Candy cig bust in St. Paul

PAUL WALSH | Updated 12/26/2012

Lynden's Soda Fountain in St. Paul received a warning last week for selling candy cigarettes.

Co-owner Tobi Lynden displays some candy cigarettes.
Jeff Wheeler

A back-in-the-day soda fountain in St. Paul has been busted for selling cigarettes -- made of candy.

Lynden's, on Hamline Avenue near Cretin-Derham Hall High School, said a city inspections official came in last week and gave the shop a warning and added that a misdemeanor citation -- with a $500 fine -- would be next if the cancer-free confectionery continues to be sold.

"We got busted [Dec. 19] by the City of St. Paul. Oops," the shop tweeted.

Candy cigarettes, bubble gum cigars and bubblegum made to look like chewing tobacco have been among a host of vintage sugary treats that Lynden's has kept in stock since it opened in April.

"We had no idea," Tobi Lynden said Wednesday, lamenting that she can no longer sell the white candy sticks with the red tips, her best-selling candy item. "We don't want to get on the bad side of St. Paul."

Lynden said nearly all of the candy cigarette purchases were made by adults.

" 'Oh, I had these when I was little,' " she said she would often hear. "We weren't trying to promote smoking or tobacco use of any kind."

And just what would prompt a bureaucrat to ferret out such nefarious activity?

"Somebody from Bloomington called and reported us," Lynden said. "The whole thing is pretty weird."

Robert Humphrey, spokesman or the city's Safety and Inspections Department, said the complaint came to his agency on Dec. 13. An inspector visited Lynden's on Dec. 19 and had the verboten products immediately removed from the sales floor.

In April 2009, a unanimous City Council outlawed candy smokes and cartoon character lighters. The council cited a study showing that these products encouraged youngsters to take up smoking tobacco.

Lynden’s Facebook page has collected dozens of comments decrying the enforcement action and the rationale behind it.

“I just got through a bag of gummy bears,” one person wrote. “ Now I can’t stop thinking about where to find a REAL bear to eat!”

Several countries prohibit the sale of candy cigarettes, including Australia, Canada and Thailand. In the United States, some national retailers have agreed not to sell them. Maine and Tennessee and several local jurisdictions in other states have banned the sale of novelty lighters.

The ordinance was championed by a group of St. Paul teenagers working with the Association for Nonsmokers-Minnesota, which educates youth groups and individuals who want to lobby for anti-tobacco policies.

Humphrey said he gets a complaint "about once a year" concerning the sale of candy cigarettes and other sugary tobacco-themed products in his city.

"We enforce this on a complaint basis," Humphrey said." This isn't taking time away from any major enforcement [actions]."