Dip Is Not Hip, City Slickers Tell Urban Cowboys
[New York Times,
8 January 2006]
By RICHARD MORGAN
In the eyes of many New Yorkers, chewing tobacco and its cousin, tobacco dip, is hick. Sure, urban fashion has embraced trucker hats, Pabst Blue Ribbon and cowboy boots, but only as hip irony. Chaw is something different.
Compared with cigarettes or cigars, these products generate small sales, and because of the way tobacco sales are measured in the city and the state, their exact revenues are unknown. But whether their use is a fad or a smokeless reaction to the city's strict smoking rules, the proprietors of bodegas, drugstores and tobacco shops that offer chew and dip say sales are growing.
Michael Bowman, an assistant manager at De La Concha Tobacconist, on the Avenue of the Americas at 56th Street, said he had seen an increase in sales over the last year. Rafas Khan, the manager at Adams Tobacco on Second Avenue, now orders a box of chew pouches every week, compared with a box every 15 to 20 days a year ago. Hemal Sheth, the manager of Lafayette Smoke Shop, on Lafayette Street in SoHo, sells two pouches of chew and a canister of dip a week, and said he had also seen a moderate rise in sales.
But fans of chew and dip still get a hard time. ''People tell me to my face that I'm nasty or that I'm a redneck because of it,'' said Karl Strombom, a 29-year-old corporate banker who lives on the Upper West Side and favors Skoal Long Cut straight. ''I can tell that it's frowned upon.''
Buying a canister of Skoal Mint at De La Concha on a recent afternoon, Dan Krystyniak, a dapper 35-year-old money market manager who lives in New Jersey and works in Midtown, said two co-workers also used smokeless tobacco in the office. ''They spit into cups and do the whole thing,'' he said. ''But I try to keep a low profile, out of professional respect.'' He switched from cigarettes to smokeless tobacco after the birth of his daughter, he added.
Chew and dip, while unhealthy, have their benefits. With the city's smoking ban, office smokers must huddle outside in the cold to get their nicotine, but chaw users can stay in the office, discreetly spitting into paper coffee cups or plastic soda bottles -- although users complain that the habit often brands them as coarse bumpkins. With only a discreet lump tucked in the lower lip, a dipper can have a conversation for several minutes with a colleague before needing to spit.
Fans of smokeless tobacco also argue that it tastes good and is cheaper than cigarettes. Mr. Strombom has found that a $5 can will last him three days. ''But of course the biggest advantage is I can do it at work, on the subway, wherever, whenever,'' he said. ''It doesn't bother anyone. Although, when you work in a bank, it's not good to touch papers with brown fingers.''
Two years ago, Mr. Strombom and his wife, a smoker, pledged to kick the nicotine habit together. She stopped smoking, and doesn't know about his continued dipping. ''Ninety-five percent of women find it disgusting,'' he said. ''They ask, 'You really put that in your mouth?' I get that. A lot.''
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