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Could Growing Your Own Tobacco Solve the Problem of High Cigarette Prices?

Person smoking

With the cost of cigarettes ranging anywhere from nine to fifteen dollars a pack, smokers are doing anything they can to save money, including the nasty habit of picking up butts from the sidewalk. But a far healthier way to save money would be to grow your own tobacco.

Recently while walking near the Market-Frankford El in Philadelphia, I came across a back lot filled with tobacco plants. The plants were unmistakable with their huge elephantine leaves. The discovery reminded me of the “do-it-yourself” tobacco back lots I saw in the South, namely in North and South Carolina. To see a lush tobacco garden in an urban yard framed with row houses was startling, to say the least.

I consider myself to be a tolerant non-smoker. I allow friends of mine who smoke to light up occasionally in my house provided they sit in front of a window or a high-powered fan. These friends appreciate being able to smoke in my house because, as part of a persecuted minority, they are forced by friend and foe alike to partake in isolated back alleys.

Smokers in 2019 are viewed by many as public outlaws and they’re often subject to vicious attacks from non-smokers in public spaces.

“You’re standing too close to me. Don’t contaminate my air,” are common phrases one hears throughout the city. Conversely, I’ve seen young smoking mothers pushing baby carriages with one hand while handling a cigarette with the other. (Where does all that second-hand smoke go, if not in the baby’s face?)

For smokers, growing your own tobacco might be a solution to high cigarette prices. Forget planting flowers or tomatoes, city smokers could construct a "roll your own" garden where they could produce gigantic cigarettes that never go out. This would end those long lines at convenience stores for miniscule boxes of Newport or Marlboro that get used up faster than you can say, “The Surgeon General doesn’t warn you that non-smokers also die every day.”

A big bag of tobacco seed comes in a variety of brands—Virginia Gold to Goose Creek—and costs around fifteen dollars. The Food and Drug Administration also permits homegrown tobacco as long as it’s not sold or traded.

Though this must sound like good news to smokers, I don’t envision many people growing their own tobacco. Many people who smoke are also trying to quit. Some only smoke half a butt while swearing that each pack they buy will be their last. A tobacco garden would tend to nix such resolutions.

On the social side, I envy smokers their special camaraderie. Whether it’s in a workplace setting, at company outings or during breaks at a conference in which you don’t know anyone present, smokers will always form the first friendship circles. They seem to bond instantly over "campfires" of shared matches or lighters. Conversation flows as easily as the smoke rises.

That’s not true with non-smokers, where the only central gathering point may be a table by the vending machines or the company break room, which doesn’t compare to the conversational freedom a smokers’ back alley affords. Non-smokers have to invent ways to strike up new acquaintances, whereas the all-powerful cigarette enables smokers to find new friends in a heartbeat.

Some smokers even claim that there are health benefits to smoking. Recently, I heard a smoker say that the International Journal of Epidemiology stated that Alzheimer’s disease occurs as much as 50 percent less among smokers. Then he mentioned some unsubstantiated data that smoking raises estrogen levels in men, meaning that men who smoke have a much lower rate of prostate cancer.

While my friends know that smoking is bad for them, one likes to point out that “so is drinking.” Some people tend to view vices (sins) in a hierarchical sense, where their sin is less serious than their neighbor’s. A heroin user may think that people on crack cocaine or crystal meth are “scum,” and vice versa.

“Tobacco gives off smoke but it does not inebriate,” he tells me. “Have you ever heard of a hit-and-run accident that was caused by smoking?”

I’ve given up trying to convince this friend that my moderate consumption of wine is just as bad as his addiction to smoking.

“Jesus drank wine,” I tell him, “He didn’t smoke.”