Cigarettes in Italy are a regulated market, which means the price of cigarettes is always around €5 a packet for international brands, and there are never any discounts available – even for bulk purchase.
Where to buy cigarettes in Rome
Due to strict licencing laws, cigarettes may only be purchased at a licensed tobacconist: a tabaccaio (ta-ba-KAI-oh) or tabaccheria (ta-ba-keh-REE-ah).
Not gas stations, not supermarkets, drug stores, bars, cafés or convenience stores: only tabaccai. (Some cafés, bars, and service stations on freeways do have a tobacco licence, but they’re the exception not the rule.)
Note that the older signs say “sali e tabacchi” – “salts and tobaccos”. This is because in the past salt, like tobacco, was a government monopoly, and could only be sold with a licence. In fact there’s at least one tabaccaio in Rome which sells cigarettes and still sells boxes of salt (at Piazzale di Ponte Milvio if you’re interested in visiting).
Tabaccai carry most major international brands such as Marlboro, Benson & Hedges, Philip Morris, etc. It is difficult to find menthol cigarettes in Italy, though. International brands cost €5.20 per packet.
You can buy cartons of 10 packs of cigarettes in tabaccai but because cigarette prices are government controlled, there is never any discount available.
Half-size pack of ten cigarettes are also available in many tabaccai. Just ask for “una scattola di dieci [your brand]” (OON-a SCAT-oh-la dee dee-EH-chi [your brand]).
Tabaccai are also licensed to perform some of the duties that would normally be done in a post office, like selling basic postage stamps (*francobolli*), allowing people to pay utility bills, parking fines etc.
These stores also sell transport tickets. If you are having problems with the machines in the Metro station, just find your nearest tabbachaio and you can buy tickets from an actual human who can give you some change.
How to use cigarette machines in Rome
Warning: in central areas such as Trastevere some bars have a tobacco licence and a counter within the bar, and there are sometimes independent tabaccai that stay open late, but outside the tourist centers, most tabaccai close early – around 6 or 7pm.
Many of these do have 24-hour vending machines facing the street, but you can not use them unless you can prove your age with an Italian-government-issued card. This is because they are not allowed to sell tobacco to minors. In these machines you have by law to verify your age using an Italian health service card: a tessera sanitaria (TESS-eh-rah san-eet-AHR-ee-ah), or an Italian tax card, known as a codice fiscale (CO-di-cheh fiss-CAHL-eh).
Therefore we strongly recommend, if you smoke, that you stock up on cigarettes during the day. However should you be caught after hours and find yourself having to use a machine, you may have to appeal to the kindness of a passer-by to borrow a government card. Someone waiting to borrow a government card is quite a familiar sight at these machines, and the person waiting are even sometimes Italians. If you look desperate and ask for a tessera, a kind Roman will eventually take pity on you.
Or of course you could always use this opportunity to give up! 😉