Day in a life: Selling loose cigarettes on the streets of New York

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This is a fantastic slice of life from the streets of the Big Apple.

Right now tobacco is in sort of a legal netherworld. It’s legal, but also frowned upon by polite society and it is taxed heavily. The attached article is what it looks like in this netherworld.

A confession. I smoked for 10 years. I’ve quit for 6. Anyone who gets themselves entangled in nicotine addiction (particularly in the form of burning tobacco) is in my opinion very foolish. Smoking is asinine. You are literally paying someone to kill you if you smoke.* And few industries have been more crony over the years than the tobacco guys. Tobacco is terrible, really horrible. (No joke. I am coming just short of using the word “evil” but that might be a fair word.) You shouldn’t give one dime to the tobacco companies. The whole business model stinks. But it should NOT be made illegal. (Unless you want to create a massive new source of income for organized crime.)


It’s a cloudy and cool September morning on Staten Island when I make my way to Bay Street looking for someone to sell me illegal cigarettes. I don’t smoke, but ever since Eric Garner’s haunting death here a few months ago after the police approached him for selling “loosies”—individual, untaxed cigarettes—I’ve wanted to know how easy it is to find someone who will sell me illegal smokes on the street.

As I walk into a bodega across from Tompkinsville Park, which sits a couple of blocks from the Staten Island Ferry terminal, a tall, dark-skinned man overhears my conversation with the owner and offers me a pack of “Newps,” or Newports, for eight dollars. He tells me his name is Debo Lato. He’s 51 and his “office” is just outside the bodega, right in front of the spot where Garner was killed on July 17.

Click here for the article.

*This realization is a key part of what finally got me to stop smoking.