Interview With Publisher Pamela McColl On Why Santa Quits Smoking
Pamela McColl recently republished the public domain classic, Twas The Night Before Christmas, with one exception: She removed any references to Santa smoking his pipe. Further, she commissioned an artist to create new drawings for the book – keeping Santa’s smoke out of the picture. She has begun to receive a lot of media attention for altering the classic with what she believes is the greater purpose of preventing kids from taking up smoking. Below is an interview regarding her controversial book:
<!-Pamela, why do you feel that it’s acceptable or necessary to alter a classic story? By the very definition of “classic,” the work needs to stand the test of time and if this book is to remain at the very heart of holiday family reading it is my opinion that the changes I made were necessary.
No parent, or grandparent wants to see their children smoking and they may well cast aside a book that could be seen to be playing any part in presenting smoking in a positive light or to be normalizing it.
We as a society and culture have come to the conclusion that second-hand smoke is something need to protect ourselves from. We do not want ourselves or our children exposed to the risks it poses.
North American’s views on smoking from the time this poem was originally written – in the 1820’s -- have gone through radical changes. In the 50’s smoking hit a high point in popularity - much to the credit of the glory age of advertising backed by a very wealthy tobacco industry. Although there had always been critics and warnings about the health risks from concerned individuals, it wasn’t until 1964 with the release of the Surgeon General’s statements about the real dangers of smoking and the link to cancer that we began to see the decline of smoking rates. The Western male was the dominant smoking category and when this market began to decline it is documented that the industry looked for new markets, women and children specifically.
We now see anti-smoking hiring policies, increasing limitations on where to smoke and programming in place to help people to quit. Smoking has come to be considered, by the vast majority of people, to be wholly undesirable and it has lost its allure.
In answering your question regarding as to whether or not it is acceptable to change a classic I feel that I was compelled to change it to protect children. Other people have worked with the spirit of the poem and there are countless editions that take all kinds of liberties. There are farces, satires, and some very comical editions and some truly awful ones.
Some purists argue that the poet intended Santa and his reindeer to be miniatures, and Santa, if true to the actual words, to be an elf the size of a leprechaun. I think it would be very confusing to see Santa the size of Tinker Bell.
<!--Why stop with smoking? Why not change Santa’s weight (obesity) or his use of reindeer (animal rights)? I am not certain of Santa’s health but from my latest account he was pretty fit and certainly keeps up his exercise program – quite the feat travelling the globe and climbing in and out of all those chimneys. I certainly wouldn’t want to scare children with the idea that Santa is less than perfect or sickly or in need of a fix-it boot camp. Santa isn’t depicted in the book as overeating or feasting and if he was, it might be a project for Jamie Oliver who is doing so much good in the world to help children to a better way of eating. It is the specific portrayal of smoking, not just an idea that he might smoke or overindulge in donuts. that we are talking about. As an aside I do not think that everyone has to be thin to be fit and a case could be made for greater diversity of body types over the idealized or standard ideal figures portrayed in so much of what we all see.
Santa has the power to sell but that is not what this book is about. I am not selling “smoking prevention” and the book is very quiet about the message that the smoking has simply slipped off the pages. I wish I didn’t have to mention it at all, but given that there were 15 to 20 editions on the shelves last December, all with smoking in the text and many with it illustrated even on the cover, I have to mention the edit or it could well be another year that Santa is out there smoking away. The last thing we want to do is call attention to this fact to a three-year-old. This book is about Christmas Eve and is a wonderful story about giving and receiving. My wish would be that parents simply could buy a book that didn’t end up being disappointing when the child they are reading to looks up from the pages with a concerned face and asks: “Why is Santa smoking in our living room.” I have heard from people who have ripped out the page that references smoking.
I haven’t heard any complaints from the reindeer about their work conditions but always open to watching out for the animals who we share this planet with. I think they part of the elf union.
On a more serious note nicotine use is an identified risk that we need to protect our youngest of readers from, be it second-hand smoke or from the possibility that they will start smoking at some point in their youth. Exposure to second-hand smoke for long periods of time can cause the same tobacco related diseases that afflict smokers. Children exposed to secondhand smoke have more colds, flu and ear infections, tooth decay and are more likely to be inflicted with asthma, leukemia, and SIDS.
<!-Where should we draw the line in terms of how politically correct we should be in remaking the all-time classics? ‘Do no harm” is the golden rule and measure. Knowing what we now know about the risks of nicotine use this is not a difficult or complicated choice to make for me. The spirit of the story stays alive and carries on.
