The City’s War on Cheap Cigarettes Continues

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Pete Doherty smoking. Photo: Matt Cardy/2008 Getty Images

There's a magical place in Chinatown — for now — called Island Smokes, where the price of a pack of cigarettes hovers around $5. The trick is that you have to make them yourself — the shop sells "all natural" tobacco and papers, and has machines where customers can assemble the raw supplies. The city is suing the store: "By selling illegally low-priced cigarettes, defendants not only interfere with the collection of city cigarette taxes, they also impair the city’s smoking cessation programs and impair individual efforts at smoking reduction, thereby imposing higher health care costs on the city and injuring public health," says a lawsuit filed last week. The company's lawyer contends, "We are selling the contents that produce the cigarette and it’s up to the user to make them," comparing it to "making your own beer."

"Just leave people alone,” one customer told the New York Times. "In this economy, no one can barely afford food, let alone a pack of $15 cigarettes."

Island Smokes opened a Staten Island location in May, according to The New Yorker article on the business last month. John Kimball, an NYPD captain, is a part-owner. The Eldridge Street shop followed in August, and ten more stores are planned for next spring. But in addition to last week's lawsuit, the entrepreneurs have already received a cease-and-desist from the city and have been investigated by the Office of Tax Enforcement.

"I've watched New York smokers get turned into lepers," Kimball told The New Yorker. "These are my friends and family! They aren't felons." Kimball is a nonsmoker, but if there's anything this city hates more than nicotine addicts, it's nicotine peddlers who aren't paying up, apparently.