© 2024
Prairie Public NewsRoom
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Candy Cigarettes


“Light me up!” On this date in 1953 no longer could kids in North Dakota expect to buy a pack of cigarettes—candy cigarettes that is.

Senate Bill 153 , prohibiting the sale of any candy or confectionary which was designed to imitate packages of cigarettes or other tobacco items, was signed into law. The bill was introduced by Senator E. C. Stucke, a retired physician who was a state legislator from Garrison.

Jack Hagerty, working for the United Press in Bismarck, had been ordered to look for any offbeat legislative item by the UP headquarters in New York and he stumbled across the candy cigarette issue that had been all but ignored by the rest of the press. The New York editors were intrigued by Jack’s story, which made it onto many front pages all around the country, and they requested additional information. At this point the Associated Press also picked up the story and the North Dakota Legislature became a point of national ridicule. Such a furor was created that the candy cigarette issue overshadowed almost all legislation from the 1953 Session. At one point some senators rose and demanded that the Bismarck Tribune apologize for the scathing criticism.

Looking back on it twenty-five years later in his “That Reminds Me” column written for the Grand Forks Herald, Jack wrote, “If the measure had not attracted so much attention, it is quite possible it would have been allowed to die quietly.” But the legislators weren’t going to kill the bill because of the ridicule so the bill making it unlawful to sell, exchange, transport, possess, display or offer for sale candy cigarettes made it through the session with only minor changes. This bill had a substantial penalty including a fine of not more than one thousand dollars and up to ninety days in jail.

In the mid 1950's Jack Hagerty joined the Grand Forks Herald, later becoming senior editor. As to his part in breaking the candy cigarette story, he stated that he disagreed with the charge that “the media not only decides what is news, that they help make it”. He did concede that the way the media reacts to some events has a major effect on how the public perceives it.

What effect the candy cigarette law had is difficult to say. The 1950's saw the rise of James Dean, Elvis and other teen idols. Black leather jackets were in and so was the word “cool” and most of the “cool kids” smoked. Many kids tried the real thing behind the barn or in the back alley and ragweed, pipestem and other plants were poor substitutes for candy cigarettes.

The candy cigarette law remained on the books until 1967 when a revision of Chapter 19 of the Century Code omitted this section of the code and no effort was made to revive it. Modern legislative sessions have dealt with the elimination of tobacco products and, it is interesting to note, that the children of the ‘50's, now grandparents, in carrying on a tradition, often pass out candy cigars to announce the birth of a grandchild in place of the real ones. Although candy cigars were never part of the candy cigarette bill, they are now preferable so that their friends don’t say, “Light me up!”

By Jim Davis


Grand Forks Herald February 18, 1978

Laws of North Dakota, 1953 Page 213

Laws of North Dakota 1967 Page 351