Are Smarties vegetarian? The answer is no, or yes, or maybe. It depends on how you define vegetarian and where you live. The issue is the red ones that are coloured using cochineal, which is made by crushing insects. Smarties therefore contain an animal product and are not suitable for vegetarians.
However, according to Wikipedia, Smarties made in the UK no longer use cochineal and now use red cabbage for colouring instead, making them vegetarian friendly. Why this particular colour cannot be produced synthetically like many others, I do not know.
The question is, even if cochineal is used, would that make Smarties, or the red ones at least, non-vegetarian? The Vegetarian Society’s definition of vegetarianism makes no mention of insects, so even if Smarties were packed with beetles they may still be vegetarian. Insects are not commonly offered as a foodstuff, so are overlooked. Lots of processed foods contain traces of insects because of the way they are harvested and manufactured. If some beetles are crushed by a combine harvester and end up mixed up with the wheat and eventually in your bowl of cereal, is that cereal not vegetarian?
A vegetarian should consume ‘no product of slaughter’. The correct definition of slaughter implies intent to take the life of an animal specifically for food. Under that definition Smarties, or at least red ones outside the UK, are not vegetarian. However, is the crushing of beetles to make cochineal slaughter, or even a by-product of slaughter? Can insects be slaughtered in the way that is meant by the definition used by vegetarians? Surely that definition is aimed at higher animals. Is the crushing of beetles as abhorrent to a vegetarian as the killing of a lamb or cow? Quite possibly not.
Maybe the best course of action is to enjoy a tube of Smarties, but pick out the red ones and maintain a clear conscience, just in case.
UPDATE: Since publishing this post I have received an email from Nestlé that settles the matter. Smarties are definitely not vegetarian.
UPDATE 2 (SEPT 2013): I have recently received an email with a link to the latest information from Nestlé which states that Smarties are now totally vegetarian.