Q: Want to buy a cigarette on the economy in Italy? Smokers quickly learn to look for shops with the blue signs featuring a large ‘T.’ That obviously stands for tobacco. But the signs read “Sali Tabacchi.” And they don’t sell salt. What’s up with that?

A: Chalk it up to tradition.

The sale of salt and tobacco used to be heavily controlled by the government in Italy. Stores needed licenses to sell them. And those became their specialties.

Salt eventually became more common. With the introduction of electricity and the refrigerator, it was no longer needed to preserve food. So it became more of a luxury instead of necessity. Regulation eased. Shoppers can now purchase as much salt as they want — in a supermarket.

But for whatever reason, the signs over the tobacco shops never changed. The shops still maintain a stranglehold on tobacco sales — don’t look for cigarettes in a grocery store — and these days they’re also a prime spot to buy lottery tickets and tickets for public transportation. Using tobacco in recent years has become much more regulated in Italy. People can’t smoke in public buildings, bars and restaurants unless they have specially equipped rooms.

Though salt has made its way into the aisles of the grocery stores, other products have not. Pharmacies maintain a monopoly on most drugs and attempts to change that recently have met with heavy opposition.

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