Why the marijuana and tobacco policy camps are on very different paths

June 8, 2017 by David J. Hill
Credit: CC0 Public Domain

The regulatory approaches to marijuana and tobacco in the United States are on decidedly different paths and, according to researchers from the U.S. and Australia, neither side appears interested in learning from the other.

"The two policy communities have shown very little interest in each other's policy debates," Wayne Hall and Lynn Kozlowski write in a new paper published in the journal Addiction.

Hall, the lead author, is a professor at the Centre for Youth Substance Abuse Research at the University of Queensland, Australia, and is an expert on marijuana and other drug use issues. Kozlowski is professor of community health and health behavior in the University at Buffalo's School of Public Health and Health Professions and an expert on tobacco use and control.

Their paper takes a look at the diverging trajectories of cannabis and tobacco policies in the United States and attempts to explain some of the reasoning behind the different paths, while discussing possible implications.

For , the push is toward what Kozlowski calls "a kind of prohibition," mandating that only very low nicotine cigarettes are sold. The cannabis policy community, however, is advocating for quite the opposite—legal recreational use of marijuana.

Why are the approaches so different?

"One group perceives the downside of banning products and accepts an inevitability of some recreational use," Kozlowski said, referring to marijuana advocates, "and the other does not accept recreational use and seeks a kind of prohibition."

The differences can also be explained by examining who's part of each group. The tobacco control community includes tobacco researchers, advocates, non-governmental organizations and government officials. The cannabis community is more diverse, Hall and Kozlowski point out, noting that it comprises civil liberties lawyers, civil rights advocates and supporters of reforming drug laws.

The cannabis community has another thing going for it: the fact that the legalization of recreational marijuana was preceded by legalizing the drug for medical use. In a way, that has softened the response to legalizing marijuana for recreational use, Hall and Kozlowski say.

"If you think the product is able to cure some ills, then that can justify use. The fun of it becomes a kind of bonus," Kozlowski said.

Despite the differences, the two policy communities could learn a few lessons from each other. "For cannabis, assume that 'big cannabis'—large legal cannabis businesses—will behave with the same limited sense of corporate responsibility as has 'big tobacco,'" Kozlowski said. "For tobacco, give up on moving toward a prohibition of traditional cigarettes—an endgame—and use public health tools to minimize the use of the most dangerous tobacco products, cigarettes."

The paper also points out that the challenge for public policy makers in regulating is in applying what has worked in alcohol and tobacco control. That includes such policies as taxes based on potency to mitigate heavy use and dependence, limiting availability through trading hours and the number of outlets that sell the product, and restricting promotional activities.

"Lessons can be drawn from cannabis that are relevant to , and vice versa. Neither a focus on 'endgames' nor on burgeoning, legal retail markets should be approached uncritically," Kozlowski said.

In the end, Kozlowski added, "The proper regulation of recreational drug products that have some adverse effects should be to restrict youth access, promote cessation of use in those who desire to quit, promote less-harmful modes of use by providing accurate and useful information to consumers."

Explore further: E-cigarettes a gateway to smoking? Not likely, according to new published research

More information: Addiction (2017). DOI: 10.1111/add13845

Related Stories

E-cigarettes a gateway to smoking? Not likely, according to new published research

March 13, 2017
Are e-cigarettes a gateway product that lead more people, especially teens, to smoke regular cigarettes? No, according to public health researchers from the University at Buffalo and the University of Michigan writing in ...

Advice to WHO nations to consider mandatory low-nicotine cigarettes is premature, researcher says

July 6, 2016
A panel of tobacco researchers that guides 180 World Health Organization countries on developing constructive new regulations for tobacco products recently advised the group to consider a "global nicotine reduction strategy."

Recreational cannabis, used often, increases risk of gum disease

May 24, 2017
Columbia University dental researchers have found that frequent recreational use of cannabis—including marijuana, hashish, and hash oil—increases the risk of gum disease.

Opinion: Cannabis isn't the health problem—it's the tobacco you mix with it

May 24, 2017
Europe may seem like an increasingly divided continent, but there is one thing that unites its people: an obsession with using tobacco to smoke cannabis. Up to 90% of Europeans combine tobacco with cannabis, according to ...

Key health websites blindfold consumers on tobacco product risks

April 20, 2016
Millions of people visit the websites of the Mayo Clinic, American Cancer Society and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, among others, seeking authoritative health information. But are they receiving it?

Public health must be top priority if cannabis is legalized in Canada

September 21, 2015
If Canada's new government decides to legalize cannabis, public health must be the top priority to prevent commercialization and promotion by "Big Cannabis" and subsequent possible harms, argues an analysis published in CMAJ ...

Recommended for you

Findings link aldosterone with alcohol use disorder

July 18, 2017
A new study led by scientists at the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), part of the National Institutes of Health, demonstrates that aldosterone, a hormone produced in the adrenal glands, may contribute ...

Depression among young teens linked to cannabis use at 18

July 17, 2017
A study looking at the cumulative effects of depression in youth, found that young people with chronic or severe forms of depression were at elevated risk for developing a problem with cannabis in later adolescence.

Why does prenatal alcohol exposure increase the likelihood of addiction?

July 7, 2017
One of the many negative consequences when fetuses are exposed to alcohol in the womb is an increased risk for drug addiction later in life. Neuroscientists in the University at Buffalo Research Institute on Addictions are ...

Researchers say U.S. policies on drugs and addiction could use a dose of neuroscience

June 23, 2017
Tens of thousands of Americans die from drug overdoses every year – around 50,000 in 2015 – and the number has been steadily climbing for at least the last decade and a half, according to the National Institute on Drug ...

Study provides further support for genetic factors underlying addictions

June 13, 2017
Impairment of a particular gene raises increases susceptibility to opioid addiction liability as well as vulnerability to binge eating according to a new study.

From pill to needle: Prescription opioid epidemic may be increasing drug injection

May 8, 2017
The prescription opioid epidemic is shrinking the time it used to take drug users to progress to drug injection, a new Keck School of Medicine of USC-led study suggests.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.