of edges.

Damn, today at lunch I'm going to go down to the Chipotle or Subway and ask for a loosie. Just for old times sake.
posted by dirtdirt at 10:35 AM on April 5, 2011


I am not a smoker, but I am an occasional dipper. So one day I go downstairs to the newsstand and ask the guy for a tin of Skoal Long Cut. He tells me something like $7.50 please and I balk. Hadn't bought any in a while and that seemed excessive for a few dips. He just took the tin back and said, haven't gotten to selling loose dips yet.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 10:39 AM on April 5, 2011 [2 favorites]


When I was working in the south Bronx last year, I stopped by the local bodega everyday to buy a salad or sandwich. I was usually the only person in the place as I waited for my food to be prepared, even though it was on a busy corner with a lot of pedestrian traffic. After a couple of months, the guy who worked at the counter asked if I could phone in my order and wait on the corner until it was ready. When I asked him why, he said I was killing his lunchtime loosie business; apparently, several customers had told him that they thought I was an undercover cop. (This is me.)
posted by HotPatatta at 10:47 AM on April 5, 2011 [20 favorites]


My freshman year of high school, Marlboros were 55 cents a pack at the Texaco station across the street. If you got a signed note from your parents you could hang out in the official smoking area behind the cafeteria between classes and during lunch hour. On the other hand, we had to actually unscrew the cap from the tube of toothpaste, none of that flip top cap convenience, so it all evens out I guess.
posted by Daddy-O at 10:48 AM on April 5, 2011 [8 favorites]


1976 by the way.
posted by Daddy-O at 10:49 AM on April 5, 2011


When I was a smoker, I considered it bad manners to charge for singles, no matter how much someone offered. Then again, I was paying only $5-$6 a pack. Can't say I would have felt the same way if they were $12.

My understanding is that the polite way to bum a cigarette from a stranger now is to first offer a dollar for a cigarette, which the provider turns down and then gives me a cigarette. I assume if they take the dollar it is because they are as painfully poor as I am. If they won't bum a cigarette I assume they are from Washington DC and they are visiting.
posted by fuq at 10:50 AM on April 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


Anyone know what happens if you smoke a loosie on a fixie?
posted by mmrtnt at 10:56 AM on April 5, 2011 [3 favorites]


first offer a dollar for a cigarette

This. Most of the time, the person you're asking will give you the smoke and turn down the cash. But if you don't ask, and are not clearly a homeless person, you come off as kind of a jerk.

I'm trying to quit right now, with the help of free gubmint nicotine gum, and the incessant nagging of everyone I know (NO, REALLY, THANKS GUYS). I haven't noticed a giant uptick in my finances, but I was a light smoker. Lord knows how anyone can afford a pack a day.
posted by evidenceofabsence at 10:58 AM on April 5, 2011


Anyone know what happens if you smoke a loosie on a fixie?

You pop a wheelie, and the joy makes your face a smiley.
posted by explosion at 11:00 AM on April 5, 2011 [9 favorites]


Anyone else notice that HotPatatta appears to be surrounded by two of the same woman in his picture?
posted by Poppa Bear at 11:02 AM on April 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


It's kind of interesting how this vaguely resembles people in very poor countries buying things in very small quantities at very high markup even though it makes little economic sense.

PLG, Brooklyn: the loosies around the corner are $.50, and packs (of twenty, you nonsmokers) are $11.50, which means they're cheaper by the few. Was puzzled by this until I remembered that there's a Virginia like seven hours south of here, with a series of highways connecting.
posted by damehex at 11:10 AM on April 5, 2011


huh. who could have seen this happening. I mean, marijuana being illegal totally keeps people from smoking it. oh, wait... nevermind.
posted by zombieApoc at 11:14 AM on April 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


Um, if two loosies cost a dollar, and a pack costs $12.50, there is a clear financial disincentive to purchase and consume cigarettes in bulk. This can only be a good thing.
posted by tigrefacile at 11:19 AM on April 5, 2011


As discussed in a a previous post, a Brooklyn woman grows her own. Warning: Link is to a NYT article.
posted by Daddy-O at 11:19 AM on April 5, 2011


Or what damehex said.
posted by tigrefacile at 11:21 AM on April 5, 2011


If I am not mistaken, this sort of thing is done and has been done in Spain and other countries for years...typically, the poor unable to buy "in bulk"--a pack--so they more for the single smoke...So much of our system seems to get those without to pay more than they should because they have less to begin with, as in the small convenience store, which charges much more for items than the same things cost in a super market, usually not located in poor areas.
I recall too the poor having to take cabs to the welfare office because they had car to get there to fill in forms.
posted by Postroad at 11:22 AM on April 5, 2011


