Chewing bubblegum, eating a chocolate bar, and sucking on a lollipop are among the many innocent joys of childhood. But if you found one of these controversial sweets in your kid's trick-or-treat bag, it might leave a sour taste in your mouth.
1. Candy Cigarettes
Candy cigarettes and their tobacco big brothers have a shared history in the United States. Just as real cigarettes became commonplace in the early 20th century, candy cigarettes, also called “candy sticks,” were introduced to the market—first as chalky, hard candy, and later as bubblegum. Both the real deal and the confectionery version also hit a peak in popularity during the 1950s and '60s, and have seen a steady decline in sales ever since. During this time, there was never any illusion of the candy's intentions, as many boxes mimicked the design of the real packs, used parody names like Marboro and Lucky Spike, and some even had red-dyed tips to make them look like they were lit. But with brands promoted by everyone from Popeye to Superman to Mr. Spock, there's no question they were marketed for children.
As the real dangers of smoking became apparent, the influence candy cigarettes could have on kids became a point of concern. But do candy sticks lead to cancer sticks?
As it turns out, yeah, they might. A 2007 study conducted by the University of Rochester showed that, of nearly 26,000 adults surveyed, 22 percent of smokers said they had regularly played with candy cigarettes as kids, but only 14 percent of non-smokers had. Knowing this, maybe the many attempts to ban candy smokes in the U.S. over the years haven't been misguided.
Candy sticks were actually banned at one time, but only briefly, in North Dakota from 1953 to 1967. This might come as a surprise to those of you who thought they were banned right now. The Food and Drug Administration's 2009 Family Smoking and Prevention Control Act was misinterpreted by many media outlets who then erroneously reported that the act included a ban on candy cigarettes. In fact, the ban really just affected tobacco cigarettes that had candy (or fruit) flavorings.
But just because they're legal, doesn't mean you're going to find them on too many store shelves. Most retailers don't want to deal with the backlash from the public, so they don't bother carrying them. However, if you still want to get your faux fix, a quick Google search brings up plenty of online retailers with a variety of brands and flavors still available today.
2. Chronic Candy
If parents were up in arms over candy that looks like cigarettes, imagine how upset they were over candy that tastes like marijuana.
Available since the mid-'90s, brands like Chronic Candy and Hemp Candy are made using perfectly legal hemp oil, which gives the dark green lollipops their distinct flavor but doesn't get you high. Parents, police, church leaders, and even a specialized group, The Coalition Against Chronic Candy, have been working toward the elimination of these controversial suckers by political means and by educating merchants on the impact of carrying the sweets.
They say the candy is not only sending the message that marijuana is acceptable, but that kids who acquire a taste for weed by sucking the lollipops could be predisposed to trying the real thing later in life. Their efforts have not been helped by the fact that Chronic Candy and other brands have had popular celebrity endorsers like Paris Hilton, Cheech Marin, and Snoop Dogg promoting their products.
3. Big League Chew
Since its introduction in 1980, Big League Chew has been a constant on both Little League fields and parental hit lists. This shredded bubble gum, designed and packaged to look like the same tobacco Major Leaguers chew, was the brainchild of two ballplayers, Rob Nelson and Jim Bouton, who remembered packing their cheeks with bubblegum as kids to mimic their favorite players' plugs. Over the years, parents have tried to get the gum banned because they worry it could lead to the real deal. And, according to some researchers, like Harvard's Gregory Connolly, a public health professor, they may not be too far off base.
“With Big League Chew, you get all the sensory cues with using chewing tobacco," Connolly said in 2010. To him, “the natural next step” is to replace sugar with the much more addictive drug, nicotine. But all the complaints and professional opinions haven't stopped kids from buying the gum. According to the company, more than 800 million pouches of the shredded novelty have been sold since its debut.
4. Sloche Gummy Spiders
Sloche was a brand of Canadian candy known for its provocative packaging that was sold by the Couche-Tard convenience store chain. For example, a bag of gummy frogs featured an illustration of a Biology class dissection, complete with pins holding down the amphibian's legs. And Sloche's cotton candy, called “Hair Balls,” was sold in a tub with a sickly cat on the front. But to Laurraine LeBlanc, the gummy spider packaging went a bit too far. The bag showed a picture of a snarling Black man with a big gold tooth, gold earrings, and a black spider on his head, with the legs dangling in his face like dreadlocks. LeBlanc felt the image perpetuated the stereotype that Black men were all violent gang members—and The Quebec Human Rights Commission agreed, ruling against the company, who insisted the packaging was just for fun.
In the end, Couche-Tard pulled the offending candy from shelves, and donated $18,000 to Youth In Motion, a Canadian group that mentors young people. And for her efforts in the fight against racism, LeBlanc was awarded a 2006 Anne-Greenup Prize by the Immigration and Cultural Communities Minister of Quebec.
5. Road Kill Gummies
In the summer of 2004, Trolli, then a division of Kraft Foods, introduced their new gummy candies called Road Kill. The brightly colored, fruit-flavored pieces of rubbery gelatin were in the shape of animals like squirrels, chickens, and snakes that had been flattened by a car, complete with tire tracks down their backs. In early 2005, the New Jersey Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals had issued a complaint that the candy encouraged kids to be cruel to animals. The group had planned to start a letter-writing campaign, petition drives, and call for a general boycott of Kraft if it didn't take the offensive candy off the market, but the company complied with barely a second thought.
Kraft, which was deep in negotiations with Wrigley to buy out the Trolli candy division, really didn't need a controversy to mess things up. So the company quickly pulled the cartoonish dead animals from the shelves and issued an apology. Wrigley bought Trolli and other confectionery brands from Kraft in June of that year for $1.46 billion.
6. Maoam Candy
Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar. And sometimes a lime-colored bean licking a pair of smiling cherries is just ... well, we're not quite sure what that is. Neither did the UK's Simon Simpkins, who raised quite a ruckus when he found packages of Maoam candies at his local sweet shop with the bizarre, offending images. The illustrations featured a character called “Maoam Man” who is, in the words of Simpkins, “locked in what appears to be a carnal encounter” with fruits such as lemons, cherries, strawberries, and oranges, with “a particularly lurid expression on his face.” Despite his complaints, Haribo, the candymaker, declined to change the packaging, because Maoam Man was “very popular with fans, both young and old.” It seems a safe bet he was pretty popular with lemons, cherries, strawberries, and oranges, too.
7. Eskimos Candy
To many Inuit people of Canada, being called an “Eskimo” is very offensive. So imagine her surprise when, in 2009, Inuit Seeka Lee Veevee Parsons was vacationing in New Zealand and saw a package of Pascall's Eskimo Candies in just about every store she entered. The popular marshmallow treats are shaped like people dressed in stereotypical fur-lined hoods, which Canterbury University's Dr. Nicole Gombay, who studies Inuit culture, compares to “putting an African in a mud hut with a grass skirt and a bone in his hand.”
When the complaint first made headlines, the company said it had no intention of changing the name or the shape of its popular candy. But that was back in 2009; in 2021, it was announced that the Eskimo candy would be renamed and redesigned as Pascall Explorers.
This article originally ran in 2010; it has been updated for 2021.