Law banning candy tobacco goes too far

Confectionery alternatives to smoking victims of overzealous politicians.

crystal lindell
Crystal Lindell

I have a confession to make. I once was a smoker — of candy cigarettes.

While I’ve never actually lit up a square, I spent my youth puffing away whole packs of chalk-candy cigarettes (sometime two packs) in as little as an afternoon. I’m happy to report that this habit did not lead to a real tobacco addiction.

Although the people in St. Paul, Minn. seem to think you can’t be too careful about these things.

The city’s 2009 ordinance — which makes it illegal to sell candy cigarettes, bubble gum cigars and Big League Chew within city limits — has been under the national spotlight lately.

The surge of attention came after St. Paul-based Lynden’s Soda Fountain was forced to take all if its tobacco-related candy off its shelves after being reported to the St. Paul Department of Safety Inspection by a customer.

Lucky for the store’s owners, husband and wife John and Tobi Lyndon, what they lost out on in sales of the products, they made up for in national media attention. One of the store’s customers told a local radio station about the incident, which led to a local newspaper doing a story about it. That story was then picked up by the Associated Press, which lead to ABC and CBS news reporting the incident, among others.

“It’s great. Even bad news can be good news. It gave us a lot of exposure,” John Lynden says.

While this story has a semi-happy ending for the Lyndens, it’s still a tragedy for the candy companies that make the products. Especially considering the fact that some of very candies banned in the city are meant to serve as an alternative to their real-tobacco counterparts.

For example, Big League Chew was invented by Portland Mavericks left-handed pitcher Rob Nelson, who wanted to create an alternative to the chewing tobacco ball players were using.

And, Lynden says many customers bought his bubble cigars for new parents who don’t smoke.

The thing is, I’m sure that the people in St. Paul who decided to ban all candy that looks like anything that might include tobacco had good intentions. That road always seems well-paved.

I get that smoking is bad for everyone involved and that concerned citizens are just trying to do the best they can to discourage every single child from ever thinking about picking up a cigarette. But laws that ban candy cigarettes only serve to make governing bodies look foolish and overreaching.

I’m sorry to report that kids are more complex than that. And, in fact, the decision to light up is usually tied more to peer pressure than a pack of candy they bought as a kid.

After all, if all it took to curb smoking was bans on look-alike products, governments would ban Kiddie Cocktails to curb underage drinking and Nerf guns to discourage gun use.

Alas, these issues are more complicated than that. Excuse me now while I go outside to consume some Big League Chew!

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