June, National Candy Month, is described by the National Confectioners Association as “a time to celebrate the authentic, fun treats that candy companies have been producing for more than 100 years.” 

What many people may not know is that candy has been used for years as a means to help people quit smoking. 

Today, millions of Americans use flavors mimicking such sweet treats to remain smoke-free. Candy and candy flavors aren’t new to the efforts to help people stop smoking. A quick Google search provides links to many health groups recommending gum and candy to ward off the craving for a cigarette.

For example, while the PEZ Candy is commonly associated with plastic tubes and cartoon characters, the quirky candy has a history of helping people with smoking cessation. In fact, the maker of the candy, Austrian Eduard Haas III, invented PEZ candy in the 1920s as an alternative to smoking. This well-known treat has been sold in the United States since 1952.

Through the years, many, including health groups, have promoted the idea of replacing cigarettes with candy. In 1997, a tobacco company executive made the outlandish claim that cigarettes were no more addictive than  Gummy Bears.

The Health Partnership Project and the California Medical Association Foundation took advantage of that claim and started the  Bears for Butts program, which took place in California. A free bag of gummy bears, cessation counseling, and tips on avoiding secondhand smoke were given to anyone who turned in their cigarettes. 

A well-known pharmaceutical company uses fruit and candy flavors in its nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) products and at one time used the advertising slogan “success has never tasted so sweet.” NRTs are available in several options, including gum and lozenges.

In recent decades, new products have emerged that have essentially snuffed out smoking rates in the United States. E-cigarettes are 95 percent safer than smoking and have approximately twice the smoking cessation efficacy of NRT.

Coincidentally, flavored vapor products are preferred by adults, with the most popular flavors being fruits and sweets.  Adults who vaped flavored e-cigarettes were also more likely to quit smoking than those who didn’t.

Despite the misguided notion that “flavors hook kids,” the primary reason given by youth to experiment with vapor products is curiosity, followed by family or friends using them, and then flavors. Nonsmoking teens who had never tried e-cigarettes have the lowest interest in flavored vaping products. States like New Jersey have taken drastic measures to address youth-use issues and have banned the sale of all vapor products that are non-tobacco flavored. Meanwhile, adults in New Jersey love fruit and candy flavors, with one of the most popular candy brands in the state being  Starburst.

The line of public health blurs with candy, as a dentist invented the cotton candy (also known as fairy floss) machine in 1879. This treat has been enjoyed by people around the globe and many adults have taken to include the flavor in other consumer products,  including cotton candy-flavored vodka. Consumers even indulge in bacon-wrapped cotton candy, and cotton candy-flavored mac ‘n cheese.

Former U.S. senator George Murphy, R-Calif., kept candy in his desk to offer his colleagues, a tradition he started about 100 years after the birth of conversation hearts. Today, members of Congress take turns stocking what has become known as the  Candy Desk.

It is rather odd that lawmakers partake in the enjoyment of candy while attempting to ban the fruit and candy-flavored products that have helped thousands of their constituents stop smoking. Not only have these products contributed to improving public health but they’ve also generated tax dollars and provided voters with jobs. 

This National Candy Month, it’s time to recognize the role candy has played, and continues to play, in smoking cessation.