smoking weed compared to tobacco
smoking weed compared to tobacco

Why Do Most Americans Now Believe Smoking Cannabis is Safer Than Smoking Tobacco?

Shifting attitudes and education have helped Americans learn more about cannabis over the past 9 years

Posted by:
Joseph Billions on Wednesday Aug 16, 2023

cannabis safer than tobacco

The link between lung cancer and tobacco cigarette smoking was discovered as early as 1953.


It was no one else than the people who profited from the tobacco industry who were fully aware of its harms, but they were discreet about it. Through the decades, more people around the world realized how dangerous and deadly the habit – which was once seen as glamorous – actually was.


Fast forward to the present day, and tobacco use is already on the decline.


A 2022 Gallup poll has revealed that the number of American adults who still smoke cigarettes has reached a record low of 12%.


The poll found that through the years 2001 through 2003, around 35% of adults from 18 to 29 years old reported that they smoked cigarettes. Gallup adds that from 2012 onwards, young adults were still smoking cigarettes but these numbers dropped from 2013 to 2015, similar to the smoking rates of the 30 to 49-year-old age group.


The aggregated data was taken from the annual Consumption Habits poll of Gallup, which they have been conducting every year since 2001 except for the year 2020.


Now, 13% of men and 12% of women smoke cigarettes, representing a sharp decline.


These days, marijuana is already part of mainstream culture and is generally more widely accepted as a part of lifestyle or used as medicine since it’s already been decriminalized. However, there are still many people who think that cannabis is more dangerous than tobacco – even with solid scientific studies pointing to its health benefits.


That seems to be changing, finally.


A new survey conducted by lead author, Dr. Beth Cohen, whose results were published in JAMA Network Open, polled 5,000 adults. The average age of the respondents was 50, and they were asked about their perception of the safety of cannabis smoking compared to tobacco smoking. Additionally, they were also asked if they thought secondhand smoke from either could be dangerous.


The survey was conducted in 2017, 2020, and then again in 2021. The findings revealed that more people were shifting attitudes around cannabis, and leaned over to positive opinions this time. In 2021, more than 44% of the people who were polled believed that marijuana was safer, and 25.5% believed cigarettes were safer. Furthermore, more than 40% of respondents believed pot smoke was safer and 23% chose tobacco.


They also discovered that people within the age group of 18 through 29, young adults, were more likely to believe in the safety of marijuana compared to those aged 60 and up.


“The research that has been coming out is actually suggestive that there’s a lot of overlap in terms of the toxins and carcinogens that are in both cannabis and tobacco smoke,” says Dr. Cohen, who is also a medicine professor at the San Francisco School of Medicine, University of California. “What we’ve learned in the past few years seems more concerning, not less concerning,” she adds.


She goes on to explain much of what many misunderstand.


“I feel like one of the misconceptions is that, well, cigarettes are bad for you because there’s all these chemicals in them, and that’s absolutely true. That’s part of why they’re bad for you. But really a huge piece of the harm from cigarettes is simply that they are a material that is being combusted and you’re inhaling that smoke,” she says. Dr. Cohen adds that anything you smoke will get into the lungs.


Studies Show That Tobacco Smoke Is Safer Than Marijuana


Clinical studies prove that smoking cannabis is far safer than smoking tobacco. After all, it is well-established that cigarette smoking is notorious for causing serious lung damage, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and lung cancer.


In fact, one of the biggest and oldest studies to date was conducted in 2012. The large-scale national trial was performed by the University of California San Francisco together with researchers at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. They analyzed data from more than 5,000 American adults over the course of 20 years. For the study, air flow rate, or the speed at which people can blow air out, was measured, together with lung volume.


“Essentially with tobacco, the more you use, the more loss you have with both of the indicators, air flow rate and lung volume,” explains Stefan Kertesz, MD, MSc, last author of the paper. “There’s a straight-line relationship: the more you use, the more you lose.” They found the opposite was true when it came to marijuana; they observed an increase in air flow rate with increased exposure, unlike with tobacco.


“We found exactly what we thought we would find in relation to tobacco exposure: a consistent loss of lung function with increasing exposure,” explains Mark Pletcher, MD, MPH, the study’s lead author and an associate professor at the Division of Clinical Epidemiology at the University of California San Francisco. “We were, however, surprised that we found such a different pattern of association with marijuana exposure.”




That said, keep in mind that the researchers studied low to moderate levels of smoking. Individuals who are heavy cannabis smokers may want to consider safer options for lung protection, such as vaping, edibles, or cannabis oils. On the other hand, young adults who smoke occasionally don’t have to worry much about the safety of cannabis smoke.





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