for release February 28, 2003


Another Way


by Melodie Davis

The Price of Vice

Don't you love what you can learn about life at the grocery store check out? Someone should write a book, Everything I Need To Know About Life I Learned Waiting In Line At The Check Out. And think of the privileged few who don't have to do that task and what they miss. Prime ministers, queens and presidents probably seldom actually get in line at the grocery. They could learn a lot about what makes the people in their countries tick! Or ticked off.

One day when I was in line at the grocery, a man was checking out his purchases and I learned the astounding, terrible, but warranted price of vice. The man in front of me was only buying a 24-pack of canned beer and a carton of cigarettes. His bill rang up as $38.14. I was a little taken aback: to my mind, he had nothing to show for his $38.

Now, going to the grocery store for food and coming out with a $38 bill and only a few groceries - actual things to eat - is bad enough. But he ended up with nothing to eat, no calculable nutrition. I'm glad I don't have to spend hard earned money that way. 

My daughter said that was nothing. She clerked in a grocery store part time for a number of years. She was bothered when people came through the line using food stamps to buy food and then rang up $100 or more worth of cigarettes and beer. (I happen to think food stamps are a necessary tool, but oh the priorities here!)

I recently stood behind a woman at the convenience store where I buy gas and she bought five cartons of cigarettes for a total bill of $122. Again my nosy head turned more than slightly. This may have been because authorities were threatening to raise the tax on cigarettes in our area, and she wanted to beat out a possible price increase. With our state having the lowest cigarette tax prices of anywhere in the U.S., I'm told, an additional tax sounds like a wonderful idea to me. For instance, because of budget cutbacks in our area, the county school system currently has no paper on which to print tests for the students, and the students have to waste valuable time (busy work) copying their tests off the chalkboard or marker board as the case may be. (That's not to say that some schools don't waste paper and money, but still. But oh the priorities here!)

Now, perhaps you say I can afford to act superior about these taxes and vices because I don't happen to be effected by them. Suppose they were going to impose a new, special tax on coffee. Or tea (now that's a novel idea.) Suppose the coffee tax doubled the price of coffee. (I switched to decaf coffee a couple years ago, but a coffee habit is a coffee habit and I am guilty as charged.) If that money were going to pay the growers a fairer price for their coffee, I would be fine with it. If it were going to other worthy causes, I would also be fine with it. Maybe it would force me to cut back on my consumption a little, and that would probably be good for me (not work my bladder quite as hard). 

As it is, I do spend a considerable amount on coffee, probably $10 a week when you count the price of my gourmet, "fairly traded" brand at the coffee shop in our building, and roughly one bag a week of the cheaper kind I make myself at home. My dad always says he went around the world on the money he didn't spend on cigarettes. What could I be doing with an extra $520 a year? Throw in my vices of donuts, red licorice and popcorn, and the total tab on my vices might run closer to $1000 a year.

That's where vices get personal, and telling someone else what they should do is never effective. If I drink coffee because I enjoy the flavor, the routine, the small "pick me up" from daily tasks, who am I to condemn the next guy who uses cigarettes or a cold beer in the same way? Therefore, I am no better than anyone else.

Still, we would be wise to keep our vices in check, and look at the total expenditure. And look at the health consequences for our bodies and the health of our families. The Bible speaks of the body as being a temple for God's spirit, to take care of and cherish (1 Corinthians 6:19). But still, I should never judge the vice of the next guy, or the woman standing in front of me at the convenience store. Now that's a lesson worth learning.

Have a story to share about your vices? Send to: Melodie Davis, Another Way c/o Name\Address of YOUR newspaper; or e-mail:


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Melodie Davis is the author of seven books and has written her column since 1987. She taught feature writing and has won awards from the National Federation of Press Women, Virginia Press Women and the American Advertising Association. She and her husband have three daughters.


NOTES TO EDITORS: text = 740 words; end material = 105 words


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