Buying a single cigarette – a “blanco” in Tico slang – and smoking it while walking in the streets of downtown San José has been around a long time. Today, however, sales of single cigarettes is “illegal”.
In “Chepe” (downtown San José), although the law makes it illegal, the black market for a loosie is at almost every corner.
The market, faced with the prohibition, is responding in creative ways, like coming up with new names replacing the well known lanco. “Me da una curita” is one of the terms of the the new slang.
The confusion comes in that a “curita” also refers to a band aid. A typical transaction can do like this, customer asking for a “curita”, the vendor responding with, “una curita curita o una curita curita curita?”
Another slang word for a single cigarette overheard is “una sauve” (literal translation, a smooth one). Everyone seems to have a different name for it. “Halls” or “pastillas” are two other slang versions for a single cigarette, the former not referring to the popular candy, the latter not to a tablet (like in an aspirin).
Whatever it is called, a single cigarette runs about ¢150 colones on the streets of Chepe, double the price if one were to buy a full 20 pack, that runs between ¢1.300 and ¢1.500.
The sale of a single cigarette, though being a great service for the “social” smoker, it is a big earner for vendors who now are breaking the law with each sale.
One vendor told the Q, “times are tough, people don’t have the money to buy a full pack, one offers the single to satisfy the customer”.
What is apparent though, is that a vendor won’t sell the single just to anyone. Standing on one of the corners on the Boulevard, we can see vendors looking twice over a potential customer for a single cigarette. Some vendors will only sell singles to established customers, those customers making purchases before the change in the law.
The risk for the vendor is a fine of one half the base salary or ¢150.000 colones for each occurrence. No fine is imposed for the customer attempting to or buying a single cigarette.
The common thread among vendors is that despite the high fines, they take the risk due to necessity. Most of the vendors say they know that smoking is bad for health, but people have their vices and they have families to feed.