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Cigarettes in Iraq

Pulling four on four off fire watches, staying awake all hours of the night or just bullshitting, every Marine has a special memory of making do with some of the shittiest cigarettes in the world. When the smoking lamp was not lit, most Marines throw in a dip; Skoal, Copenhagen or whatever was sent in care packages. One of the most surreal things for me is seeing some of these cigarettes among different small towns of the al-Anbar Province such as East and West Village and the surrounding areas. Whether you liked it or not, everyone was a smoker in Iraq. I suppose it was a relief to some of the stressful situations, such as driving through treacherous IED laden terrain at 0300 hrs with NVGs on. Or, at times when sitting on post, smoking was a way of passing the time, despite what many civilians may think, war is days even weeks of extreme boredom followed by a few minutes of the most stressful traumatic activity where you either survive or do not. It is this very feeling I think was the most stressful, knowing that at any moment you could lose your life.

“Riding the Pine” was an expression we used when we would conduct vehicle check points and find cartons of Pines. We would offer 2 or 3 dollars to the Iraqi’s for the carton. I could not imagine a more tasteless and stale cigarette in my life. Packages of Pines and other cigarettes (most imported from South Korea) claimed to be “American Tasting” such as the ever popular Mikado’s, a knock off of the popular American brand “Marlboro” tasted absolutely nothing like it. You could smoke an entire package of Mikados and it would be like sucking a straw. Our MAP team would roll through a village, attempting to win hearts and minds, and at some point we would pick up a carton of Mikados for two or three dollars. Searching vehicles it seemed like the only English Iraqis seemed to know was, “American Cigarette?”, “Pine, Miami?” followed by of course, “No Ali-baba in Iraq, Shwaya”. If you were really lucky you could get your hands on the more prestigious of brands Craven A‘s which had kind of an unspoken rebellious appeal due maybe to rarity or just because they were slightly better than Mikados. Having not been a heavy smoker, it is safe to say that in order to really appreciate  American cigarettes you have to experience something more awful, Pines or Mikados perhaps. It’s literally like inhaling stale sand with little to no tobacco taste.

One of the larger operations our MAP team participated in, we were assigned to provide over-watch and search vehicles just outside of the city. At this point we had been sitting here for three or four days at least and our supplies were running out. Cigarettes and tobacco were fresh out, followed by MREs and then water. We were becoming pissed off and agitated. After about the third day, our VCP (Vehicle Check Point) was compromised by a white vehicle that did not stop and kept going into our position despite our rules of engagement and multiple warning shots. Finally, we lit up this vehicle with machine gun fire and watched it roll off to the side of the road, the driver lifeless and slouched over the steering wheel. Highers came rushing to our POS along with much-needed supplies. Several of us approached the vehicle and checked the trunk for paraphilia, however all we found was the most awful feminine version of Miami cigarettes simply called “Pleasure Lights”. Grabbing the carton of Pleasures we were able to survive another couple of days until we moved to another nearby village. I suppose that at this point, we were like death row inmates. Why would we care about dying from smoking when there was such a risk that none of us would make it passed tomorrow?



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4 thoughts on “Cigarettes in Iraq

  1. Jason Ross on said:

    CRAVENS!..lol they were much better then the pines!! but when u have none and no more turkish golds to steal from Sgt. Carr during the firewatch, u have to have something…lol

  2. I guess I was lucky boys, I was turned on to Rothman’s which are top smokes and still smoke them when I drink. I got my first pack in a mansion we took over in the smugglers district in Hit and the guy tried to bribe me with them, I took that pack, kicked the family out and found the rest of the case so I smoked my ass off. Be well
    Mako 6

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  4. shocktroop0351 on said:

    Good article! I was part of a MAP platoon in Husaybah in 06-07. Smuggling was a big deal in that area, being how it was right on the Syrian border. I think most of the smuggling was just done by guys trying to support their families, alot of times they were taking sheep over the border at 0200, you know, because Iraqi dinar was worth jack shit then. Anyways, there was a water treatment plant that was abandoned north of town about a mile on the edge of the Euphrates that was a popular hang out for smugglers unloading off the river. We had only been in country for about three weeks when we rolled in on the water treatment plant and there were 4 pimped out conversion vans being loaded with cases and cases of cigarettes. Naturally we snatched up the smugglers, and promptly removed the cigarettes to an empty reefer trailer on Camp Gannon. It only took about 3 months to smoke all those cigarettes with about a platoon and a half of guys there. I think we even shared with the Army laundry guys. Who knew they had an MOS for laundry? They were also our water purifying guys, so we didn’t give them too much shit. I do remember volunteering for foot patrols so I could get out in town on foot and buy some Mikado’s for 5 dollars a carton later on. Does anyone remember the name of the cigarettes with a blue or yellow angel on them? Smoked alot of them, they tasted like ass, but we had a whole reefer trailer full. Maybe somewhere in Syria or Iraq there is still a humvee with a shit ton of cigarette butts stuffed in the frame on the vehicle commanders side. I figured it would help absorb any blasts. Semper Fi, if you got em smoke em!

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