Thirty-two cents. That's what I paid for a package of 20 British Consul cigarettes when I started smoking one or two Ice Ages ago. That was for filtertips, mind you. If I found that too rich for my budget I could always buy plain-ends at 28 cents a pack. Serious bargain hunters could pick up a carton of cigarettes (ten packs) for nine bucks and change.
Yesterday I stood at a grocery checkout counter and watched the woman before me shell out $110 for a carton of smokes. That works out to a little over ten dollars a pack. Same product - oh, maybe a few more chemicals to make it smell better and burn more smoothly, but basically the same old paper-anddried-leaf delivery system for nicotine, a substance that scientists confirm is at least as addictive as cocaine, amphetamines or heroin.
"Heroin addicts say it's easier to give up dope than give up cigarettes" says Dr. Sharon Hall, a professor of psychiatry at the University of California. And cigarettes don't deliver just nicotine. They also gift smokers with heart disease, emphysema, diabetes, erectile disfunction, ectopic pregnancies and a whole panoply of cancers - lung, liver, colo-rectal -"we're up to thirteen (different types of cancers) now" says Boris Lushniak.
He should know - he's the acting U.S. Surgeon General.
The attack on the twin towers killed almost 3,000 people; smoking kills an astounding 480,000 Americans every year.
The statistics here in Canada are more modest of course. Only about 100 Canadians die from smoking-related illnesses.
Every day. All of which has got to be a bit of a headache for the boys in the tobacco PR departments. How do you keep selling a product that slaughters its customers?
Easy. You give them the e-cigarette. No brainer! The e-cigarette looks like a cigarette, you put it in your mouth and puff on it like a cigarette - you even get a mouthful of hot vapour to inhale (bubble-gum flavoured if you like).
Best of all: you promote the e-cigarette as a way to quit smoking.
There is one tiny bug, though. As a smoking cessation aid there is no evidence that the e-cigarette actually works.
Researchers at the University of California found that although 85 percent of e-cigarette users said they were using them to quit, the smokers didn't quit any more often than people who didn't use them. The researchers recommend that the government ban advertising that suggests e-cigarettes help smokers get rid of their habit.
Cynics suggest that e-cigarettes are yet another con from Big Tobacco - an attempt to seduce kids onto the nicotine train.
That would explain the latest innovation in the $2 billion-a-year e-cig business: the Supersmoker Bluetooth. Yes folks, an e-cigarette that plays music - even receives e-calls. Users can now not only suck on their e-cigarette, they can chat with Aunt Martha on it too.
Available in black, silver, gold, pink or blue. Cost: about $110.
Gee, that's only about the price of a carton of cigarettes.