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Got a Blight?

An east-of-the-river neighborhood takes aim at Phillies Blunts.

When an embattled community considers which products it wants off store shelves, single containers of alcohol are usually first on the list, followed by rolling papers and the small baggies used for crack cocaine.

But one Southeast neighborhood has recently proposed an addition to the inner-city hit list: Phillies Blunts, the cheap, ghetto-fabulous cigar credited with everything from hiphop band names to the coughing fits of rebellious 13-year-olds. “Philly” Blunts have so infiltrated the cultural consciousness that they have their own exalted place in the vernacular, right next to Mentos and J.Lo.

And in the Penn Branch community, they’re on the chopping block. Led by activist Roscoe Grant Jr., the community is asking stores to agree not to sell Phillies Blunts, along with other nefarious consumer goods. If the stores refuse to comply, the activists will petition to block renewal of their liquor licenses.

“A lot of the crimes being committed here are being perpetrated by people who are drinking single beers or buying a Blunt and filling it with marijuana,” says Grant. “It trashes our community.”

Representatives of Altadis U.S.A. Inc., which manufactures the Phillies lines of cigars, wonder how a cigar can wreak such destruction. “I’ve never known a Phillies Blunt to be used for anything but what it is meant for,” says company Vice President Rick McKenzie. “I think this whole thing is a little ridiculous. Phillies Blunts have been around years and years, longer than any of this other stuff.”

As for Grant’s allegation about the swapping of tobacco and dope, McKenzie cites technical difficulties. “I don’t know how they get the cigar back together,” he says. “What—you cut it and then tape it back together? So you are smoking Scotch tape? I think the idea might just be an urban myth.”

If so, it’s a pretty common one. Back in 1992, rapper Redman, in his song “How to Roll a Blunt,” laid out how to reassemble the emptied-out cigar: “Take your finger and your thumb from tip to tip/Roll it in a motion then the top piece you lick/Seal it, dry it wit ya lighter if ya gotta.” And according to the online Probert Encyclopedia, the term “Philly Blunt” has come to represent all cigars “with marijuana replacing tobacco.” It’s not surprising that Grant wants Phillies off the street.

But Phillies are many people’s first cigar; their harsh taste and machine-wrapped texture are, for better or worse, tied to coming of age. If Grant & Co. succeed in taking Phillies off the local shelves, they won’t get the product out of our collective consumer memory.

“The Philly Blunt is a pretty bad cigar,” says longtime D.C. resident Chris Gange. “But the price is right, and if somebody wants them, they should be able to get them.” CP