<!-->In 2011, different publications of the book led it to hit the New York Times best-seller lists for 36 weeks. It’s considered the most famous poem in American history, dating back to its initial publication nearly 200 years ago in a newspaper. Isn’t it sacrilegious to tinker with it? Is longevity sacred? Is it not best to preserve and have this poem carry on delighting millions of people of all ages and not see it cast aside or become obsolete? I think the only person who would be pleased at that outcome is the mean one Mr. Grinch. I have considered what a very young child might say in discovering for the first time the image of Santa smoking and also what my possible response would be if the child was to ask if Santa was going to die from smoking or some other questions that would demand an adequate response. What does one say to their grandchild when asked about this jolly elves smoking in the living room? Do we really want to stop in the middle of a magical Christmas moment, sitting around the fire and delighting in a wonder of it all and then having to bring out the perils of tobacco use lecture? Of course we could say that we have heard that he has recently quit but pictures speak volumes and that simply isn’t going to suffice. I have had my children ask me if I have ever smoked and I have answered truthfully and told them that I did once upon a time but quit and consider it unimaginable that I would ever smoke, for I have come to highly value my lungs and my yoga practice and to truly understanding nicotine as an addictive drug that can play havoc on your brain.
I recently read that it takes up to two weeks for an enclosed room to be safe or clean from second and third hand smoke exposure. If children think Santa will be exposing them to this type of harm the whole thing collapses. We might have to start celebrating Christmas outside.
<!--[if !supportLists]-->5) <!--[endif]-->You rail against the dangers of smoking to our youth. Why does the issue personally resonate with you? I think there is a general complacency about smoking in the urban world. On a global basis the rise of smoking poses an enormous problem. Also, I have seen many people struggle to end their relationship with nicotine. Upwards of 80% of smokers wish they didn’t and I think this is a very sorry state of affairs and makes for a great deal of suffering. 60% of individuals who experience clinical depression smoke and there are other groups who have higher than average smoking levels. We have changed the social acceptance around smoking and marginalized smokers; out of sight, out of mind. I think it is particularly unfortunate for parents-to-be who want to quit but find themselves trapped. Pregnant smokers suffer an even tougher road of social stigma. If I rail against the dangers it is because of the addictive nature of nicotine and the way it robs people of their health and money, offering nothing of any value in return.
<!--What exactly did you change, add or omit in your version of the public domain work, Twas The Night Before Christmas? Santa asked that the verse regarding his smoking a pipe be eliminated along with any associated illustration. I removed the reference to Santa wearing fur due to his wish to assist in the preservation of the polar bear that are a species of special concern due to globe climate change. It is all about awareness... I would truly be upset to wake up one day to find that we did not have any polar bears left and I had been oblivious to their plight. I can’t save the polar bears or stop the world from smoking but I can make a
contribution if I choose to engage.
<!--What can we do to make more parents, grandparents and teachers aware of the dangers of reading smoke-filled books to young, impressionable minds? All over the world there are people working very hard to help solve the problems of youth smoking. One campaign that I am involved with is working on the WHO initiative to get smoking out of films rated for young audiences. There is a direct relationship between children’s exposure to on-screen smoking and uptake of this drug at some point in their youth. Children, whose favorite actors have smoked in three or more of their recent films, are 16 times more likely to feel positively about smoking, making them much more likely to start smoking themselves.
Children, aged 10-14, who see the most smoking on screen, are three times more likely to start smoking than children who see the least. Exposure to on screen smoking is responsible for 44% of youth tobacco users. Smoking in movies increased from 1998-2005 and tobacco is still in half of all films rated PG13.
It concerns me that young women are exposed to images of models and actresses smoking. Kate Moss
is a popular icon and when she walked down a runway smoking I was concerned on what message was being sent out to young women my daughter’s age. Carine Roitfeld, the former editor of French Vogue, included an apology in her recent book – “… forgive me for all these cigarettes I’ve put in all these issues.” This is the shift in thinking that we need to see.
<!--How difficult is it to get a smoker to quit and to stay away for good? Why is preventing our youth from starting the killer habit so important? Not ever taking up smoking is the key, as this is the most addictive drug on the planet and one in which only 5% of people ever successful quit at any given time. It takes only a couple of cigarettes to wire the human brain for this addiction. Millions upon millions of people have quit smoking unaided and remain nicotine-free. It is doable and is both a physical and psychological challenge. The physical withdrawal period for nicotine is 72 hours but the psychological tricks this drug plays can be relentless. We are still learning about the effects of addictions and the brain.
<!-How should one teach children – and at what age – about the dangers of nicotine addiction? By not providing examples of smoking, period. It has been shown that good or bad characters depicted have the same effect. It is the normalization of smoking that is the risk. That Santa just merely shows up and casually gets away with smoking in the middle of Clement Moore`s living room is not okay. If it was am old aunt who smoked a cigar would it be okay or would she be asked to use the porch?
Brian Feinblum’s views, opinions, and ideas expressed in this blog are his alone and not that of his employer. Please note Pamela McColl is a client of the publicity firm that I work for. You can follow him on Twitter @theprexpert and email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. He feels more important when discussed in the third-person.
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