S/ 1.00 = 1 Peruvian Nuevo Sol = $0.288767 = 29 cents of 1 US Dollar. March 15, 2004.

In some cities, cigarettes are sold not by packs of ten or twenty, but one at a time. While the practice is common in some first-world cities such as London, in poorer countries it can take on new dimensions. In Lima, old ladies sit on stoops and park benches with little trays of assorted confections: Breath mints (S/.10), chocolate wafers (when pronounced in Peruvian Spanish, it sounds like "waffles"), warm soft drinks, and four or five packs of twenty cigarettes each, of varying brands.

In Peru, only a few hardy brands of cigarettes capable of making the long overland trek across the Andes mountains are sold, generally imported from Venezuela. There's Montana, with one cancer stick going for S/.25. The more upscale Lucky Strike and Marlboro brands fetch S/.40 each. The vendor will usually have on hand a traditional plastic Bic lighter or a box of matches, either "Llama" (a clever double entendre, since the word means "flame" in Spanish and is also Peru's national beast) or "Inti" (meaning "light" or "sun" in Quechua, one of Peru's national lanaguages).

Always try to have exact change when buying things anywhere, but most especially when you purchase a single stick of nicotine-flavored pleasure from an Indian woman who spends her day on the street. Alas, this is not an option should you opt for a budget brand cigarette: Low-denomination coins went out of style in Peru around the same time that the price of a chocolate bar hit a million Intis (1987). The lowest denomination of coin is S/.10, but you can always do the two-for-one trick and score two Montanas for only a little more than the price of a "fichu" imperialist yanqui gringo cigarette. Should you be unfortunate enough to only have a 50 cent "china" in your oh-so-macho change purse, the cunning street vendor will surely give you a mint or lozenge instead of your change.

However, if you have enough money on hand to buy two cigarettes at once, why not buy a whole pack? A whole carton? A tobacco plantation, a cigarette rolling factory, and two hundred Peruvian day laborers?

The reason that you buy one cigarette at a time is that you are poor. You make a daily wage of twenty-five soles shouting "¡Hermitaño! ¡Faucett! ¡La Molina! Sube, sube, sube señorita!" out of a 1975 Mercedes van for twelve consecutive hours. You make a china every time you shine some hidalgo's Guccis, or six soles for a twenty kilometer stretch in your unlicensed taxi.

Or maybe you're just trying to control your habit. I know I am.

This is a practice I have been familiar with all my life. The first time I realized it was odd was when I heard it disparaged by a pastor speaking scathingly about (either South African blacks or ghetto black Americans) "one at a time cigarette sellers". At the time, I couldn't see why he would be against the practice. And even now that I understand it as a sort of lament about petty traders, I think it is an unjustified lament. This is because I find it rather odd to look down on the choices that economics forces on people. If that were acceptable, today’s filthy rich tech bros would not be able to see anyone given how high up they would be.

As lopop said, buying and selling single cigarettes is a poor people thing. Because when incomes decline, units of sale shrink proportionally. There is even a fancy name for it - "satchetization"; a strategy adopted by companies to sell to poor people. Ironically, this strategy also applies when incomes are high. Consider the tiny, individually wrapped pats of butter, cubes of sugar and servings of honey or jam in hotels. Unfortunately, shrinking sales units cost the poor people more. Because while the unit sales might lead to less upfront spending, the unit prices will be higher, leading to higher total cash spent.

However, even if one could afford to buy a pack entire, buying cigarettes one at a time is a wonderful way to limit one's intake. For those who lack self-control, having a pack available would lead to binge smoking, which is unpleasant. I had a smoker roommate in university who said that he would decline if he was offered a carton of cigarettes – about 20 packs.


Brevity Quest 2023.

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