Nothing said tough like a candy cigarette. Now known as a candy stick—more politically correct and cognizant of concerned parents—this chalky treat with a highlighted red tip fit nicely between two fingers. Puff and take a drag. Read the packet: Sugar. Corn syrup. Corn starch. Tapioca. Gelatin. Artificial flavors.
Photo by nick porcella
Sold in faux cigarette boxes with faux cigarette company names like Kings, and Victory, and Lucky. There should be a Surgeon General’s warning: Candy Cigarettes Don’t Cause Lung Cancer, Heart Disease, Emphysema, or Complicate Pregnancy, But They May Put You on the Road to Diabetes.
My mother loved these as a child. She would drag from them to scare her mother. Little Annie puffing like a chain smoker. Chain candy addiction. Candy cigs.
Some years later, at the pier near a never-ending carnival, my father watched her smoke and chew the candy cigs, smoke and chew. Playing old-timey games of pinball and skeeball, only cheating occasionally. But only badasses cheat at skeeball, only badasses pilfer the ivory-esque balls to place them through high score slots. And only badasses smoke and chew candy cigarettes at the pier near a never-ending carnival.
I didn’t get it. Middle-aged mom mentioned to me the allure of la cigarette de bonbons. The feeling of breaking a rule but not really doing so. Putting that faux box (thinner cardboard than the real things) under a shirtsleeve to feel cool, legitimized.
photo by nick porcella
But these candy cigs weren’t for me. They tasted like NECCO Wafers without the color. Disgusting. White sticks with a dollop of faux fire at the end. Tasted like teacher’s chalk licked off the chalkboard, born from writing the phrase I WILL NEVER SMOKE CIGARETTES over and over and over as a punishment for being caught taking a puff out behind the schoolyard with Big Ralph and the other junior varsity hotshots.
1930s American invention. Scotch tape and the ballpoint pen first made then, along with our friend the chalky-sweet cig. Over decades, cigs desensitized. And candy sticks fail as rich symbol of rebellion. Violence begets silence. Red tip disappears later, gets diluted by whiteness. Candy cigs slowly losing grip. Addiction affliction prescription. 1930s generation dead. Mom’s generation dying and getting diabetes. My generation moving onto Snickers and Reese’s and M&Ms, bigger and better things.
Candy cigs? They ain’t sweet enough. Take a piece of chalk, grind it, smash it, mortar-and-pestle it, then add a single granule of sugar. Compress it back together and voilà. Harder to find. Disappearing. A representation of the times, choking like cigarettes—real ones, the faux candy cigs—which create smoke-filled lungs. Certainly not better than tapioca’d tongues.
Nick Porcella studies English at Clark University, Worcester, Massachusetts, and intends to teach high school. His interests include Herman Melville, rap music, photography, and writing. He is completing a memoir, “Getting to Say Goodbye.” See more of his work here.