The cigarettes Audrey Silk used to smoke — Parliament Lights — are made at a factory in Richmond, Va. The cigarettes she smokes these days are made and grown in Brooklyn, at her house.
Audrey Silk, with Bingo, estimates she will save thousands of dollars by processing her own cigarettes
Ms. Silk, a retired police officer and the founder of a smokers’ rights group, grows her own tobacco and dries the leaves in her basement
Ms. Silk’s backyard is home to raspberry and rose bushes, geraniums, impatiens and 100 tobacco plants in gardening buckets near her wooden deck. Inside her house, around the corner from Flatbush Avenue, in Marine Park, she has to be careful stepping into her basement — one wrong move could ruin her cigarettes. Dozens of tobacco leaves hang there, drying on wires she has strung across the room, where they turn a crisp light brown as they age above a stack of her old Springsteen records.
She talks about cartons and packs in relation to crops and seeds. Planted in 2009, her first crop— 25 plants of Golden Seal Special Burley tobacco — produced nine cartons of cigarettes. Ms. Silk would have spent more than $1,000 had she bought nine cartons in parts of New York City. Instead, she spent $240, mostly for the trays, the buckets and plant food.
But for Ms. Silk, 46, a retired police officer and the founder of New York City Clash (Citizens Lobbying Against Smoker Harassment), a smokers’ rights group, it is not just about the money. It is about the message. In the state with the highest cigarette taxes in the country, in a city that has become one of the hardest places in America to find a place to smoke, Ms. Silk has gone off the grid, growing, processing and smoking her own tax-free cigarettes from packets of seeds she buys online for about $2. She expects to produce a total of 45 cartons after planting two crops — the first in the summer of 2009, the second last summer — and estimates that she will have saved more than $5,000.
“It’ll make the antismokers apoplectic,” said Ms. Silk. “They’re using the power of taxation to coerce behavior. That’s not what taxation is supposed to be for.”
There are no federal, state or city laws prohibiting New Yorkers from growing tobacco at home for personal consumption. Still, Ms. Silk has kept her homegrown tobacco a secret for the most part since she planted the first crop, though she has offered cigarettes to her boyfriend and a few neighbors. This month, however, she changed her position on keeping quiet, after the City Council approved a bill banning smoking at parks, beaches and pedestrian plazas.
“The only way we’re going to win now, since you can’t reason with the irrational, which is the City Council or any lawmakers,” Ms. Silk said, “is you have to take the position of giving them the finger.”
Wearing a black-brimmed country hat, suspenders and an Amish beard, "Samuel" unloaded his contraband from an unmarked white truck on a busy block in Manhattan. He was at the tail end of a long smuggling run that had begun before dawn at his Pennsylvania farm.
As he wearily stacked brown cardboard boxes on the sidewalk, a few upscale clients in the Chelsea neighborhood lurked nearby, eyeing the new shipment hungrily.
Clearly, they couldn’t wait to get a taste.
But he wasn’t selling them anything they planned to smoke, snort or inject. Rather, he was giving them their once-a-month fix of raw milk — an unpasteurized product banned outright in 12 states and denounced by the FDA as a public health hazard, but beloved by a small but growing number of devotees who tout both its health benefits and its flavor.
Samuel is part of a shadowy community of outlaw Amish and Mennonite dairy farmers who risk fines, loss of equipment and product, and even imprisonment to transport raw milk across state lines and satisfy a burgeoning appetite for illegal raw milk in places like New York. In January, The Daily rode along on one of these smuggling runs.
Samuel’s smuggling run started in Pennsylvania's Amish country, where his family farm is located. As Amish doctrine prohibits him from operating an automobile, he paid a non-Amish person to drive.
The final destination was an unmarked converted factory on the eastern edge of Chelsea. Upstairs, the milk deals went down in an unadorned room teeming with a crowd similar to what one might find at a Michael Pollan book signing.
For Lila Rose, Planned Parenthood video 'sting' is about revolution
Lila Rose, the young founder of the organization that released 'sting' videos targeting Planned Parenthood this week, is one of a new generation of right-wing media insurgents taking on touchstone topics like abortion through the lens of civil-rights activists.