You know what are good? The really big Sour Patch Kids that are sold individually. SO freakin' good!!! Just get those instead of cigarettes.
posted by ReeMonster at 11:36 AM on April 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


"A felonious woman...that is correct."
posted by inturnaround at 11:39 AM on April 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


In high school I'd buy a case of Camels from the grocery store where I worked and sell the cigs at school for 50 cents each or 3 for a buck. It was an easy way to make beer money. My mother found my stash and confronted me at one point, but when I explained that I was only selling cigarettes rather than smoking them she let it go. The simultaneously relieved and appalled expression on her face still makes me laugh when I think about it.
posted by Blue Meanie at 11:43 AM on April 5, 2011 [3 favorites]


Crap, it was fellatious, not felonious.
posted by inturnaround at 12:39 PM on April 5, 2011


Anyone else notice that HotPatatta appears to be surrounded by two of the same woman in his picture?

As the woman in the lower right corner of that picture I assure you I have no magical duplication abilities. (Check out our chins and eyebrow shapes for differences)
posted by rmless at 12:46 PM on April 5, 2011 [3 favorites]


“We don’t allow people to sell drugs on this block,” he said. “We just don’t allow it.”

Funniest line ever.
posted by Mental Wimp at 1:11 PM on April 5, 2011


> Anyone know what happens if you smoke a loosie on a fixie?

You get a herpie.
posted by davelog at 1:32 PM on April 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


Prepare to get your juvenile minds blown, whippersnappers: when I was living in a group home for troubled youth in the mid-seventies, a local bar would sell cigarettes to teens, even young teens; I would occasionally pick up a pack of smokes for someone when I went there to buy a Snickers bar. (Some of the other kids tried to teach me the habit, but I failed miserably.) The tougher kids would also play chicken by putting their forearms together and laying a lit cigarette between them; some kids had burn scars nearly three inches long. Good times, baby.
posted by Halloween Jack at 1:49 PM on April 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


Anyone know what happens if you smoke a loosie on a fixie?

You make an ash of yourself.
posted by Malor at 1:49 PM on April 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


Circa 1996-97 I worked in what could best be described as an unsavory area of Detroit. The nearest convenience store (Chene Trombly Market) where I used to stop by occasionally on my way in to work to buy a bottle of pop had a sign on the bullet-proof glass that separated the sales counter from the rest of the store advertising individual cigarettes for 10 cents each. At that time packs of cigarettes were just reaching about $4 per (which was the final incentive to prompt me and Mr. Adams to quit). Michigan has a 10 cent return on bottles and cans, which allowed homeless and down-on-their-luck folks to purchase a butt or two from the store in exchange for a few empties.
posted by Oriole Adams at 1:50 PM on April 5, 2011


In Rhode Island cops sell loosies!
posted by CarlRossi at 2:01 PM on April 5, 2011


Another good way to bum a freebie smoke is carry around a nasty old Chesterfield, Camel or Pall Mall (all non-filtered). Use them to barter:

"Hey man, trade ya this non-filtered for one of those tasty Marlboros."
"Nah, keep it. Here ya go."
"Thanks!"
((((puff:::puff:::puff)))))
(repeat 20x and you have a free pack)

This got me through four months of rehab.
posted by KevinSkomsvold at 2:21 PM on April 5, 2011


I worked in what could best be described as an unsavory area of Detroit

GM's boardroom?
posted by rough ashlar at 2:50 PM on April 5, 2011 [2 favorites]


In Rhode Island cops sell loosies!

Don't worry, an internal investigation is underway.
posted by StickyCarpet at 2:53 PM on April 5, 2011


Well then, I guess we should illegalize everything that's unhealthy. Surely utopia will follow.
posted by goethean at 9:56 AM on April 5 [12 favorites +] [!]


Not what I meant but don't let that get in the way of a favorite-baiting quip.
posted by basicchannel at 3:55 PM on April 5, 2011


Back in the day I learned the etiquette of bumming from a Serb, who had been in Sarajevo during the fighting. It was pretty simple: if a person laid a pack of smokes on the table, anyone could take them without asking; it was a sign of plenty. If the pack was in the pocket or out of sight, it meant the person was short of smokes; you daren't even ask.
posted by chavenet at 4:07 PM on April 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


I like that part on the Simon and Garfunkel "Concert in Central Park" record where Paul Simon claims the "guys selling loose joints" are "donating half their profits."
posted by drjimmy11 at 4:14 PM on April 5, 2011 [3 favorites]


Interesting to see that the smuggling of untaxed cigarettes is working its way into NY now that you guys have the same level of taxation as Ontario: Toronto used to be filled with guys with gym bags full of smokes, wandering through bars muttering "Cheap Smokes...cheap smokes".

