At Kandahar, shortage of tobacco products has people on edge
KANDAHAR, AFGHANISTAN â€” Troops stationed at Kandahar Airfield have been forced to quit tobacco products cold turkey because there is no Army and Air Force Exchange Service at the base, and, instead, have resorted to paying black-market prices for smokes
"Itâ€™s crazy. Thereâ€™s nothing else to do but smoke, and now I canâ€™t get anything," said Marine Lance Cp. Victor Felix. He ran out of smokes shortly after AAFES shutdown its briefly opened field exchange about two weeks ago.
On Sunday, a group of three Marines chipped in $400 to give to an Air Force servicemember, asking him to pick up whatever cigarettes and chewing tobacco he could get while away from the airfield.
"I think people are getting pretty desperate," said Marine Lance Cpl. Lewis Ashley Smith. "I think everyone is on edge."
Smith said he doesnâ€™t smoke because he ran cross-country in college and that would have affected his performance. Still, Smith sympathizes with his colleagues. "Smoking is a part of the culture. Itâ€™s expected."
Other Marines said some servicemembers were selling their own cigarettes, but the asking price â€” $40 a carton â€” was too high.
Members of all services routinely wander around base asking to either bum or buy a smoke or a pinch of chewing tobacco.
"I guess itâ€™s kind of sad when youâ€™re addicted, but, if youâ€™re addicted, what else can you do but beg," said Army Spc. Randy Vasquez. Vasquez, a pack-a-day smoker is down to one maybe two begged, borrowed or stolen butts a day. "Yeah, I stole one the other day," Vasquez admitted. "I felt guilty. But I got it from a smoker. He would understand."
No one is exactly sure when AAFES will set-up again. Army spokesman Maj. AC Roper said AAFES should return "soon" but didnâ€™t know an exact date.
The troops seem slightly baffled as to what happened. When AAFES packed up, they left behind some of their products, including cigarettes, in a padlocked storage area.
"Just come on back," Felix said, "you have plenty of customers."
Attempts to contact AAFES-Europe spokesman Maj. Mitch Edgar on Sunday were unsuccessful. He is currently at an airbase in Uzbekistan, where there is a fully operating exchange. Telephone lines to that base were all busy.
Canadian Sgt. Ray Cormier, who arrived Sunday, said several U.S. soldiers approached him shortly after he walked off the plane. They were offering to pay 50 cents a cigarette, he said.
"They were desperate," said Cormier, who gave them a couple Lucky Strikes gratis. "I understand their pain."
Cormier brought two cartons along. "I suspect Iâ€™ll be able to buy again before I run out," he said.
Marine Lance Cpl. Daniel Moore has three tins of Copenhagen left but is starting to get nervous. Moore, who began dipping when he was 11, said he hopes to go back to the ship with the rest of the 26th Marine Expedition Unit before he runs out of tobacco. "I know we have it on the ship. If I knew people would start running out, Iâ€™d have brought some extra to sell," he said.
So far, although Moore has been tempted, he hasnâ€™t sold a tin yet. "Iâ€™m just holding out," he said. "Who knows how long Iâ€™ll be here and how long the shortage will last."