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June 8, 2012

Proof of prohibition's failings?: teens now smoke pot more than tobacco

This AP piece, headlined "CDC: More US teens smoke marijuana than cigarettes," reports on new data that may prompt some to have new concerns about pot legalization efforts, but that reaffirms my view that pot prohibition may do more harm than good.  Here is the data:

A government survey shows more teens are now smoking pot than cigarettes.  The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported Thursday that 23 percent of high school students said they recently smoked marijuana, while 18 percent said they had puffed cigarettes.  The survey asked teens about a variety of risky behaviors.

For decades, the number of teens who smoke has been on the decline.  Marijuana use has fluctuated, and recently rose.  At times, pot and cigarette smoking were about the same level, but last year marked the first time marijuana use was clearly greater.

An earlier survey by the University of Michigan also found that pot smoking was higher.  A Michigan expert said teens today apparently see marijuana as less dangerous than cigarettes.

The key data point in this story in my view is the historic success our society has had in convincing teens that cigarette smoking is harmful without having to prohibit via the criminal law all adult access to tobacco.  In contrast, despite blanket prohibition of pot, teens apparently are coming to believe that some pot smoking is not that harmful.  The legalization of medical marijuana in many states likely is playing a significant role in these developments, but there would not need to be lots of (harmful? honest?) discussion and debate over whether marijuana has medicinal benefits if pot prohibition were not still the law of the land.

June 8, 2012 at 08:55 AM | Permalink


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Most physiological problems from marijuana are chronic rather than acute--many short-sighted teens and others don't appreciate the gravity of the down side of pot. [The high and giggles outweigh the listlessness, lack of motivation, and developing brain, and lung damage].

The same tolerance used to be true of tobacco until the full-front offensive by teachers, the media, and even Hollywood. Doesn't everyone remember the poster of the shrivelled old man with the cig? How about the teen baseball player with the chewed-up mouth & face from chewing tobacco? (1970s-90s & beyond)

But we don't remember anything like that for pot; we are given the smiling hippie or cool rapper with the joint.

\\If this survey is accurate//

Posted by: Adamakis | Jun 8, 2012 11:40:03 AM


That's an valid point and one which I am a little ashamed that I have never thought of before. My initial reaction is that while it's a valid point it's also worth nothing that it's taken many years and a great deal of expense to teach people the health dangers. Is that better in the long run than locking them up. I don't know. You've given me a bone to chew over. Maybe we (as a society) have been looking at this issue wrong.

Posted by: Daniel | Jun 8, 2012 2:49:05 PM

The issue is not whether pot is bad for you, it clearly is bad for your health. The issue is whether it should be illegal when tobacco and alcohol are both legal. I honestly can't see an effect negative enough to justify the disparity between one addictive, unhealthy substance being legal and another being illegal.

Posted by: MikeinCT | Jun 8, 2012 5:01:14 PM

Marijuana itself is not unhealthy. While the inhalation of burning plant material can be harmful to the lungs, marijuana can be consumed orally, and it can be made in teas. Vaporizers and tinctures are other options. The cannabis itself is good and healthy.

Posted by: Shane Stevenson | Jun 8, 2012 6:21:24 PM

MikeinCT: You say use of marijuana "clearly is bad for your health." Not so clear at all. And certainly far less injurious than alchol or tobacco. Of course prohibition has fueled its use and will continue to do so. And that in turn has fueled a mult-billion dollar drug trade,which in turn has fueled the prison-industrial complex--and that in turn has given thousands of prosecutors and defense attorneys good paying jobs! So from purely selfish motives, I say keep spreading the word that pot is unehalthy and its use should be prohibited and remain criminalized. But as a citizen, the policy is utterly absurd. From a product from which societ could hundres of millions of dollars a year in taxes (as with tobacco and alcohol); instead we pour hundreds of millions, if not billions, into law enforcement and prisons. But what the heck, I'm just a poor prosecutor.

Posted by: Texas prosecutor | Jun 8, 2012 7:00:29 PM

It looks like this phenomenon has more to do with declining tobacco use than increasing marijuana use. And if teens "apparently see marijuana as less dangerous than cigarettes", then they are paying attention. But the notion that they are choosing marijuana over cigarettes because of differences in their danger is silly. Some people like to smoke cigarettes. Others like to smoke marijuana. Some like to smoke both. Some don't like to smoke either. It's not like teens are switching from tobacco to cigarettes.

