I have stumbled upon this sign at the Heraklion airport, Crete, Greece:

Hellenic Duty Free Shops ALLOWANCES TO U.K.* Cigarettes 800 Sticks Cigarillos 400 Sticks Cigars 200 Sticks Smoking Tobacco 1kg Wine (of which no more than 60 litres sparkling) 90 Lit Spirits 10 Lit Fortified Wine (such as port and sherry) 20 Lit Beer 110 Let *ACCORDING TO HM CUSTOMS & EXCISE RULES (www.hmce.gov.uk) *PEOPLE UNDER THE AGE OF 18 ARE NOT ENTITLED TO THE TOBACCO OR ALCOHOL ALLOWANCES.

I am a little confused about the meaning of "sticks". Is it a metaphor for one stick-shaped unit like a cigar or cigarette, or is it a weight or volume unit?

  • 2
    The limits are 800 cigarettes etc, so "stick-shaped thing" seems reasonable. I'm not sure how we can second-guess exactly how the Greeks arrived at stick though.
    – Andrew Leach
    Sep 9, 2014 at 7:01
  • One point to make is that it must be a very old sign. Since Greece and the UK are both members of the EU, there are nowadays no restrictions, and no customs duty on any of these items.
    – WS2
    Sep 9, 2014 at 7:28
  • @WS2 Did you read my link? There are no limits, but there are allowances where you won't be asked awkward questions about your personal consumption of addictive substances [and possible avoidance of UK duty]. Those allowances were set in 2011 (when the figure for cigarettes was dramatically reduced).
    – Andrew Leach
    Sep 9, 2014 at 7:32
  • @AndrewLeach No, apologies. I must have missed your comment. But just for the record there is no 'duty'. It is totally abolished in the EU. The only thing you can be charged is an 'excise tax', and that only applies to things which are not for your personal consumption. So the sign is technically incorrect in being titled 'Duty-free Allowances'.
    – WS2
    Sep 9, 2014 at 7:38
  • 2
    Incorrect but good marketing
    – mplungjan
    Sep 9, 2014 at 7:39

3 Answers 3


Yes, sticks refers to the stick-shaped objects and is used as a hypernym for cigarette, cigarillo and cigar for clarity.

As a unit of measurement it is a bit imprecise, as not all cigars (and even cigarettes) contain the same amount of tobacco. However, it has the advantage of being very easy to implement and to use. Especially in the context of customs and excise duties, this kind of imprecise but easy-to-use measurement is very useful, as you do not need a scale (or worse, lab analysis) to check if someone is carrying too much tobacco or alcohol.

The use of sticks like this I have usually seen in this context. It makes a table like on your picture easier to read, but in plain text I have seen the rules explained more clearly:

A maximum of 800 cigarettes or 400 cigarillos or 200 cigars or 1 kg of tobacco.

The fact that you are (probably) not allowed 800 cigarettes and 200 cigars is not clear from the picture, but my guess is that the rule is still the same... when coming form outside Europe. Inside the EU these restriction are now no more than guidelines, of course, rendering the and/or distinction academic.

As for the choice of the word stick, although the stick-shape of a cigarette is obviously the basis for that, I have heard it used in several countries (at least Greece and India) to refer to individual tobacco-items as opposed to the pack measure. In these (and many other) countries, cigarettes are not only sold by the pack, but often individually. In the Netherlands, “two BrandX” will get you 38 cigarettes, but in India I found it necessary to specify whether I wanted 2 packs or 2 sticks. The hypernym is very handy in places where there is not much semantic distinction between cigars, cigarettes and possibly other tobacco products.

As for references of the word stick being used for cigarettes, there is of course the meaning of marijuana cigarette or the pejorative cancer stick.

It seems the simple meaning of cigarette, although I have seen it at (some) airports, is not common, except in Indian English, where a quick search reveals many examples of the use:

This Budget is likely to make tobacco products even more costlier with health ministry proposing hike in tax on cigarettes by Rs 3.5 per stick. (from Times of India)
If the Health Ministry has its way, you will soon be paying Rs.3 more/per stick of your favourite brand of cigarette. (from The Hindu)

Note that in Indian press, bidis are mentioned alongside cigarettes, and they are also counted in sticks.

PubMed also has an instance of stick as cigarette:

Tobacco contents and length of single stick of different brands of cigarette and bidi were also measured.

