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Candy cigarettes are snuffed out

By Staff | Sep 25, 2009

In case you hadn’t heard, this past week a new federal law banning candy cigarettes went into effect.

Some people might not have even realized that candy cigarettes were still available. But until recently, they were right there on the shelves next to the Milk Duds and Skittles. Hard to believe that in our politically correct society, we were still allowing children to “light up” a candy cigarette.

Maybe you recall seeing them. They were sold in a little cardboard box about the same size, shape and look of a real pack of cigarettes. They were made of chalky sugar and resembled a real cigarette right down to tips that were dyed in red to make it look like they were lit. I remember as a kid buying a pack of candy cigarettes and “lighting up” with my friends. It was the height of sophistication and coolness, or so I thought. I guess it was more about the thrill of emulating something that adults did more than the actual act of smoking. It was exciting, even daring to be dabbling in such an “adult” habit.

I also recall having bubblegum cigarettes that were wrapped in paper that really did resemble an actual cigarette. There was even a plume of white powder that puffed out of the end on the first puff. I’d peel off the paper to get to the gum which was quite tasty.

It’s downright shocking that it took this long for people to say “what were we thinking?”. What in the world were we doing allowing candy makers to manufacture, market and sell cigarettes to children? I guess the same holds true on candy cigarettes as it does for other questionable products – if there’s someone out there buying it, they’ll keep making it.

Candy cigarettes and their place on the market has long been controversial because many critics believe the candy desensitizes children, leading them to become smokers of the real thing later in life. But is wasn’t until some pretty intense lobbying by tobacco opponents that the candy was finally officially banned by federal law just this week.

The selling of candy cigarettes has been banned in several countries such as Finland, Norway, Ireland, Turkey and Saudi Arabia for quite some time. I can’t help but wonder, “What took us so long here in the United States?”.

Apparently a ban had been considered here in the U.S in 1970 and in 1991 but was defeated. Interestingly in researching candy cigarettes on the Internet, namely the Wikipedia website, I found that the state of North Dakota enacted a ban on candy cigarettes in 1953 until it was repealed in 1967. I wonder why this didn’t stick?

I realize that tobacco-free advocates say candy cigarettes make kids want to smoke real cigarettes and that may be true for kids who are easily influenced. But I remember “smoking” the candy as a kid and I had no desire to smoke real cigarettes later in life.

I guess I recall a very vigorous anti-smoking campaign in the schools when I was a kid. Apparently that was the before the days of the anti-drug, anti-violence, anti-alcohol campaigns that bombard kids these days. Back then, we only had to worry smoking as the most destructive behavior kids dabbled in. Nowadays, it gets lost behind the arguably more pressing issues such as drugs, violence, alcohol abuse.

Not that the anti-smoking message wasn’t always out there for kids to hear, it unfortunately just took a backseat to these other more scary issues.

Now we would likely do a double take if we saw a young child walking down the street with a cigarette hanging out of his mouth, even if it was just the candy version.

I suppose anyone could argue that regulation has gone wild and what’s next a ban on toy guns because they promote violence? While it’s true that we cannot shield our children from everything, it all comes down to the parents.

If people stop buying it, store wouldn’t sell it, and the manufacturers wouldn’t make it. It’s not about regulation, it’s about common sense.

Mullally is a Tribune writer.

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