It's not a good idea for teens to use intoxicants. But if we really cared about curbing their use, we'd legalize marijuana for adults. Then adults could get their weed from legal sellers, who would be less likely to sell it to minors, less they lose their livelihood. I doubt that teens and minors could support the black market economy for illegal marijuana, although I suppose they could grow if it they could keep it hidden from their parents. But apparently, 1/4 of all teens have no problem getting their hands on marijuana now. I doubt that the other 3/4 can't get a hold of it--they probably just don't want to use it.

Posted by: C.E. | Jun 8, 2012 11:51:44 PM

Oops, I meant, "It's not like teens are switching from tobacco to marijuana."

Posted by: C.E. | Jun 8, 2012 11:52:25 PM

@Texas prosecutor
You clearly didn't read my post, my point was that if alcohol and tobacco are legal there is no reason to ban marijuana.

Posted by: MikeinCT | Jun 8, 2012 11:54:27 PM

MkeinCT states pot "clearly is bad for your health...."

Texas prosecutor corrects MikeinCT by responding, "Not so clear at all."

The war on drugs has been fueled by lies and liars. It needs to be brought to an end.

No real scientist or doctor says marijuana is bad for your health.

Posted by: Bill Morgan | Jun 9, 2012 3:19:25 AM

Support will continue for the legaliztion of marijuana

Posted by: Anon | Jun 9, 2012 12:36:58 PM

@Bill Morgan
Plenty of scientists think that smoking marijuana is bad for your health. Those pushing for legalization, as far as I know, are not pushing to just legalize oral marijuana. So yes, it is bad for you. Studies also suggest THC is bad for your immunity and long term memory.

But like I said, since it's no worse for your health than alcohol and tobacco I don't see an excuse to ban it.

Posted by: MikeinCT | Jun 9, 2012 7:13:43 PM

Proponents of prohibition don't have much to go on.

Lacking any factual basis for treating marijuana as more dangerous than alcohol or pepperoni pizza, they point to the federal government's listing of marijuana as a Schedule I controlled substance. That is such obvious nonsense. But, like much of the anti-pot hysteria, it is pretty widely accepted. Even dudes like Scalia rely on it.

Posted by: Calif. Capital Defense Counsel | Jun 10, 2012 1:28:46 AM

Tobacco kills over 450,000 people each year in the U.S.

Cigarettes are highly addictive, marijuana is considered to be less addictive than caffeine.

There are no recorded deaths due to marijuana use in over 5,000 years of known use.

There are no cases of marijuana causing any form of cancer ever. A recent study by Dr. Donald Tashkin suggests a protective effect from cancer.

Posted by: anon13 | Jun 10, 2012 11:27:07 AM

Insurance man speaking here,

I have known three teens killed behind the wheel in the last decade. Neither alcohol nor drugs were a factor in those deaths, poor judgement was. I have known of only one teen who died from alcohol poisoning in my entire life. I have never met a teen killed directly by pot or cigarettes.

Cars kill and injure more teens than drugs, alcohol and tobacco. The insanity is that we let teens drive, while we prohibit them from consuming drugs.

My own view, is to let the kids have the drugs, cigs and alcohol but do not license anyone under the age of 21 to drive unless they have a demonstrable hardship activity(a regular job) which requires them to drive and allow them to drive for that express activity only. Would we give every teen a gun to play with when he turns sixteen? Then why do we give every teen a car to play with when they turn sixteen.

Posted by: Jardinero1 | Jun 10, 2012 12:48:23 PM

Jardinero1, I know of one teen killed in a car. You are right: poor judgment. My own daughter was nearly killed at 16 in a car when the flip-flop sandal she was wearing (!!) got stuck under the gas pedal!
I fully join in your suggestion on licensing. I have a feeling though the vote will be 250,000,000 to 2.

Posted by: onlooker | Jun 10, 2012 1:36:13 PM

Both Jardinero1 and onlooker point out a sad reality of human nature: we have a very poor inherent understanding of risk. We are terrified of what might happen when we fly on a plane, yet we hop in cars--even those driven by other people--without the slightest hesitation. We dedicate entire bureaucracies to identify and eliminate any chemical from our food that might cause cancer, then we go lay out in the sun or a tanning parlor. We demand antibiotics from our doctors for the slightest case of sniffles, even though that practice makes truly dangerous bacteria resistant to those same antibiotics. And we allow food manufacturers to use trans fats, which are little more than poison, while we spend billions locking people up for using and selling marijuana.

