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The 5000 Lek Note is a Pain and Smoking Crime

Tom Winnifrith
Thursday 2 August 2012

As you know, on my first day here I, inadvertently, withdrew from the cashpoint machine a sum equivalent to 1.5 times the average monthly after tax Albanian wage.. Most of my Lek is in 5000 Lek bills which are proving hard to use. My breakfast bill including coffee was 350 Lek (£2). I rather desperately offered the waitress at the Magic Mushroom cafe (none served sadly) a 5000 Lek bill. Given that she has 5 tables and most seem perennially empty my guess is that it takes her about a day and a half to haul in that amount and so she flapped. I somehow managed to find 350 Lek in loose change but that is it.

I am out of shrapnel and down to 5000 Lek bills. My biggest bill here to date has been 800 Lek (supper and a stack of coffees), my second biggest 500 Lek ( an Enver Hoxha mug). And so I now face the prospect of having no spendable currency at all. Desperate times call for desperate measures. I have just bought 5 packets of cigarettes ( cost 1350 Lek, £8). And now I have 3650 Lek in reasonable sized bills to keep me going for another 3 days.

As for the cigarettes. Hmm. I have not quit yet. I cannot say that having a health warning I do not understand ( Pirja e duhanit ju demton ju dhe te tjeret rreth jush – with umlauts over three of the e’s) makes any difference to my consumption and nor does paying £2 rather than £8 a packet. But while in the UK 2/3 of fags sold are contraband (probably smuggled from here) as a way of avoiding high taxes, here everything is legit and the Albanian Government takes its cut on everything (including all those packets bought for smuggling to Britain).

But no doubt some folk in the UK reckon that pushing fags up to £10 a pack will a) raise more tax and b) cut consumption. Albania explains why that is not the case at all. Prohibition or quasi prohibition via punitive taxes never alters demand, it merely gives criminals an opportunity. Some folks never learn.

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About Tom Winnifrith
Tom Winnifrith is the editor of When he is not harvesting olives in Greece, he is (planning to) raise goats in Wales.
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