Monday, 20 July 2009

38 Pall Mall please

Non-smokers might not know that different cigarettes have different flavours. My particular favourites are a medium tar product of the Camel stable. Camel cigarettes are commonly available in three strengths, differentiated by the colour of the packet; yellow if you like them quite strong, blue if you like the medium strength and white-ish if you prefer something mild. I'm a Camel Blues man. They used to be called Camel Lights until some bright spark thought it was misleading to refer to any version of ciggies as "light". The thinking, if you can call it that, was that all cigarettes are potentially harmful and "light" could give the impression that they are not potentially harmful. It's complete hogwash, of course, "lights" - whether Camel, Benson & Hedges, Marlboro or any others - contain less tar and deliver less nicotine than the standard version. Whether that reduces their potential harmfulness is beyond my knowledge, but it does mean they are lighter in tar and nicotine than other available products. No smoker has ever been shown to have been misled by the term "light" but little facts like that never get in the way of official bigotry.

These days Camel are too expensive for me at £5.99 per packet of twenty. One of the great joys of visiting the USA, which I do every couple of years or so, is to be able to buy Camel Lights again. Another is that they cost half what they cost here. A third delight is that Camel sell a slightly shorter and considerably fatter version known as Wides, thereby allowing me to adopt my best Louisianna accent and proclaim "I's gotten me some Waaaaaaaaaaaaades".

The one thing you should never do in America is ask for twenty of your favourite brand. The shop assistant will react in one of two ways. Either they will stare at you in a state of complete bewilderment or they will plonk twenty packets on the counter. They don't order in twenties or tens but in packs. Over here, as you might know, the standard argot is to order either ten or a multiple of twenty. Ironically, on the very rare occasions I have bought ten they have been turned to ash and a cough far faster than it takes to reduce half a packet of twenty to the same state. So my practice is to buy one or more packets of twenty and to do so by asking for twenty, forty or sixty. Even in these days of dumming-down, the most arithmetically challenged shop assistant is able to work out how many packets need to be taken from the shelf.

Being a man with a dickey ticker my consumption of ciggies is now less than it used to be. I try to keep to just twenty a day and I buy every two or three days. A couple of years ago I switched from Camel Lights/Blues to a cheaper brand. The exact price of Camels at the time is lost in the mists of history but an indication of the disparity is that Camel now cost £5.99 for twenty whereas my new brand, Pall Mall, cost £4.25. Other cheaper brands were sampled, but only Pall Mall passed my taste test.

The week before last I received something of a shock to my already delicate system. I asked for forty Pall Mall, paid £8.50 and returned to FatBigot Towers to enjoy a nicotine fix. On opening the first packet something was seriously amiss. Cigarettes have always been packed tightly in their little box, like Russian virgins in a shipping crate en route to a new life as "waitresses". But these were not packet tightly, there was a gap, a highly noticeable gap. The packet contained not twenty but nineteen little tubes of addiction. My first thought was that something must have gone wrong at the factory and that I was in possession of a collector's piece, like a stamp with the Queen's head facing the wrong way. But no, careful examination of the packet showed the number nineteen stamped on the side and examination of the unopened packet disclosed a tiny yellow corner on the outer cellophane wrapper on which the same number appeared.

The following day I returned to the shop and pointed out this sad fact to the owner. At first he didn't believe me but a careful look at the stocks still on his shelf corroborated me. He couldn't believe his eyes and assured me that there was nothing to alert him to this radical change at the cash-and-carry. Since then I have bought Pall Mall at other shops and pointed out that they only contain nineteen cigarettes. At only one store was the person serving aware of this fact and she said it was brought to her attention by another customer a few days earlier. The latest batch of Pall Mall have the price printed on the cellophane covering, it is now £4.22. A reduction of three pence in price in return for a five percent reduction in volume. I'm not complaining really, they are still markedly cheaper than any other brand, but it is a bit cheeky.

Yesterday I needed to re-stock and asked for "thirty-eight Pall Mall please". The look on the face of the assistant made me feel as though I was in America again.


Roger Sowell said...

Mr. FB, we have seen a similar effect in the U.S., as grocers resorted to slightly smaller packaging last year when prices rose rather quickly. Price per package is about the same, but there is less content per package.

Now that the oil price spike of 2008 is behind us, one must wonder how long before grocery prices decline.

Mark Wadsworth said...

TFB, why don't you just smoke rollies? Half and ounce* costs as little as £3, plus 40p for licorice papers makes you up to thirty cigarettes, and they are far less-bad for the old constitution.

* OK, 12.5 grammes.

Charon QC said...

FB - this is yet another outrage.... How can I possibly do my full quote a Smokedo exercises when I am only getting 19 cigarettes to the packet.

I shall have to consider putting a petition on the Number 10 website for McDoom's personal attention.

Thank you for alerting me to this. I, too, have taken the view that pay £6 for a packet of cigarettes is daft when a pack of Windsor Blue or other cheaper brand will do me in and do the business just as efficiently.

Pogo said...

One of the less well publicised advantages of being a plutocrat and regularly popping orf to the continent to sit in the sunshine on one's yacht, is that of bringing home quantities of gaspers for one's addicted mem-sahib...

A packet of 20 of her brand of choice costs Euro 2.30 here in sunny Spain - making them, even at the present dreadful exchange rate, a gnat's under two quid, compared with something over a fiver in the UK. Suffice it to say that Her Majesty's Treasury has not had a penny in fag tax from the Pogo household for some many years! :-)

Pogo said...

... I suppose I should add that the treasury has done rather well out of my pub visits whilst in the UK though! :-(

TheFatBigot said...

Same here Mr Sowell. One consequence of forced metrication is that 250g can turn into 240g without any but the most eagle-eyed noticing.

Can't do rollies, Mr Wadsworth; too strong and requiring dexterity far beyond the capabilities of my stubby little fingers.

Mr Charon, I have followed your fine example and started engaging in some of the simpler Smokedo exercises - I'm not a Black Belt like you so I stick to the easy ones. Mr Favourite is to smoke whenever I walk anywhere. Basic, I know, but it's a start.

Mr Pogo, I have a cousin in Spain who is visited regularly by his aged Ps. Each visit results in vast quantities of Blue Superkings being returned to Sussex and placed in Auntie's attic. She hasn't paid a penny to HMC&E/HMRC in tobacco taxes for a good decade.

james c said...

FB, as has been said by MW (in a rare departure from the Land Value Tax) theere is a case for roll ups.
Buy a machine and you can roll 20 in a flash. I wouldn't bet any money on them being any safer, though.

Mark Wadsworth said...

FB, as JC says, you can buy a rolling machine for a couple of quid.

Plus they are not 'stronger' (but they are nicer and not so dry). Every now and then I end up tobacco-less and have to buy a pack of ready-mades in the local pub - if I smoke more than four or five of an evening I feel like shit the next day, which never happens to me with rollies.

Anonymous said...

See for the truth

Rob Farrington said...

Heh, I know the feeling of trying to buy cigs in the US - I slways forget whether a 'box' refers to 20 and a 'carton' to 200, or the other way round. At least I've never been in Alabama and said "Could I have 20 fags, please?'!

I usually just send my American girlfriend in to buy them - usually, I've forgotten to carry my passport with me for ID, anyway.