Discount cigarette stores … where’s the bargain?

Discount cigarette stores are one of the more popular types of businesses to come into our county these days.  I think our county has at least five of them now, which for a county of less than 30,000 people seems a bit high.

Two friends of mine have already expressed that we have too many of them already.  One posted on Facebook: “‘I sure wish [our county] would open another tobacco store!’ said no one ever.”  Ha! :)

The overall social costs of more people being able to smoke for less money is one way to interpret that “this discount is no bargain.”

But just for fun, let’s look at it from some other angles:

  • For a non-smoker, the discount doesn’t matter, because someone who doesn’t smoke wouldn’t spend money there anyway.
  • For a smoker, the discount is a short-term bargain: they can get their smokes for less.  But this just accelerates the statistical day of reckoning — wrinkles, lost teeth, black lungs, illness, death — so long-term this is just a “faux-bargain,” if you will.
  • From the county’s economic standpoint, though, I don’t really see where there’s a problem with having this number of stores here.  I’m sure a good part of their income comes from out-of-state people, as the average price of a pack of cigarettes goes up about $2 just across the bridge into Maryland.  So, the long-term costs of their smoking habits leave the state along with them.

I’m not saying necessarily that I enjoy seeing a discount cigarette place at every turn.  They’re stores I’ll never set foot in to buy anything.

Setting that aside, though, I can’t say that this is “wrong” and should be stopped.  Here’s why:

  • Competition is alive and well.  Cigarettes aren’t a product I care about, but if it were any other product, I’d be glad that there were several businesses that would be clamoring for my business against each other.  Lower prices, man!  Far better than the alternative.
  • I’d be foolish to disagree with the free market.  Related to the point above — if there are five discount cigarette places open, then there must be demand for this many.  Who am I (one person) to say otherwise?  And … if there in fact isn’t a demand for this many stores so close together, then the free market will take care of that, too.  Having this many means that the local government isn’t meddling, which is a good thing.
  • Successful businesses do more for the local economy than empty commercial units.  Businesses pay county taxes and a whole lot of fees (usually) which in turn subsidizes the services that everyone in the county can use.  Vacant storefronts just attract vandals.

It’s for these three reasons that these stores are a bargain, not for the cheap cigarettes they sell.

John Wedding

Husband. Father. Web publisher. Musician. John has blogged at Mighty Bargain Hunter since 2005, helping people to recognize life's good deals.

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