Man Defends Buying Cigarettes with Government Assistance


A sixty-five year old store clerk in New Hampshire was fired last month for refusing to sell cigarettes to a twenty year old using an EBT card. The man's foster mother came in to complain, and eventually the store management fired the clerk. It is perfectly legal, after all, to buy cigarettes with government assistance. The incident sparked a debate over the proper use of EBT cards in New Hampshire. The twenty year old penned an op-ed in the Concord Monitor defending himself:

I wish that my purchase of a pack of cigarettes wasn't an issue for public debate, but as a recipient of Supplemental Social Security, food stamps and Medicaid benefits, it suddenly seems that it is…

Can I spend $5.87 on a pack of cigarettes? Is that okay, I wonder, as tears well in my eyes reading commentators describing people like me as social parasites. Ironically, the same people obsessed with individualism and the free market seem to need to tell individuals how to spend their money. Why do people who are sick or unemployed need to justify their spending habits, simply because they are in receipt of support from their community (transferred via the government in the form of cash)?

…  I know it is uncommon for even the poor among us not to feign shame and brave endurance in the face of poverty. I will not: I'm poor, I'm on welfare, I smoke cigarettes, and I am not a social parasite.

The man's column actually started as an e-mail to New Hampshire legislators, which yielded this response from one of his state representatives, Nickolas Levasseur:

The debate forming here is not focused on whether or not you are a smoker or what you do with "your money". Rather, it is centered on whether or not the tax payer dollars you receive should be spent on non essential items– which cigarettes certainly are. Indeed, at the heart of the debate is the very question of whether or not those tax payer dollars are truly yours or whether or not the tax payers who provide them are entitled to some say in how they are spent…

Some New Hampshire legislators are currently working to reform the state's policy on EBT cards to prevent purchase of non-essentials like cigarettes or beer as a result of this incident's coverage. In fact, the EBT cards can be currently used to withdraw cash, and so purchase any good or service available for cash. One suggestion from the New Hampshire House speaker is to stop allowing the EBT cards to be used as cash cards.

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