$2.70 for a pack of smokes? I’m sorry, did I just step out of my DeLorean and travel back in time to my youth? No, but I did stumble upon a very magical place in Skokie called Smokes & Such not too far from my home the other day. It’s a tiny little shop just off of Dempster & McCormick that could easily be overlooked if not, well…looking for it. I had done a quick Google search while trying to find something specific, called ahead, got the all clear and made my way down. What was waiting for me inside that tiny little store front was something big.
Step right up folks and witness the Everlasting Gobstopper machine of cigarettes. What this newfandangled piece of equipment you’re looking at right there is a ‘Roll Your Own’ cigarette machine and it’s going to become you’re new best friend. Sure – we’ve all seen people with their little pouches of tobacco, wrestling with a pack of papers, struggling to balance everything in one hand so you can add the tobacco with the other just to roll the most pathetic looking cigarette you’ve ever seen in your life and for what? What kind of pleasure or enjoyment are you getting out of something that you have to spend 5 minutes making when you only have 10 minutes to enjoy it in the first place? Jesus, I need a smoke just thinking about that. Well never you mind any of that folks, because it’s no longer needed and I’m going to tell you why.
First, let’s discuss why are cigarettes so damn expensive in the first place. Nothing has changed with cigarettes since they started adding filters – so what gives? I can recall the joys of my youth, spending a whopping $2.50 for a pack of Camels. Even then older people would complain about the price, because in their youth, it was a quarter! In addition to all of the chemicals and evil that get added to cigarettes – the real killers are the taxes and with silly taxes come loopholes…
The two carton machines (out of only six in the state) and the smaller machines used for single packs use pipe tobacco. What’s the difference? Beats the shit out of me, because I couldn’t tell the difference. I’m not expert on tobacco, but this ain’t my first time to the rodeo. Come to find out, there really isn’t much difference at all, except for the way it’s taxed. Cigarettes such as Camel, Marlboro, etc. are made with with ‘cigarette’ tobacco, which is taxed $25 bucks a pound. Pipe tobacco is nearly a tenth of that. There is also a HUGE break on the taxes because the customer is technically rolling their own – the store is simply supplying you and giving you instructions. It looked pretty intimidating, but my dog, Harley, could learn to do it. Speaking of Harley, he got to come inside the shop and hang out!
Marcia, owner of Smokes, was super friendly, easy to talk to and really interested in getting to know how to reach out to her customers more and more. As I said, it could come off as intimidating when you’re not sure how it all works, but she stepped right up, asked me what I normally smoke and we went from there. They had all typical styles of tobacco that would accommodate major brands as well as varying strengths. Being the Camel Light smoker that I am, I got a mild Turkish blend with a light filter. *As dumb as we are for smoking, we all know that a “light” cigarette means absolutely nothing health wise, it’s just a different filer – right? I hope so, but I digress. She gave me a cigarette to try out and it was great. It’s a bit bigger, almost like going from a regular Camel to a Camel Wide, but it’s not a deal breaker for me. It’s a very smooth, mild flavor and dare I say light and airy? There’s less smoke, which I enjoy, and it is in fact cleaner. With rolling your own, it’s tobacco and that’s it. There are no chemicals, rat poison, carpet glue, etc. in the tobacco or the filters that you’re using, so it is actually a healthier cigarette AND it’s a third of the price! You can make a carton or make a pack (obviously it’s cheaper by the carton) and they have cute little cigarette packs available for purchase. Another selling point – these will go out on their own without the help of some toxic chemical that most CERTAINLY changes the flavor. I’m on to you, Camel….
The whole thing takes about eight minutes for a carton and a little bit longer for a pack. Since you’re doing the pack by hand, it takes a bit longer and the cigarettes are less uniform, but they still smoke great! It’s pretty neat, the smaller machine. It’s almost like a casing machine for making sausage, but for cigarettes! With the carton maker, you add a carton’s worth of tubes/filters into the machine at once like a cartridge, you add the tobacco, press a few buttons and presto change-o, you have a carton of smokes in under 10 minutes and you’ve probably had a lovely conversation with Marcia or one of her staff members. I have to say, it’s nice to be able to actually talk to people who work at a shop and ask opinions and recommendations without fear that you’re going to call it the wrong thing and bullshit like that. Kudos to that. In addition to how easy the machine is to use, you have the ability to make the cigarettes looser or packed tighter – you could even mix the tobaccos to make a custom blend! They offer major cigarette brands in addition to the RYO, smoking accessories, incense, herbal potpourri, lotto, drinks, shirts and more.
All in all – my new haunt.