On my lengthy commute, I tend to listen to a lot of radio. The other day, I heard a radio ad for Bravo Smokes, advertised as an alternate way of quitting smoking. Highlighted in their advertisement and echoed on their site is the fact that their faux cigarettes are made of lettuce:
BRAVO® is made from the leaves of pure fresh lettuce, processed and treated with enzymes and flavored pleasantly with organic herbal extracts.
Now, I’m a smoker. I love smoking. I don’t just mean that I’m addicted to nicotine. I mean, I love smoking. I love the ritual of it, the taste and after-taste, the social aspects of it, the physical and physiological effects of it, everything. But, I also realize the many proclaimed negative side-effects of smoking, so I’ve begun the process of quitting, for the sake of my health, my wife and kids and our finances. So, this ad drew my attention and got me curious, so I had to look into this new Bravo Smokes product.
At first glance, it sounds like a great idea: smoking cessation through a tobacco-less and nicotine-less smoking substitute. Actually, it really is a great idea, but what about the cost? Today’s prices for a pack of name-brand cigarettes in New Jersey hovers around the $6-range (yes, and people whine like little babies about the cost of gasoline, give me a break). There’s very little benefit in buying cigarettes in 10-pack cartons, maybe saving a few dollars overall. According to the NJ Taxation website, as of May 2005, state tax on cigarettes is $2.40 per pack — this is state cigarette tax only. According to the RJ Reynolds website, there’s an additional $0.39 per pack of federal excise tax. So, before sales tax, on a $6.00 pack of cigarettes in New Jersey, $2.79 of that is pure taxes. In other words, the retail price of the cigarettes before taxes is a much more reasonable $3.21 per pack. Got that?
Back to the Bravo Smokes product, according to their online store, the “Heavy Smoker’s Survival Kit” — regardless of state you’re ordering from, because there should be no state or federal cigarette tax since these aren’t cigarettes — costs $92.50 as of this writing. What do you get for your money? Eighteen (18) packs of Bravo Smokes along with a how-to guide on quitting smoking. Assume for a moment that the how-to guide has no value, in which case they’re charging $5.13 per pack of their Bravo Smokes. What is wrong with this picture?
Okay, fine — I’ll concede that the how-to guide and other included literature have some non-zero value. So, how much do they need to be valued in order to “break even” with 18 packs of pre-tax cigarettes? $3.21 * 18 = $57.78. $92.50 – $57.78 = $34.72. Any smoker reading this who thinks that the non-smokable literature is worth nearly $35, raise your hand. I didn’t think so. The reality is, lettuce has to be cheaper to grow and farm than tobacco, so they should cost less than real cigarettes anyway, which means the implied value of the literature is even higher.
This is exactly the problem with the entire smoking cessation product industry — they realize that smokers are willing to pay exorbitant prices to feed their tobacco and nicotine addictions, so they jack the pricing on their products to match. What’s forgotten is that unless the smoking cessation products are made cheaper than the costs of the actual smoking itself, it just doesn’t make sense to use them and quit — in the short term. Of course I realize that the long-term cost savings of not smoking at all outweigh the recurring costs of cigarettes, but that’s not how these kinds of decisions are often made. If we avoided spending money on short-term luxuries because of their long-term costs, think about how few things people would actually ever spend their money on. I wonder what the guys behind Freakonomics have thought about this and what they might have to say.
On a positive note, through sheer will-power alone, I’ve reduced my smoking habit from just under a pack a day (roughly 18 cigarettes a day) down to between 6 to 8 cigarettes a day. I’ll do this for a few months, until I don’t feel quite so on-edge when I’m actively resisting the urge to smoke, and then I’ll probably cut it down to 3 to 4 cigarettes a day or maybe less. Then, eventually, I’ll just quit smoking cigarettes altogether …
… but it would have been nice if a pack of Bravo Smokes cost $1.50, because then I’d just keep smoking those, instead. Oh well!
Update: Found this interesting document from the owner of Bravo Smokes: Statement by Puzant C. Torigian, President, Bravo Smokes, Inc., Hereford, Texas Before Committee on Commerce of the United States Senate. It’s an interesting read, if nothing else.