That golden age would not last. The 1960s marked a turning point for the tobacco industry. In 1964 the surgeon general issued a bombshell report that made the case against cigarettes and eventually led to warning labels on cigarette packs, advertising bans, and, in time, skepticism about the role candy companies played in the kiddie-to-adult smoker pipeline.
North Dakota had already passed the nation's first statewide candy cigarette ban by this point, but it was repealed just as the idea was taking hold in other parts of the country. In 1970, Pennsylvania Rep. Fred B. Rooney called for a ban in the unsuccessful "Candy Cigarette Act." In 1971, a bill was proposed in New York State to prohibit the sale of candies that approximated pipes, cigarettes, or cigars. The New York State Association of Tobacco and Candy Distributors, a group comprised of companies supplying the nation's corner stores with sweets and smokes, led the charge against it, arguing that even the precious Tootsie Roll could be banned if this bill were to become law. The bill failed. (Those repellant Tootsie Rolls, sadly, are still with us.)
At least 11 other states and a number of cities considered bans in the next few decades, only to be knocked back by lobbyists working for the confectionery and tobacco industries. At the time, groups like the Tobacco and Candy Political Action Committee had a strategy for getting it done. First, they'd ridicule the very idea of the ban and question why politicians weren't spending their time on more worthy causes. Then they’d work to expand the language so that the bill covered far more than candy cigarettes, ensuring its eventual failure. Other times, they’d play dumb. When the Connecticut consumer protection commissioner criticized candy cigarettes in 1993, a lawyer for World Candies acted offended and insisted that the company would fight any attempt to ban its "fun healthy food" simply because it was "alleged to resemble tobacco products."
In the '80s, tobacco companies finally wised up and began demanding that candy companies stop using their brand names. But this was a dispute between friends, a way to placate the politicians who had found a new boogeyman lurking in the candy aisle. Lawsuits were rarely filed and confectioners were routinely granted the right to use up their inventories of trademark-offending packaging.
Still, the tobacco industry acknowledging even the potential impropriety of candy cigarettes marked a turning point, and California Rep. Henry Waxman sought to harness that momentum by including a ban on the candies in his 1991 tobacco control bill. In an editorial shaming of the proposed ban the New York Times ridiculed Waxman for wasting time on the effort. "The sponsors argued that even look-alikes glamorize smoking and encourage children to develop a real tobacco habit -- though there's scant evidence to support that linkage," the op-ed said. Waxman's entire bill, candy cigarette ban included, failed to make it out of committee.
The Times was on shaky footing. A study released in 1990 found that sixth-graders who ate candy cigarettes were twice as likely to have also tried the genuine article. But that study was quickly eclipsed by another one, commissioned by World Candies and NECCO, that came out the following year. Despite finding that 5.3% of smokers thought candy cigarettes contributed to their habit as adults, researchers from Hofstra University said the candies played little role in turning adolescents into smokers. It was later revealed that the two candy companies made significant changes to the first draft of the study, reducing it from 76 to 31 pages and morphing it into something they could use to fight off potential bans. The Hofstra study remains one of the key pieces of evidence candy companies present to lawmakers when they're considering legislation against their products.
In the subsequent decades, new studies have put to bed the question of whether candy cigarettes contribute to real smoking. The most significant came in 2007, when research published in Preventative Medicine found that 22% of current or former smokers regularly pretended to puff on candy cigarettes, while only 14% of non-smokers did.
By then, however, candy cigarettes were waning in popularity. The industry was able to fight off bans in the '70s and '80s and keep Congress at bay throughout the '90s, but it couldn't do anything about the stigmatization of smoking. Ultimately, that’' what drove down the candy's popularity, leading to moves like Walmart's decision to stop stocking them in 2003, which was a part of a larger plan to keep tobacco out of the hands of minors. Now, you have to go online or to a specialty candy shop to buy candy cigarettes.
Hell, even cigarette companies have come out against candy cigarettes. David Howard, spokesman for R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company, told me candy cigarettes "might" suggest that smoking is not dangerous and are therefore "not appropriate."