‘Twas The Night Before Christmas has been a Christmas staple since it was first published in the early 1820s. But despite the classic story’s timeless appeal, its main character, jolly St. Nick, is also susceptible to some of the 19th century’s less savory habits — including taking regular puffs from a large tobacco pipe throughout the course of the poem.
As the Los Angeles Times reports, Pamela McColl, a Canadian publisher and anti-smoking advocate, decided that it was time to bring Santa’s behavior more in line with 21st-century public health norms. So with the help of publishers Grafton and Scratch, she set out to release a version of the work that leaves out illustrated depictions of Santa’s bad habit, and includes a note from Mr. Claus himself saying that he has left that “old, tired business of smoking well behind us”:
“I just really don’t think Santa should be smoking in the 21st century,” McColl said by telephone…”I grew up in the ’60s, in the ‘Mad Men’ series,” said McColl, herself a former smoker. And when she looked at her childhood edition of the Christmas Eve story, she found Santa smoking on half of the pages.
“A lot of people my age have lost someone to smoking,” McColl said. “And I thought, ‘Oh my. This is a great project.’” [...]
The reaction, McColl said, has been mixed: support from children’s advocates and pediatricians but strong criticism from librarians and those who oppose censorship.
Some depictions of tobacco in the media still specifically target children, although public health advocates are working to change that. McColl’s quest to make Santa into a public health role model for children is a fairly cost-free way to communicate the harms of smoking to a younger generation. But when states do choose to spend money to invest in anti-smoking initiatives, such as California and Washington, they see a considerable return on their investment — by some estimates, as high as $50 saved in preventable future health costs for every dollar spent on anti-tobacco programming.
Despite intensified anti-smoking campaigns over the past decade, the overall global smoking rate actually remains quite high, while investments in anti-smoking initiatives are relatively low. In the United States, cigarette smoking rates have dropped while purchases of cheaper tobacco products has surged.