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Cigarette Expense in a Bankruptcy

The cigarette expense includes money used to buy cigarettes for the Debtor's mother, who lives with the Debtor and whose social security benefits supplement the Debtor's income.[46] In the continuation sheet attached to her amended Schedule J, the Debtor discloses that she and her mother smoke about 35 packs of cigarettes between them each month.[47] At trial, the Debtor stated that she had attempted to quit smoking, unsuccessfully.[48] She also stated that she believed she was entitled to smoke, as it was her only source of relaxation.[49]

Many courts have examined the reasonableness and necessity of cigarette expenses in the course of an undue hardship analysis or the similar analysis of whether a Chapter 13 debtor's expenditures are reasonable and necessary or whether a debtor's expenditures for cigarettes suggest that the debtor's filing is a substantial abuse. See, e.g., In re Hornsby, 144 F.3d 433, 438 (6th Cir.1998); Sarasota Inc. v. Weaver, 2004 WL 2514290 (E.D.Pa. Nov.5, 2004); Waites v. Braley, 110 B.R. 211 (E.D.Va.1990); In re Lowe, 321 B.R. 852, 858 (Bankr.N.D.Ohio 2004); In re Woodman, 287 B.R. 589, 592-97 (Bankr.D.Me.2003); In re Clark, 273 B.R. 207 (Bankr.N.D.Iowa 2002); In re Webster, 2002 WL 32700045 (Bankr.D.Kan.2002); In re Regan, 269 B.R. 693, 698 (Bankr.W.D.Mo.2001); In re Williams, 233 B.R. 423, 429 (Bankr.W.D.Mo.1999); In re Buntin, 161 B.R. 466 (Bankr.W.D.Mo.1993). The issue of the reasonableness and necessity of cigarette expenses is often addressed without much discussion. See, e.g., In re Williams, 233 B.R. 423, 429 (Bankr.W.D.Mo.1999).

In In re Woodman, Judge Haines spoke about cigarette expenses in some detail. He held that to prohibit such expenses as per se unreasonable would be foolish and that the better course would be to "scrutinize the debtor's budget in view of the particular circumstances." In re Woodman, 287 B.R. at 596. Judge Haines ultimately found that, given the debtor's otherwise modest expenditures which included no allotment for "vacations, retirement, savings, or charity," the cigarette expense was not unreasonable or unnecessary. Id. at 596-597. This is the approach typically taken. I found no cases holding that cigarette expenses are per se unreasonable and several, including In re Woodman, that reject such a holding. Id.; See also Sarasota, Inc. v. Weaver, 2004 WL 2514290, *5 (E.D.Pa.2004).

A number of cases have held that the amount of cigarette expenditures is excessive and have reduced the amount. See, e.g., In re Webster, 2002 WL 32700045 (Bankr.D.Kan.2002) (holding that $250 was unreasonable and limiting the debtor to $100 per month in cigarette expenses); In re Buntin, 161 B.R. 466, 468 (Bankr.W.D.Mo.1993) ("While I will not find that debtors must stop smoking in order to avail themselves of bankruptcy relief, I will find that an expense in excess of a pack of cigarettes per day per debtor is not necessary or reasonable."). Some courts, however, have used the fact of a debtor's cigarette use as part of the evidence that the debtor has sufficient discretionary income to pay their student loans, so that excepting the loans from discharge would not pose an undue hardship. See, e.g., In re Clark, 273 B.R. at 210-211.

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