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Research Compares Effects of Pot, Cigarette Smoking

Public health officials consider fallout of changing marijuana laws
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Apr 7, 2019 10:35 AM CDT
A man smokes marijuana last month in New York.   (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)

(Newser) – As more states make it legal to smoke marijuana, some government officials, researchers and others worry what that might mean for one of the country's biggest public health successes: curbing cigarette smoking. Though there are differences in health research findings on tobacco and marijuana, AP reports, the juxtaposition strikes some as jarring after generations of Americans have gotten the message that smoking endangers their health. "We're trying to stop people from smoking all kinds of things. Why do you want to legalize marijuana?" a New York City councilman asked at a hearing. Marijuana advocates say there's no comparison between joints and tobacco cigarettes. A federal assessment found the lung-health risks of smoking weed appear "relatively small" and "far lower than those of smoking tobacco," the top cause of preventable death in the US. There's evidence of health benefits from marijuana, such as easing chronic pain, and marijuana can be used without smoking it. Most states now have legal medical pot programs; 10 states and the District of Columbia have approved recreational use.

"They're different products, and they need to be treated differently," says Mason Tvert, of the pro-legalization Marijuana Policy Project. While smoking cannabis may be less dangerous than tobacco to lungs, pot doesn't get a clean slate. Cigarette smoking is a major cause of heart disease, but a 2017 federal report said it's unclear whether marijuana use is associated with heart attacks or strokes. There is strong evidence linking long-term cannabis smoking to worse coughs and more frequent bouts of chronic bronchitis. Studies have found more cigarette smokers have used pot, and the other way around, compared to nonsmokers. Some public health officials endorse legalizing marijuana and putting guardrails around it. "For tobacco, we know that it's inherently dangerous and that there is no safe amount of tobacco to use," says Rebecca Giglio, a New York City drug policy analyst. Whereas with marijuana, "we see this as an opportunity to address the harms of criminalization while also regulating cannabis."

(Read more marijuana legalization stories.)

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