Fags were candy cigarettes, produced since the 1930s, initially by Riviera Confectionery and later by Fyna Foods. They were white, musk-flavoured lollies with a pink tip, sold in a pack that resembled a cigarette pack. As anti-smoking campaigns ramped up around Australia there was increasing pressure to remove their association with a life-threatening habit. Victoria was among the last states to abandon the name Fags.
When we (as in we, the baby boomers) were growing up, smoking was cool. It was fun to have a candy Fag drooping from your lip, or to take fake puffs as you pretended to be a famous film star. Smoking was a normal part of life. In the 1950s somewhere around two thirds of men smoked. Around a quarter of women also smoked, the number climbing to a peak of 35 per cent in 1983. Cigarettes were even advertised on television until 1976 and smoking bans in workplaces and public places didn’t begin until the mid-1980s. So what harm could there be in letting us kids have a bit of harmless fund with our Fags? Quite a lot, as it turns out. Studies have shown that children who eat candy cigarettes are more likely to become smokers as adults.
Nevertheless, when Fags changed their name in Victoria in 1995, it was claimed to be another instance of political correctness. The Fyna Foods managing director was quoted as saying the fake smokes were “just a fun confectionery” and thought the need for a new name was “bureaucracy gone mad”. With the change, the red tip on the “cigarettes” disappeared, but the packaging remained virtually identical.
Candy and bubble gum cigarettes are still available in other countries, including in the USA and Europe. It’s thought that the tobacco companies, far from protecting their brands, even encourage the candy companies to emulate their packaging. They’re educating future consumers, after all.