Tipping Point: Marijuana Use Overtakes Tobacco Among High School Students

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Guy Bentley Research Associate, Reason Foundation
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Teenagers are swapping Marlboro for marijuana with a new study concluding pot is now more popular with high school students than tobacco.

Ten percent of high school students have smoked cannabis once in the past 30 days compared to just seven percent who said the same for cigarettes, a new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) shows.

The figures are a stark contrast from 18 years ago when 21 percent of students said they had smoked tobacco and a paltry four percent had smoked pot. CDC researchers claim the uptick in cannabis could be attributed to the fewer teenagers viewing marijuana as harmful.

In 1991, close to 80 percent of students said they thought cannabis was harmful. That figure has dropped by almost half to 39.5 percent. But even more recent changes in state-based policy could be contributing to higher use rates, according to the report:

More specifically, decriminalization and legalization of recreational marijuana use in some states with minimal concomitant public health messaging to address potential detrimental health effects of marijuana use might be contributing to this perception.

Medical marijuana has been legalized in 24 states and recreational cannabis has been legalized in Colorado, Alaska, Washington, Oregon and the District of Columbia.

Public health advocates fear pot could act as a “gateway” drug to other illicit substances, but these claims remain highly contested.

The CDC report is based on the answers of 11-13,000 students aged 14-18. The study adds a note of warning that “increased exclusive marijuana use and use of marijuana among cigarette or cigar users could undermine success in reducing tobacco use among youths.”

Despite an increase in the number of high school students smoking marijuana, the negative health effects are vastly less compared to the formerly popular tobacco. Chronic marijuana use as an adolescent has no link to mental or physical health problems later in life, concluded a recent American Physiological Association study conducted over 20 years.

“Chronic marijuana users were not more likely than late increasing users, adolescence-limited users, or low/nonusers to experience several physical or mental health problems in their mid-30s,” the study said.

The Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper recently claimed marijuana was “infinitely worse” than tobacco.

He quickly came under fire from pro-pot legalization activists and members of the medical community who pointed out that tobacco-related diseases kill millions of people per year whereas the same cannot be said for marijuana.

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Guy Bentley