I guess in general referencing to a cigarette as a stick simply falls under definition 5 as Merriam-Webster gives it:

something prepared (as by cutting, molding, or rolling) in a relatively long and slender often cylindrical form

  • 1
    The HMRC website indicates that in this case [EU transfer between Greece and the UK], it is actually and and not or. At least, that's how I read it, since tobacco and alcohol are listed in exactly the same way and it's unlikely to mean 800 cigarettes or 90 litres of wine.
    – Andrew Leach
    Sep 9, 2014 at 7:20
  • @AndrewLeach: of course there strictly are no limits anymore in this case, so the and_/_or distinction is academic. The only question is whether you can convince customs that you only have stuff for personal use.
    – oerkelens
    Sep 9, 2014 at 7:26
  • Thanks. Could you please provide a reference to a dictionary or other source?
    – Adam Matan
    Sep 9, 2014 at 7:34
  • It's strange that this site has suddenly become the "travel.stackexchange" site :) Isn't the question here "does sticks mean cigarettes?" "are now no more than guidelines..." Here's a gov't web site stating laws hmrc.gov.uk/customs/arriving/arrivingeu.htm
    – Fattie
    Sep 9, 2014 at 8:02
  • 1
    I heard it used in English in Greece and India. That is, I have seen similar signs as the one in the question in Greece and I have heard and seen the word stick being used regularly in Indian English (also by native speakers of Indian English).
    – oerkelens
    Sep 9, 2014 at 8:32

I think they refer to single units of product. (800 cigarettes, 200 cigars)


  • something shaped like a stick; sticklike piece: a stick of chewing gum

Source: www.yourdictionary.com

  • 1
    That is a lot of cigarettes.
    – Adam Matan
    Sep 9, 2014 at 6:59
  • 1kg of tobacco ~ 1000 cigarettes
    – mplungjan
    Sep 9, 2014 at 7:38

"Is it a metaphor for one stick-shaped unit like a cigar or cigarette?"


Just to be perfectly clear YOU WOULD NEVER SAY THIS IN ENGLISH. It is a non-native-English usage by a non-native-English sign-maker.

It's a curiosity that, as far as I know, there is no superset word for "cigarette or cigar" in English.

{Perhaps someone in the industry could tell us if there is a term usually used in the industry for that superset. But as far as I know there is no general word in English for that superset.}

The question might arise "How would this sign be written in English?" (As opposed to second-language-English.)

I'd probably just leave out the "sticks". So, "Cigarettes: 800 / Cigars: 200" and so on.

If you really wanted to replace "sticks" with a single word (for some reason), probably "pieces". If you wanted to extremely anally distinguish between cigarettes and packets of cigarettes, you'd say "Cigarettes: 800 individual cigarettes" and so on.

Footnote! thanks to oerkelens, we have the remarkable fact that apparently this is the more-normal term in India.

Again just TBC if a person from (let's say) Britain or the USA, who speaks and only speaks English, was passing that sign, in Greece, and looking at it: the person would simply find it to be an incorrect word usage (perhaps humorous). It's a "poor-machine-translation-moment".

  • 1
    Your assumption that your dialect of English represents the only non-silly way of speaking that language has the tendency to sound a bit arrogant... apart from it being blatantly wrong. First you claim that the word is "silly" and non-native, then you wonder if there is a hypernym for cigarettes, cigars and the like. You are not aware of such a hypernym, leaving open the possibility of the hypernym being "stick"...
    – oerkelens
    Sep 9, 2014 at 8:37
  • Right, I did not know the best way to phrase "it sounds like a second-language speaker". (I personally find that phrase extremely insulting.) Can you help me with a better way to phrase that? (ie, when a word is used that, well, sounds like it was chosen by someone who very much does not speak English natively)
    – Fattie
    Sep 9, 2014 at 8:50
  • I did a quick edit until someone ses the better way to express that! {PS "stick" is not the English word for the superset (cigarettes, cigars).}
    – Fattie
    Sep 9, 2014 at 8:52
  • 1
    Let me explain what I mean: a person from Britain (a native Briton, and solely a British-English speaker) passing that sign, in Greece, and looking at it: find it humorous, a humorously-incorrect word usage by a person who can't speak English and perhaps "used Google translate". It's a "google-translate-humour-moment". (Obviously, depending on their temperament, they may not find it "humorous" but if asked, would say "someone who can't speak English used google to translate that".) It's Just That Simple. So it's a sign in Greece, that's the full answer.
    – Fattie
    Sep 9, 2014 at 9:25
  • 1
    "As a default, every question on here is about "mainstream" English (so, largely BrE and AmE, if you will)" — I doubt you get to decide that the fastest growing dialect of English which is estimated to have more native speakers than BrE and AmE combined within decades is to be considered off-topic here, or not "mainstream" English.
    – oerkelens
    Sep 9, 2014 at 9:33

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