Photographer: David Ramos/Getty Images

These Are the World’s Cheapest Places to Buy Drugs, Alcohol and Cigarettes


Indulging in a weekly habit of drugs, booze and cigarettes can cost you as little as $41.40 in Laos and a whopping $1,441.50 in Japan, according to the Bloomberg Vice Index.

Bloomberg compared the price of a basket of goods — tobacco, alcohol, amphetamine, cannabis, cocaine and opioids  in more than 100 countries relative to the U.S., where your fix of the vices adds up to almost $400, or about a third of the weekly income.

In terms of absolute costs, the cheapest prices can be found in Congo, Honduras and Laos. On the other end of the scale, Japan is the most expensive with New Zealand and Australia right behind. A market basket runs below $100 in 18 countries, all of which are emerging or frontier markets from Peru to Cambodia. Many of these places are in proximity to the source, such as the Golden Triangle of opium-producing region of Asia. 

"It's all about distribution costs," said Peter Reuter, a professor in the School of Public Policy and the Department of Criminology at the University of Maryland. "Being closer to the producer lowers costs."

Here is what we put in the basket: a pack of cigarettes, most popular and premium brands; a bottle of alcoholic beverages, including beer, wine and spirits; a gram of amphetamine-type stimulants, including amphetamine, methamphetamine and/or ecstasy; a gram of cannabis, including marijuana herb, hashish resin and/or cannabis oil; a gram of cocaine, regardless of salts, paste or base forms; a gram of opioids, including heroin and/or opium.

For a look at the top 50 most affordable places to feed your vices, check this out.

Bloomberg mined its own research, the annual World Drug Report published by the United Nations along with data from the World Health Organization. Wages were based off 2016 gross domestic product data. Data collection in this field is hard and surveys suffer from a time lag. The index is not an endorsement of tawdry or illegal behavior and doesn't track prostitution and gambling. 

The Bloomberg Vice Index gives insights into the economics behind some our bad habits. Law enforcement, for example, is critical in determining drug prices.

In the Philippines, thousands of drugs users and dealers have been slaughtered in a government clampdown. In Thailand, there are cautionary tales of backpackers thrown in jail to face a death sentence for being caught with a small stash of marijuana. Our index bakes in that risk. 

"Illegal drugs prices will of course have a premium that reflects local zeal for enforcement," said Philip J. Cook, professor at the Sanford School of Public Policy at Duke University. "The same can be said for the heavily taxed legal commodities, since the street price may be dominated by smuggled goods."

The price for alcohol and tobacco is instead more of a reflection of local taxes.

"Low-income consumers may prefer to smoke Marlboros and drink Heineken, but substitute what they would consider inferior brands that are cheaper," Cook said. "Low income countries have low prices for the most used brands because that’s what the consumers can afford."

Looking at the basket of vices relative to income unveils a few surprises. Under that criteria, high-income nations such as Luxembourg and Switzerland offer the best value. In Venezuela, however, rampant inflation means locals would have to spend 17 times their weekly wages for a bottle of beer, a packet of smokes and a gram of cocaine.


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