Oddly, most of them were Players and Rothmans, exported to the States and then brought back across the border by the smugglers (reportedly the Mohawks, though I don't know how true that is). Ontario solved the problem by lowering the taxes, since the drugs and the guns that came in with the smokes were a major issue.
posted by jrochest at 4:44 PM on April 5, 2011


I moved to a personal vaporizer (electronic cigarette) and once you stop buying gadgets the savings are pretty great. They're getting unfavourable regulatory attention although in truth I believe there are a number of poorly addressed health concerns with the industry at present. Still better than a cigarette though.
posted by polyhedron at 4:52 PM on April 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


Anyone else notice that HotPatatta appears to be surrounded by two of the same woman in his picture?

I took that photo.

Those are two different women. Trust me on this.
posted by jason's_planet at 5:22 PM on April 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


MetaFilter: Not what I meant but don't let that get in the way of a favorite-baiting quip.
posted by arveale at 5:59 PM on April 5, 2011


The free market at work, I guess?
posted by modernnomad at 6:09 PM on April 5, 2011


When I started smoking (in about 1981 at the tender age of 11), we sold cigarettes at my family's general store in Maine for $0.75/pack. SEVENTY FIVE CENTS a pack! I can't even imagine.

(Fuck you, cigarettes, by the way - you had a hold of me until 2008, you assholes)
posted by tristeza at 6:51 PM on April 5, 2011


in Sarajevo during the fighting

The pack on the table probably contained Drinas. Man, those things taste like ass.
posted by evidenceofabsence at 8:04 PM on April 5, 2011


Yeah, I remember when a pack of American Spirits were $2 a pack (in Iowa, in a small town, at a small private liberal arts college, circa 1996-2000); someone wanted to bum/buy a smoke from me, hey, it isn't someone whos' habitual about it, I'll just give them one.

In highschool, late '90s Vancouver, a pack of smokes were $5 or less. Bum someone a smoke, expect to bum one off them sometime. Habitual bummers got a "fuck you." Even if you were a friend. Shit - buy your own smokes.

2010's - who the hell smokes, anymore? When kids hit me up for smokes it's about 40/40/20 "bum a smoke for $1," "bum a smoke for $0.50," and "bum a smoke?"

A pack of ("premium") cigs costs $10+ so $0.50 is running at a loss.

I usually reply, "Are you old enough to buy smokes?" - if they offer a buck, I'll smile and reach for my pack, if they offer $0.50 I'll loom a little bit with an annoyed face then carry on, and for "bummers" I'll just completely ignore them.

For older dudes/dudettes - I work at a hospital so I end up running into a lot of them who catch me withdrawing from a full-is pack... I get feeling that they can't afford to buy cigarettes, especially good ones, and that they can't get to places to buy any cigarettes.

When the hospital had a smoking area "out front" that was sanctioned for smoking - with multiple concrete boxes filled with sand which was groomed for butts regularly by the janitoral staff... there were "regulars" who'd come by and harvest butts. I met a disappointing number of older (40's.. and perhaps younger. Perhaps much younger but they don't look it) women who were regular trawlers of the used butts in front of the hospital. Almost to a women they were missing one or both of their canines.

Odd phenomenon - it wasn't meth or other drug abuse but domestic violence. Canine dislocation seems like a bright red throbbing signal for domestic abuse. These physically abused women kept going out to find nicotine for their abuse "spouses."

I'd offer these women, because they were fricken digging in the ashtray for used cigarette butts "Uh... hey, would you like a cigarette?" and they'd be "really? Why?"

"Uh, you're picking up butts."

"It's for my old man."

"Do you smoke?"

"Yeah."

"Well, here's one, two \ for you."

--

One case, she started smoking the cig while furtively saying how if "he" found out he'd hit her again.

The other few cases, they took the cig and .. well, shuffled away.

posted by porpoise at 10:36 PM on April 5, 2011 [2 favorites]


Where I'm at, a single cigarette averages 35 cents. Round that up to 50 cents. Profit.
There is no reason I should not profit from doing you a service.
(Unless you're a hot girl... gets me every time.)
posted by XhaustedProphet at 11:37 PM on April 5, 2011


(Fuck you, cigarettes, by the way - you had a hold of me until 2008, you assholes)

I've not had a cigarette for 36 years. I just had another dream last night where I was smoking and very angry that I had taken it up again. Nicotine is a powerful drug.
posted by Mental Wimp at 10:56 AM on April 6, 2011


I'm late to the thread, but I clicked in as a sometime buyer of loosies during my time in NYC, saw the pic, and instantly thought 'Well crap, I've bought from him...'. Glad to do my little bit for capitalism?
posted by pupdog at 4:43 PM on April 6, 2011


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