The acceptance of smoking has deteriorated greatly in the last few decades, but one thing hasn’t changed: Popeye is still selling his famous candy cigarettes to kids.
They might be called candy sticks now, and may look a little different without the red dye at the end to simulate a flame, but children know exactly what to do with them, and so did my nine-year-old daughter when she bought them at the corner store recently.
“Hi Mom!” she said puffing away on her pretend cigarette when she arrived home with her friend. “Don’t we look cool smoking our smokes?” Um, no. Cool wasn’t quite the word that came to mind.
Normally repulsed by cigarettes, Daisy was excited to play-act with her new prop, and I couldn’t help but wonder why these candies are still being sold. With all the steps that have been set in place to de-normalize this dangerous habit over the years, wouldn’t it make sense to get rid of something that could strongly influence our impressionable young children?
Available in the same red pack that I remember from childhood with the iconic cigar-smoking sailor on the front, the intent of the product isn’t exactly subtle. Who is still manufacturing these things and why?
“It doesn’t matter,” one of my friends said when I started asking people what they thought. “If you’re a good parent and you teach your kids not to smoke they won’t.”
Well, if that were true, that would imply outside influences and marketing have no factor in a child’s decision making. It would also suggest that all kids who decide to smoke have parents who neglected to teach them not to. Neither of these implications are true.
While laws and regulations have made things significantly more difficult over the years for smokers to get their fix, the continued existence of candy cigarettes helps to promote smoking as something it no longer is: a socially acceptable activity.
“Oh, give me a break,” my friend argued. “They would just use straws or pens or something else if they couldn’t buy these. We can’t ban everything.”
No, of course we can’t. But since almost all smokers pick up the highly addictive habit in their early teens, shouldn’t we eliminate anything directly marketed to youngsters that suggests tobacco is cool?
Allowing the sale of candy cigarettes or sticks or whatever the confectionary companies choose to call them is akin to selling little candy vodka bottles or candy heroin needles, neither of which I’ve ever seen sold.
A hundred years ago it wasn’t known that cigarettes were such a killer, so naturally these candy knock-offs seemed harmless way back when. Now that we know what we do, it’s become obvious that they’re far more dangerous than they appear.
Popeye is a great cartoon and a super strong dude, but I’d much rather see him using his marketing influence to promote spinach and help snuff out those nasty cigarettes for good.
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