The sale of look-a-like lolly cigarettes, whose consumption by children is linked to becoming a smoker, has been condemned by Associate Health Minister Tariana Turia.
Lucky Lights bubblegum, Victory candy and other American brands of mock cigarettes are on sale in New Zealand, alongside the local Spaceman candy sticks - all quite legally.
The American brands are in packets that bear similarities to real cigarette packets and the bubblegum stick's wrapping makes it look like a cigarette with a filter.
The candy sticks all look a bit like a hand-rolled cigarette. The products cost around $1.70 to $1.80.
Auckland University tobacco control researcher Dr Natalie Walker said yesterday that she was appalled when her 11-year-old son found the American products in Auckland sweet shop chain The Candyman.
She thought they had been banned and reported them to the Auckland Regional Public Health Service.
Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) director Ben Youdan also thought they had been banned but found on checking with the Health Ministry that they remained legal.
He urged the Government to make cigarette-style confectionery illegal when, following Australia, it forces tobacco products into plain packaging.
The Cabinet has agreed in principle to impose plain packaging, subject to the outcome of public consultation.
Dr Walker pointed to a large, online survey conducted in the United States, which found that people who had used candy cigarettes in the past were more likely than non-users to be past or current smokers.
The researchers concluded in the journal Preventive Medicine: "Elimination of candy cigarettes may protect children from products that promote the social acceptability of smoking."
Mrs Turia said yesterday, "I am appalled that we continue to sell lollies shaped as cigarettes, and I certainly do not condone these products which are aimed at corrupting our children."
Mana Party leader Hone Harawira joined in condemning the products. "It's one way of getting young people connected to cigarettes.
"Any marketing of cigarettes or cigarette-similar products to children is a bad step and should be stopped as soon as possible."
ASH in 2001 asked MPs to ban lolly-smokes - and toy cigarettes - when they were tightening the Smoke-free Environments Act.
The group cited a British Medical Journal paper which reported a study showing children who said they had used candy cigarettes were twice as likely to have also smoked tobacco, regardless of whether their parents smoked. Under the act, someone who sells a toy tobacco product to someone under 18 is liable to a fine of up to $2000, but the definition of these products specifically excludes confectionery.
Baer Wolfe, who was running The Candyman's new Devonport shop yesterday, defended the store's lolly cigarettes by likening them to toys and said they should remain legal.
"They are not essentially a cigarette; it's like a play sort of thing.
"I wouldn't necessarily say [they are] encouraging people to smoke."
He said they were less popular with children than with adults, for whom they seemed to be a nostalgia kick, reminding them of lollies they ate as youngsters.
A ministry spokesman said that although lolly cigarettes were not banned by legislation, there were restrictions on their advertising and they could not be displayed within a metre of tobacco products.
"The ministry would discourage anything that promotes smoking behaviour."