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Tough world of cigarette barter

Southern Iraq, April 5 (Reuters): Is a Cuban cigar worth swapping for a can of processed meat'

In a war zone, no way.

US troops in Iraq are running low on cigars, cigarettes and chewing tobacco, plunging them into a hard-nosed world of barter where nicotine commands a premium price. I can give you a ham its all I have left, then after that, all my goodies are gone, said Ross, a US Marine keen for a drag on a Jose L. Piedra Cuban cheroot.

His offer declined, the private first class shrugged and resumed playing solitaire with cards depicting naked women, relying on the heavy metal blaring from his earphones for stimulation.

Cigars are among the most highly valued luxuries among members of the American-led invasion force, but cigarettes are also leaping in value as reserves burn up.

Id offer anything from $10 to $20 a pack, which Ill get through in a day, said Lance-Corporal Sean Enghauser, 21, wandering a sandy roadside in search of smokes. Twenty dollars would be a major premium a packet of 20 cigarettes normally costs about $5 at the Marines home base in California.

Like other Marines, Enghauser has discovered that being on a battlefield is not generally good for your health, but Iraq is turning out to be a good place to cut down on smoking.

Many in the US military, who had expected to capture Baghdad within a week or so, packed only enough nicotine to last that long. Comfort packages bursting with replacements sent by loved ones have not yet arrived. The strain is beginning to show. Marines speak of swapping a portable CD player for a single packet of cigarettes, or even their combat knives.

Mouth problem'

Chewing tobacco, known as chew or dip, is also becoming increasingly scarce.

Troops keep the moist, peaty substance wedged in between their lower lip and gum, forming a bulge in their mouth that looks to the untrained eye like a nasty oral complaint. The substance stimulates saliva production, filling the mouth with a tobacco-like taste and forcing users to discharge yellow gobbets of spit at frequent intervals.

First-time consumers complain of dizziness and sometimes vomit, but old hands swear by it pointing out that unlike the glow of cigarette ends, it cannot give away their position to the enemy in the dark.

It gives me that little buzz that I need, said Lance-Corporal Danny Brooks, 22, happy to have just obtained a tin of Copenhagen fine cut blend from a fellow Marine.

Im not going to go on my knees for dip, but Ive got $150 out here and nothing to spend it on. Im willing to pay a price, he said. Some say they fire machineguns and chew tobacco at the same time a move more tricky with cigarettes.

As supply falls, demand has increased. The old adage that war is 99 per cent boredom and one per cent pure terror has proved true for many in Iraq. Cigarettes help deal with both phases.

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