I remember the candy cigarettes most fondly, not because they tasted better, but because they were grown-up. Sticks of white sugar rested neatly in packaging that could have passed for the real thing. I could hold a candy cigarette between my fingers and perch on the curb—my too-long legs in front of me—and the driver in the passing car would open his eyes wide; I was seven going on seventeen.
It wasn’t long before candy cigarettes vanished from the aisles, sent off to the same warehouse where the toy-guns-that-looked-too-real went. They were too obvious a sign of our parents’ addictions, too easy a target for their guilt. And yet I’ve barely smoked a day in my life. Maybe practicing with candy eliminated the novelty; maybe all I ever really wanted was the sugar. I never held a candy cigarette long before eating it, and then it tasted like anything else: like candy hearts, or fun dip, or pixy stix. The packaging couldn’t change that—only my attention could.
And soon enough, that wavered; soon enough, I was seventeen, and it wasn’t as glamorous as I thought. I never long for real cigarettes, but I do sometimes pine for the candy ones—for the long days with nothing to do, and no one to be. For the illusion of vice without the consequences of it. I suppose that’s what it really means to be grown up. If only I had known.
Mandy Brown is a Creative Director at W. W. Norton & Company. She writes about books and the reading experience at A Working Library.