Archive for August 28th, 2011

Candy Cigarettes

I have never smoked in life, save one time in college when I smoked a menthol cigarette after breaking up with my girlfriend.    My parents both smoked, as did my two sisters, so it’s a bit surprising I never got the habit — it’s probably because I hung out with non-smokers in school.

One thing I did enjoy were candy cigarettes.  They came in two basic kinds.  The ones shown above were stiffer, thinner and a bit ‘crispy’, with flame “printed” at the end.   The others were smoother, thicker, and harder to bite.  I preferred the thinner ones.   I would buy stacks of candy cigarettes to enjoy, not really thinking or caring about the fact they looked like cigarettes.   And, of course, there were also the colorful bubble gum cigars:

Last year in South Dakota, and this Saturday in Old Orchard Beach, Maine I found my old favorites, along with candies like Zotz and the green box of Jaw Breakers.    Of course, my kids took an interest in the candy cigarettes, soon pretending to be smoking them.   I didn’t mind, figuring that both by my words and my behavior I’m doing everything I can to assure my kids don’t smoke.   The idea that having candy cigarettes will make them more likely to smoke seems a bit silly.

Saturday at another candy store (we hit candy stores this weekend) in Portland, ME, they again found candy cigarettes.  I heard a father berate his son for wanting to buy them, and then muttering something about how they should not be on display in a place where kids frequent.   To be sure, the word ‘cigarette’ is no where to be found, and they no longer use real brand names.

However in the stores we visited there were “death mints” (mints in a casket), and other kinds of candy that were based on violent or ghoulish themes (including poison).   It seems to me that most kids are smart enough to distinguish between a candy and real smoking.   Eating a candy labeled poison, for instance, does not make one more likely to go down a bottle of real poison.   In general I think adults under estimate the ability of kids to understand the difference between fantasy and reality, which is probably why I’m a lot less protective of ‘bad influences’ (e.g., gun toys, movies, etc.) than many of my peers.

Yet I see the counter argument.   Cigarettes have been embraced by our culture and we’re trying to turn that around.   The other day when I got pizza at a local market and saw a woman buy two cartons of cigarettes for $196.   Yikes, the vending machine at the pizza parlor I worked at back in the late 70s sold them for 65 cents a pack!   By making them more expensive the goal is clearly to stop people from smoking.   The woman at the market did not look like she could afford to pay that kind of money.   It’s a regressive tax, to be sure, but probably worth it.

The negative health affects associated with smoking are well documented, and while I don’t mind second hand smoke (I mean, I grew up with it!) it is better not to have smokers everywhere — and I appreciate that my kids are going to grow up in a culture more hostile to smoking — and that includes not having candy modeled after cigarettes as a common snack.

The university where I work is going tobacco free this year, something that will be very difficult for staff and students who until now had to go to designated areas outside for their smoke.    When I got here in 1995 professors were complaining about not being able to smoke in their offices, a new policy back then.   Now there has been a generational change and few if any professors smoke.   Staff and students are sometimes shivering in mid-winter outside to smoke; now they’ll have to go off campus completely.

Over all, I think this is good, and the cultural message shaped by these policies has been effective – people generally find smoking to be dirty and disgusting.   Last night I was watching one of my favorite old TV shows — I bought the DVD set of the old Banacek series from the early seventies (alas only 16 episodes were made).  Banacek (played by George Peppard) routinely smoked the little cigars popular at the time — sort of a cross between cigar and cigarette — the same kind my dad smoked.  One sees in that show the difference in how smoking was accepted (in restaurants, planes, etc.) and widespread.

My dad died at age 60 due to pancreas cancer, eight years before my oldest son was born.   The smoking culture took him early — he started at 17 because only smokers could take ‘smoking breaks’ where he worked, so to get a break he smoked — and got addicted.   For all the talk about personal responsibility, once the culture lures you into an addiction it is very difficult to break.   Overall, I’m glad the culture has changed thanks to public policy, taxes and even university policies.

This is an example of laws and policy being used for the public good.   Cigarette companies addicted people purposefully and then had life time customers for a product that led to early death, poor health, and increased costs to the public in terms of missed work and higher shared expenses.    I am glad we do not live in the Banacek era of ubiquitous cigarettes!    While I sympathize with those who now cannot smoke on campus, hopefully this will help push them away from an expensive and unhealthy habit.

I also think it’s good that candy cigarettes aren’t everywhere.   I am glad I can still find them in specialty shops, and I do think my kids can have them now and then without increasing the risk they’ll really smoke.    The culture now works against smoking, thanks in part to candy cigarettes having become rare!    Still, when I bit off a piece of one (as I just did), it brings back a bit of my childhood.    Now if I could only find “Pillsbury’s Space food sticks…”