“Nostalgia” Falls Short of Candy Cigarettes

Candy (cigarettes)

Candy (cigarettes) (Photo credit: pmsyyz)

As a child of the 70s, I have a certain sense of nostalgia for Bugs Bunny, Pop Rocks, Boo Berry cereal, and School House Rock (it’s how I learned the functions of my conjunctions). Every now and then, something from that era will spring back to life, as reruns on Boomerang or novelty items to appeal to this new generation—what are they, Z?

I’ve been fine with all of that, welcoming the reprieve from my kids’ rushed, high-tech, over-stimulating world.  It’s a chance for me to remind them/annoy them with tales of how it used to be. You know, back in the day before computers and hand-held gaming devices and 24-hour cable TV.  It was a more carefree time when the term “screen-time” didn’t exist because there was only one screen and we only watched that on weekends. For a limited time. Till our parents turned it off, kicked us outside and told us not to come back in till the sun went down.

Yawn.

So, recently we ventured down to the center of our quaint little town, for its annual late-winter festival. It was a Friday night and everyone crowded onto Main Street, which was closed to traffic. Ice carvings decorated the sidewalks, food vendors were scattered about, and Boy Scout troops had fires in trash bins for passersby to toast marshmallows. We, along with several dozen others, ducked into the new candy shop.  The front room was filled with wonderful chocolates of all shapes, sizes, and fillings. The back room was filled with kids gasping in awe. We made our way through the tight space and crowd to get back there to see what the fuss was about.

That back room felt like a penny candy store from my youth, though the penny candy now went for 25 cents. There were all sorts of lemon suckers and wax lips and jaw breakers and licorice strings. It was heaven. Till I looked at a display on the side wall. It was an entire area dedicated to all things… tobacco. Seriously?

Candy cigarettes. Tons of candy cigarettes. Different flavors. With the tips painted red. In all sorts of flip-top boxes designed to look like good-ol’ Marlboro packages. And if that weren’t enough, there were candy cigars and pipes and chewing (gum) tobacco.

My nostalgia for things from my youth most definitely stops short of these items. Aren’t we trying to keep smoking from seeming “cool” and “fun”? Today, Kathleen Sebelius writes about the Surgeon General’s newly released report on tobacco use among adults and youth; it brought this candy shop incident to the top of my mind again.

I’ve tried my best to provide my kids with age-appropriate information about the dangers of smoking: its addictive nature,  its being the number one cause of heart disease–and the cause of their grandmother’s heart attack. I thought my efforts were working. But boy did they want the candy cigarettes, ’cause they thought they were “cool.”

Statistics provided by the National Survey on Drug Use and Health show that cigarettes are a gateway drug—teens who smoke cigarettes are five times more likely to drink, 13 times more likely to abuse marijuana, and seven times more likely to abuse hard drugs like cocaine and heroin than their peers who don’t smoke.

Well, I think candy cigarettes are a child’s “gateway” to real cigarettes.

Sometimes retro isn’t cool.