We Tested Four Types of Chop-Chop So You Can Buy the Best
Your guide to Australia's cheapest, fakest cigarettes.
I've been hearing about chop-chop, or homegrown tobacco, for years. "Dodgy" was always the word. Dodgy taste. Dodgy quality. And only dodgy corner stores, markets and tobacconists sold it. The other word, though, was "cheap," which is the word that piqued my interest. With cigarette prices set to rise 12.5 percent each September until a pack costs around $40, and the 2017 budget announcing roll your own tobacco will be taxed the same as tailored cigarettes, I wanted to know if chop-chop would be a viable replacement.
After a bit of asking around I found myself the proud owner of 400 chop-chop cigarettes. Pre-rolled into tubes, they came from a couple of different sources, with 100 of each flavour. That's two types of reds, one blue, and one menthol. They cost $30 a box, but as I found out later I could also purchase the same tobacco in RYO for $100 per half kilo—the equivalent of $5 per 25 gram pouch.
To test these babies I gathered together a team of the most committed smokers I know. Claire, Katja, Travis, Julian and I smoke about 28,600 cigarettes each year between us. We've smoked the local cigarettes of 46 countries across all the continents bar Antarctica, and the total cumulative number of years we've smoked is 44, or a decade longer than old mate Bryan lived. Long story short, price hikes are going to hit us hard. So naturally we wanted to know how chop-chop smokes compare, and whether we'd make the switch to get the savings.
Cigarette 1: Red A
Our first cigarette is a red that smells a lot like straw with a hint of tanginess, like it had hung out in a box of kreteks for a few days. The roughly cut tobacco is packed tightly into the tube, which initially I thought was a good thing because not much fell out in transit. Lighting up, we are initially surprised how easy it is to smoke.
"Not as bad as I thought it would be," Claire says. "I thought it was going to be like one of those cigarettes you smoke overseas and get a headache instantly."
We agree that it's surprisingly smooth in the throat and doesn't have much flavour on the drag, but tastes a bit like burnt grass on the exhale. It's strong too, with a definite nicotine tingle. After about four minutes of smoking none of us are even halfway done, seemingly because it's packed so densely.
"It's taking forever," Julian complains. "It's not very satisfying to smoke."
Claire agrees. "Totally smokeable, not overwhelmingly joyous. If you unravelled it and rolled it into four it would be a good cigarette."
Smoke it when: you're out in nature and getting sick of the fresh air.
Cigarette 2: Blue (second on left)
We all agree off the bat that this one doesn't smell as strawy or tangy as the last, but there's still that hint of strawiness that you don't get with manufactured smokes. It's a little harsh on the first drag, but there isn't that same grassy-aftertaste as the first one, and ends up coming over quite smooth. Claire and I reckon it's somewhere between a B&H smooth and special filter.
"This one feels like a proper cigarette," Julian says. That said, we're all having trouble keeping it lit, needing to take long pulls and constantly reach for lighters.
"This is involving a lot of muscles in my mouth to drag it," says Claire, "and I can't be bothered with that."
It is burning quicker than the last one though. Julian rates it, but Katja and Claire think it's a bit much. Travis, who almost exclusively smokes menthols, is not happy. "I'm dying over here."
Smoke it when: you want your mates to ask about your new lighter during a sit down pub sesh.
Cigarette 3: Red B
We approach Red B with some trepidation. From the same supplier as the last one, the tobacco looks the same, but it's packed loosely into a tube with a filter that might as well be a roach. "Oh yeah," Julian says after the first drag. "That's harsh. Straight to the throat that one. I've still got that burn a couple of seconds afterwards. Annnnd it's out."
Red B does not want to stay lit, as if it's trying to to stop us from doing ourselves harm. The only thing I've ever smoked like it is some harsh, dry homegrown an old Iraqi gave me in a filterless rollie.
"This is like for a classic White Ox smoker," Katja says. "The second type you'll smoke. The first you'd give away. This one you'd give to your enemies."
Red B definitely packs a nicotine and tar punch, and only Julian and I smoke it more than halfway. We all agree it tastes a lot more ashy than the others, and as you get closer to the filter it starts to taste like a burning rosemary bush. It also gives the impression that it's the kind of smoke that leaves nicotine stains on your fingers, facial hair and the walls of any room you happen to be in. The experience has kind of sapped the fun out of the tasting session.
"I was looking forward to a desert menthol," says Travis, "but now I'm not even looking forward to desert."
Smoke it when: you've got an hour stop over in between two cross continental flights.
Cigarette 4: Menthol
Even though it's a menthol it doesn't smell that way all, but definitely smells the least organic out of any of the four. Lighting up is a relief after red B.
"Much better," Travis says. "I'd smoke many, given the price."
It burns better than any of the others too, not falling apart or needing to be constantly relit. Nonetheless, it has kind of a weird chemically favour beneath the menthol, and a kind of dirt-like aftertaste on the exhale.
"It's one of the grosser ones, flavour wise, but the menthol makes it better," Katja says. "Maybe they use the shitty tobacco because the menthol filter hides many evils." Still, it's actually not that bad, for a menthol.
"This one has reaffirmed my faith in smoking," Katja adds. "I would smoke these. I'd probably switch when cigarettes become really expensive and I wanted to continue smoking."
Smoke it when: you're two googs deep and feel like kissing strangers.
The eagerness with which we entered this tasting session has long since drifted away, and in perhaps an indictment of the whole chop-chop experience we all reach for our pouches as soon as the last menthols are stubbed out. Katja, Claire and Travis all say they rate the menthol as their favourite, while Julian and I say the blue was ours. It's unanimously agreed that red B was the garbage smoke. But would we make the switch? It turns out the answer is an emphatic yes, once the price hikes go through.
"Things are not dire enough at the moment," says Claire, but Travis and Julian are not so sure. "I'd love to try the rollie one because I'd potentially make the move pre-price hike," Travis says. "At the moment the only thing that would really stop me is availability," adds Julian. "If it was available close to home, then I would probably get it every so often."
For my part, I'm stuck with around 350 cigarettes that I want little to do with. Puffing away on my brand of choice, it's clear to me that chop-chop is a far inferior product to regular smokes, but I can't argue with that price. Not only would I save on the coming excise increases, but chop-chop is about one sixth of what I currently pay to indulge my habit. As the price goes up, I think it's likely that I'll make the switch. Who knows, it might actually end up being the push I need to finally quit.
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