Could Legal Pot Lead to More Cigarette Smoking?


The relatively recent legalization of marijuana for recreational use in 11 states may have unintended “significant spillover” for tobacco product usage, which could lead to a nearly $10 billion increase in future healthcare costs, a new study has found.

The price tag may be hefty enough to outweigh the known tax benefits associated with marijuana legalization, according to the authors.

The authors of the study, B. P. S. Murthi, a professor of marketing at the University of Texas at Dallas, and Ashutosh Bhave, a third-year Ph.D. student at the University of Texas-Dallas,  call it the “reverse gateway effect.”

This effect is defined as reversing the assumption that when young adults begin smoking marijuana, the likelihood that they will then use tobacco products decreases. One feature of the effect is that these young adults have “a greater likelihood of developing nicotine dependence than their non-smoking peers,” the study reported.

“We estimate the nationwide health care costs associated with such an increase in tobacco consumption will be about $10 billion and may equal or exceed the touted monetary benefits of marijuana legalization in many states,” wrote the authors.

At that price tag, the authors added, policies supporting the legalization of marijuana may need to be reexamined.

“Policy makers who are considering legalization of recreational marijuana in other states need to consider the spillover effects in [the] tobacco industry,” said the study.

At the same time, the health insurance industry should be “wary” of the rise in healthcare costs associated with marijuana.

While the long- term health impacts of smoking marijuana are still being investigated, the long -term deadly effects of smoking cigarettes have long been understood.

The tax revenues from marijuana were estimated at $266 million in Colorado in 2018. But smoking-related health care costs in the state are estimated at $1.89 billion a year; loss of productivity relating to tobacco addiction is estimated at $1.27 billion per year.

Only the tobacco industry might consider the findings good news, the authors said.

After regarding the rise in legal recreational pot as potential competition, the industry may now come up with “various ways to use the legalization to their advantage,” the authors wrote.

The link between young-adult smoking and marijuana has been confirmed by earlier research.  One 2009 survey found that 35 percent of cigarette smokers between ages 18 and 25 had used marijuana in the past month, almost three times the rate of the general adult population.

But the Murti-Bhave study went one step further by analyzing what impact the legalization of recreational pot had on smoking habits. The researchers used retail scanner data from A.C. Nielsen, a global provider of market research and analysis, to examine purchasing trends in Colorado and Oregon, which were among the first states to make pot legal for recreational use.

Colorado legalized the purchase and recreational use of marijuana in 2012. Oregon followed in in 2015.

The authors found that legalizing recreational marijuana was associated with an increase in cigarette consumption by about 4 percent to 7 percent in Colorado, and between 6 percent and 7 percent in Oregon.

This represents a stark contrast to the overall decline of cigarette smoking in the U.S.

A study published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) at the end of 2019 concluded that smoking has been at an “all-time low of 13.7 percent (of the U.S. population) … a decline of approximately two-thirds in the more than 50 years since the first Surgeon General’s report warned of the health consequences of smoking.”

Health-risk behavior assessments in other studies with young adults have also found that individuals who co-use cigarettes and marijuana are also more likely to drive while drugged, and have lower educational  attainments.

The authors suggest that lawmakers in other states look carefully at the “co-dependence” of tobacco products and marijuana in their own states before legalizing new substances.

The full study can be accessed here.

 Andrea Cipriano is a staff writer for The Crime Report.