Posted by: C.E. | Jun 10, 2012 3:23:23 PM

The key distinguishing characteristic between alcohol/tobacco and marijuana is the intent of the user. With alcohol and tobacco, there are uses that don't include becoming drunk or getting a nicotine high. With marijuana, however, the intent is always the high, nothing less. To me, that is no different than abusing prescription medications or other drugs. That distinguishing characteristic, to me, warrants government intervention.

Posted by: Chris | Jun 10, 2012 10:25:21 PM

Tobacco users definitely use tobacco for the "nicotine high". If you doubt that, try smoking a pack of cigarettes a day for a year, then quitting cold turkey. It's not the mellow taste of tobacco you will be craving.

And the alcohol industry is propped up by people whose primary goal is to feel the effects of alcohol. If that weren't the case, no one would buy cheap bear or rotgut liquor, or wine from a box for that matter.

But assuming that marijuana is different, because people want to get high, no one has ever come up with a compelling reason why we should prohibit people from getting high if they want to.

Posted by: C.E. | Jun 10, 2012 11:52:09 PM

Dang. "Cheap beer", not "cheap bear." Second time this thread.

Posted by: C.E. | Jun 10, 2012 11:53:14 PM

CE -

I will readily acknowledge that alcohol and tobacco are used for obtaining the high - getting drunk and getting that nicotine high. Absolutely. And you're right, there are marketers who make careers out of increasing the sales of such items, playing on a number of factors rather than purely utilitarian benefits. I don't like it any more than the next guy. However, I have yet to find a single user of marijuana that has mentioned having any use for the stuff outside of the high. The argument is a utilitarian one - alcohol and tobacco allegedly have *some* benefit outside the intent to get trashed/high. With marijuana, there is none. In my mind, that makes it similar to crack, cocaine, heroin or any other illegal drug.

At the end of the day, humans are readily susceptible to addictive tendencies. You see it in all forms, some of which are lauded, some are proscribed. It's an issue as old as time. But because the issue has been around forever doesn't mean that groups of people can't get together, recognize something has detrimental effects on individual lives and on society as a whole, and take steps to try and eliminate those effects and their causes.

And some have said, above, that there are no detrimental effects to marijuana use, please, just go sit in court, a drug court if available and listen to the stories of some individuals. Sure, they may have just drunk the kool-aid the government is feeding them as a method of converting them with the threat of unjust criminal conviction hanging over their head. Or maybe there is actually something to what they've experienced and learned/are learning from their experiences. Like all things, the poor feel the negative effects first and most acutely.

Posted by: | Jun 11, 2012 9:22:26 AM

"The argument is a utilitarian one - alcohol and tobacco allegedly have *some* benefit outside the intent to get trashed/high." Can you elucidate me? I have never met anyone who drank alcohol for any other reason than to feel the effects of alcohol.

Posted by: Jardinero1 | Jun 11, 2012 12:19:23 PM

I am thoroughly convinced in this said post. I am currently searching for ways in which I could enhance my knowledge in this said topic you have posted here. It does help me a lot knowing that you have shared this information here freely. I love the way the people here interact and shared their opinions too. I would love to rack your future posts pertaining to the said topic we are able to read.

Posted by: Forzest | Jul 28, 2012 3:26:08 AM

well all of it is bad for you period marijuana can be good for you if you eat it not smoke it. As it is used for pain another problems with the body. However the reason for the rise I think is because the comercials they have out. They are all showing that smokeing is bad. So teens go to marijuana for a sub and they dont know that want joint equels up to i think 7 cigs so either way it goes smokeing is not coo. Feel good look cool die early

Posted by: dildo | Aug 3, 2012 7:24:59 PM

This does not suprise me at all. The chemicals that are associated with traditional tobacco are so nasty and are so harmful and our society has been hammering on the evils of smoking for so long.

That's one reason why I now use an electronic cigar. I wish that everyone who smoked traditional tobacco or weed would put them down in favor of an electronic cigar.


Posted by: Tristan | Oct 18, 2012 3:49:05 PM

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