Q: I don’t smoke myself but in looking at an empty pack of my sister-in-law’s cigarettes, I noticed that it contained 20 “Class A” cigarettes. Are there class B, C, D, etc., cigarettes, too? If so, what’s the difference?
C.J., of Cahokia
A: It turns out that size matters in more than sports and, well, certain other endeavors. In the case of cigarettes, size also determines how heavily your coffin nails are taxed. So, unlike what you may have thought, class has nothing to do with tobacco quality but, rather, weight.
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In its infinite wisdom, the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB), an arm of the Department of the Treasury, has divided cigarettes into two classes: Class A, which weigh 3 pounds or less per 1,000 cigarettes, and Class B, which weigh more than 3 pounds per 1,000. While that may not sound like a big deal, the tax ramifications are huge. Class A cigarettes are taxed at $50.33 per 1,000 while Class B is more than double that at $105.69 per 1,000.
But before smokers start freaking out over whether their brand might be getting smacked with this premium levy, let me quash your fears: Although this classification remains on the books, there apparently hasn’t been a Class B cigarette produced in the last 20 years (compared to roughly 13 billion packs of Class A cigarettes sold in the U.S. in 2016).
Those of a certain age will remember in the 1960s when Benson & Hedges started its marketing campaign touting the “disadvantages” of its 100-millimeter cigarette. Whether on TV or in print, we were bombarded with images of smokers puffing away on bent cigarettes. The message was that smokers were so unaccustomed to the unparalleled length of these babies that they kept running into doors or walls with them. Trivia buffs will also remember that the music used for the TV ads — “The Dis-Advantages of You” by The Brass Ring — hit No. 36 on the Billboard Hot 100 in March 1967. (Yes, I still have their LP.)
But even these extra-long cigarettes did not qualify for Class B status. Although they stretched some 4 inches, they were still runts compared to the monsters that Nat Sherman — “Tobacconist to the World” — started turning out in the 1960s in New York City. After making his fortune by running a speakeasy in the 1920s, Sherman turned his attention to tobacco and wound up owning the Epoca brand, which was made in Havana, Cuba, and Tampa, Fla. As demand for his exclusive Epoca and Bolivar cigars grew, he began advertising on New York Giants football broadcasts, during which play-by-play man Bob Papa would exclaim, “Get that man a Nat Sherman cigar!” after every big play.
In addition to cigars, though, Sherman began producing novelty cigarettes in the 1960s. His most notable brand may have been Cigarettellos, which were a gargantuan 6 1/2 inches long. Other Sherman cigarettes on steroids included Fantasia, which were rolled in a rainbow of colored papers, and MCD Double. The TTB must have seen a gold mine coming as it created the Class B tax classification for these monsters, but Sherman quickly found that few people wanted to walk around with a veritable conductor’s baton sticking out of their mouths. After losing money on them for three decades, the company finally gave up in about 1995, according to Nat’s son, Joel, who took over the company in 1989, the year after his father died. Now, the company makes 4-inch Class A versions, so you’re going to need tape or glue to relive the old days.
As a final note, may I point out that there are non-cigarette classes, too — Class C (chewing tobacco, 50.33 cents per pound tax); Class J (roll-your-own cigarette tobacco, $24.78 per pound); Class L (pipe tobacco, $2.8311 per pound); and Class M (snuff, $1.51 per pound). Cigars are divided into small cigars (3 pounds or less per 1,000, $50.33 tax) and large cigars (tax is 52.75 percent of sales price but not to exceed $402.60 per 1,000).
Disney hit: In listing the top TV themes of all time, I should have remembered that Davy Crockett was not only king of the wild frontier but king of the charts as well. Soon after Walt Disney began airing his Crockett miniseries on Dec. 15, 1954, viewers couldn’t get enough of “The Ballad of Davy Crockett.” The first album version by Bill Hayes hit No. 1 on March 26, followed by Davy himself, Fess Parker, (No. 6), Tennessee Ernie Ford (No. 4) and Mac Wiseman (No. 10). However, they all preceded the start of the rock ’n’ roll era by three months, which is why they were left off the lists I found.
What is the only world capital that is on the border of three countries?
Answer to Friday’s trivia: In addition to TV and movie music, three Broadway musical tunes also have soared to the top of the Billboard Hot 100 since 1955. The first was 23-year-old Bobby Darin’s biggest hit of his career — “Mack the Knife” from “The Threepenny Opera” by Kurt Weill and Berthold Brecht. Darin didn’t even want it released as a single, but Atco did it anyway, and the song hit No. 1 on Oct. 5, 1959 and stayed there for nine weeks, resulting in Darin winning Grammys for Best New Artist and Best Male Vocal Performance. The other two top hits were Louis Armstrong’s version of “Hello, Dolly!” in 1964 and The Fifth Dimension’s “Aquarius/Let the Sunshine In” from “Hair” in the spring of 1969.