News & Politics

‘Loosie’ Cigarettes Are Still For Sale, Still Illegal


There is apparently a man that goes by the name of Lonnie Loosie, and he is selling illegal cigarettes in New York City, armed with a battle cry of “Newports, Newports, packs and looses.” He’s not the only “roving vendor” in the city, where a pack of smokes can run you $2,100.07, but he is the lead character in a New York Times story this morning. “The tax went up, and we started selling 10 times as much,” said one seller. “Bloomberg thinks he’s stopping people from smoking. He’s just turning them onto loosies.” Yes, the smoking ban is taking over, from restaurants and bars to parks and plazas, but it seems an odd time for this phenomenon to make the paper, considering that loosies scored passing Times mentions in 1994, 1995, 2008 and 2009. In other words, this isn’t new, nor is it really a throwback considering it never went away.

The more in-depth look into the street hustle, though, is interesting not as a trend, but as a human interest story. Most fascinating is the totally New York thing where an illegal activity takes place in plain view of everyone, police included, and no one really does anything about it.

Bootleggers of all sorts seem to be the most common and least dangerous of this sort of culprit, but Lonnie Loosie is living proof that cops do indeed arrest these dudes:

“The cops call me a fish — that’s my nickname, cause I’m easy to catch,” Mr. Warner said during a series of recent interviews. “When they need a body to arrest, they come pick me up.”

In the four years since he began selling cigarettes, Mr. Warner recalls being arrested 15 times, generally on the charge of selling untaxed tobacco. He has been arrested so often that he can recognize 10 different plainclothes police officers, he claims. The ever-present risk of arrest makes working with partners valuable — “we have six eyes on this block,” he explained.

A Cigarette for 75 Cents, 2 for $1: The Brisk, Shady Sale of ‘Loosies’ [NYT]

This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on April 5, 2011

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