question and answers

Posted by pamela mccoll on Sunday, April 1, 2012



1)      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 this change needed to be made to secure its place on the shelf for generations to come.


There isn’t a parent or grandparent who wants to see their children smoking and they may well cast aside a book that could be seen to be endorsing this tobacco use.  No parent, including those who smoke themselves, like the idea that their children could take up this life threatening, expensive and addictive product.


We as a society and culture have come to the conclusion that we do not want our children or ourselves exposed to second hand smoke.  I am not setting an agenda but rather responding to one that has been set by our shared community.


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 to the credit of the glory age of advertising backed by a very wealthy tobacco industry. Although there had always been critics and health warnings, it wasn’t until 1964 with the release of the Surgeon General’s influential statement that there was indeed a causal link between smoking and cancer that we began to see a decline in smoking rates. The western male had been the dominant market and as this market began to shrink, either from effective cessation or demise the industry looked to new markets, they turned to women and children specifically.


We now see anti-smoking hiring policies, new regulations on where individuals can smoke and extensive funding and programming in place to help people to quit.  Smoking is now

deemed to be wholly undesirable by the vast majority of the population. It has lost its cache or allure and nicotine use is viewed as a disease and drug addiction. Interesting to note that nicotine is a known gateway drug to illicit drug use.





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. 


 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 or leprechaun. I think it would be very confusing to see Santa the size of Tinkerbell.


2)      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 or rehab. Santa isn’t depicted in the book as overeating or feasting and if he was it might be a project for Jamie Oliver.  It is the specific portrayal of smoking not just an idea that he might smoke or overindulge in donuts that we are talking about. 


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 are dozens of other publications currently on the market, all with smoking in the text, some have smoking on the cover,  I have to mention the edit or it could well be another year that Santa is out there smoking away.  It is a tricky marketing challenge and I had to find splendid illustration to appeal to the consumer making their selection.  We have two versions of the cover, one with the mention that we have made this specific edit and one without so we will see how the book audience responds.  I don’t want to take anything away from the experience of the reading of this story.


This book was edited by Santa and he is keen that people are aware that he no longer smokes but the last thing we want to do is call attention to the idea of smoking to a 3 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 a 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 also haven’t heard any complaints from the flying 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 enormous and identified risk that we need to do whatever we can to protect our youngest of readers from, be it second hand smoke or from the possibility that they will start smoking and become addicted themselves.


-          Tobacco use will eventually kill 32% of all 15 year olds smokers – half of them will die before the age of 70 and half after.

-          Each day 3,500 American children will try their 1st.cigarette and about 850 of these first time users will eventually become daily smokers of whom 50% will die a premature death.

-          90% of adult daily smokers started before their 18th birthday and this is why nicotine addiction has been deemed a “pediatric disease”. A person who hasn’t started by the time they are 19 is unlikely to ever start this drug or any other drug for that matter.

-          Smoking is the leading cause of preventable death and disease in the USA with 443,000 premature deaths annually.

-          The WHO predicts that one billion people will die in this century from tobacco related diseases which is up tenfold from the 20th century when 100 million people died preventable premature deaths at the hand of nicotine use.




These are very scary statistics and it has been my experience that such data tends to just turn into

“data data data” and  “blah bah blah” – we are bombarded with statistics, studies and research and often they have  conflicting results that further serve to confuse the issues and decision making process. With smoking we have known since the mid 1960’s of the very serious health risks associated with the ongoing use of nicotine. We have all lost someone close to us to a premature death as a result of smoking – a parent, a relative or a close friend. No one wants to see smoking promoted to children and no one wants their kids smoking it is as simple as that.



Exposure to secondhand 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, are more likely to have asthma, leukemia and or SIDS.


Statistics fill airspace but what do we do with them as a listening audience?


But it begs the questions how do we not get our kids to not start in the first place. This is where I believe

the conversation needs to be focused.  It is the practical applicable ideas that will make a difference and becoming aware of the influences on children is a big part of it.