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…”

  1. #1 by Alan Scott on August 29, 2011 - 00:28


    You must be about my age . I also grew up with candy cigarettes and do not smoke except for a cigar now and then I have every reason to hate cigarette smokers. For years I did sample work in a small trailer that doubled as my work station and the shop lunch room . Which meant when I had samples cooking on my test machine, I worked in a thick cloud of cigarette smoke . I even once burned my bare foot on a discarded cigarette at a water park. Yet from a libertarian point of view I do not feel that smokers should be singled out for bad treatment or have their vice taxed to support their fellow citizens .

    If I was a smoker I would go out of my way to cheat the tax man, just on principle. If I had to grow my own tobacco I would .

    The big government tax lovers have a method to their madness. They divide and conquer their subjects . First they demonize a group to make it acceptable to over tax them and make it difficult for them to fight back . The rich are the most well known group, but they fight back . Smokers are ashamed of themselves, and do not . Groups that vigorously fight back have more success, Beer drinkers come to mind .

    • #2 by Scott Erb on August 29, 2011 - 03:23

      I’m sympathetic to what you say and frankly think that if people want to grow their own tobacco, they should. The regressive nature of these taxes (and gas taxes) bothers me, though as a parent I like seeing the power of big tobacco money weakened. This is where I part with libertarians. In this case big tobacco does have the power to manipulate people through marketing and get them addicted to a harmful substance. They did target children and teens. But it’s not an easy call for me. Limits on advertising and anti-smoking campaigns are easier to swallow than regressive taxes. Moreover, this country is getting fat. That is probably far more dangerous to the health and even wealth of this country than smoking. And the methods used to market unhealthy foods are not much different than those of cigarettes. I still say that while libertarians are right to distrust big government, they overlook the power of big corporate money. Big corporations are not that much different than big government. Concentrated power in the ‘private sector’ operates a lot like concentrated power in the ‘public’ sector. I think people on both the left and right often miss that point.

  2. #3 by Lee on August 29, 2011 - 11:13

    I have seen those candy cigarettes at OOB too and remember pretending to smoke them when I was a child. I do not know how I feel about them–I am not a smoker now and haven’t been for so many yrs that my kids would not believe I ever had smoked. But there is a component of something being subtley okay and modeled as such in our children’s play that kind of worries me. OTOH my kids would rather consume other types of sweets and I have never had to say yes or know to that particular treat. My boss still refuses to abide by the no smoking in the building policy and smokes in his office. Sigh.

  3. #4 by Alan Scott on August 30, 2011 - 00:03

    You may find it funny that I say this, but certain groups have allowed themselves to be pushed around . I bring up smokers because they are the most attacked group outside of child molesters that I can think of . Society used to deny rights to groups it wanted to attack . Now they tax the target groups .

    You guys are afraid of the power of big business. Their advertising . I don’t care. I’m a big boy, I don’t want the government to protect me from big bad tobacco . I want the government to protect me from real stuff, like terrorism and violent crime. Maybe keep me from getting food poisoning. I want them spending their scarce resources arresting the criminal who used my kid’s credit card illegally .

    Big government is much scarier than big corporations . Like shutting down little girls lemonade stands. These are people with entirely too much time on their hands .

    I greatly fear what Sam Francis called ” anarcho-tyranny “. ” we refuse to control real criminals ( that’s the anarchy )so we control the innocent ( that’s the tyranny ). ” I stole this from National Review .

    In America we still are in much better shape than the rest of the western English speaking world. In Canada, Australia, and England they have hate speech laws that criminalize any speech that might offend a minority . I could give you a few horror stories that this has played out as, but I leave you with a bit of levity . In England the Knighted head of the Muslim Council of Britain made disparaging remarks against homosexuality and thus had to be investigated by Scotland Yard for hate crimes and homophobia . Then GALHA ,a gay and lesbian group made offensive remarks directed against Islam and was investigated by Scotland Yard for Islamophobia.

    No I do not want my country to go the way of the rest of the western world. I will take big business over big government anytime .

  4. #5 by Scott Erb on August 30, 2011 - 00:17

    I’m not afraid of the power of big business. I observe it and recognize the ability of big business to manipulate. I’m not so concerned about myself because I see through their efforts and have educated myself about how the system works. A lot of hard working folk have been duped into believing myths. Big government and big corporations are each concentrations of power. Big government in a democracy can be held somewhat accountable, but both are scary in their own way. That said, I don’t want to shut down lemonade stands for limit speech that might offend a minority. I’m what is usually referred to in political science as a left libertarian — I believe that human liberty is denied by both big government and big money. Both have concentrations of power that give them the capacity to exploit and limit the liberty of others, and both work together whenever they can, regardless of the ideology they show the outside world. The same folk who gave to Obama’s campaign in 2008 gave to the GOP in 2010. Big money has no real partisanship, they’ll simply try to co-opt whoever is in power. Read *Griftopia* by Matt Taibbi or for a less, um, dramatic approach, *All the Devils are Here* by McLean and Nocera. Don’t be blinded by ideology, big corporate interests have more power than you realize. Don’t fall for the talk radio one liners or ideological dogma from either side — concentrated power is always dangerous, whether it’s in the form of a government or a huge corporate actor.

  5. #6 by Frank Magistro on June 1, 2015 - 01:11

    I agree with most of what you say. The problem I have is that the Fed Govt is continually raising taxes on cigarettes while still providing subsidies to the tobacco companies. If they would stop the subsidies, the tobacco companies would eventually have to cut back here. They make huge sales overseas because most countries are not anti-smoking. So they are always going to make money.

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