Why marijuana is blowing cigarettes away

pot overtaken cigarette use

Although it is still classified as a Schedule I substance, the popularity of cannabis has never been higher in the United States. By state law, the drug is allowed for medical use in 23 states and completely legal in Colorado, Washington, Oregon and Alaska. In stark contrast, decades of Surgeon General Reports and antidrug advertising has significantly altered the perception of cigarette smoking.

Marijuana use now exceeds cigarette use among American youth – an unprecedented new trend, but the real reason is not what most people think.

A combination of two distinct trends

Simply put, the main reason smoking marijuana has overtaken its tobacco-based counterpart among high school populations is because of the recent and rapid decrease in cigarette smoking behavior – not because of a sudden increase in cannabis consumption. For 12th-grade students, daily cigarette use declined from 6.7 to 5.5 percent in 2014. In contrast, daily marijuana use was reported at a steady 6 percent.


(Monitoring the Future, 2015)

“Kids who in the past used cigarettes now use other products,” said Nora Volkow, M.D., director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, referencing the recent increase in smoking alternatives: hookahs and e-cigarettes. According to the 2015 Monitoring the Future study, hookah use was measured at 19.8 percent in 12th-grade populations, trouncing both cannabis and cigarette use.

Unfortunately, the primary problem has been e-cigarette use, also known as vaping. In fact, e-cigarette use among middle and high school students has tripled to approximately 2 million adolescents. Results from the 2014 National Youth Tobacco Survey detailed that high school students who used e-cigarettes at least one day in the past month increased from 4.5 percent in 2013 to 13.4 percent in 2014. The big question is: what is the cause?

Changing attitudes affect usage

The answer may lie in the attitudes and perceptions that teenagers have about these different drugs. In a 2015 study conducted by Maria L. Roditis, Ph.D., and Bonnie Halpern-Felsher, Ph.D., the researchers interviewed adolescent groups regarding the risks of various tobacco products and marijuana. Findings consisted of:

  • Besides evoking relaxation, respondents typically cited a long list of detriments associated with using cigarettes including yellowing of teeth, bad breath and death
  • Compared to cigarettes, participants had an easier time listing possible benefits of marijuana use, from “getting high” to “relieving stress”
  • Despite acknowledging that they had little knowledge about the newer product, respondents classified e-cigarette use as classy and claimed that the inhaled vapor from devices contained no nicotine

As with most nationwide trends, multiple factors are responsible for the shifting usage of cigarettes and cannabis. Regardless of the drug, the regular use of any of these substances often leads to abuse and addiction. Fortunately, the in-depth substance abuse treatment programs at White River Academy work to unravel these addictive tendencies from teenage minds. Speak with one of our representatives to learn about how we weave education and behavioral health together. To contact us, simply call our 24/7 helpline.

Written by Lee Yates.

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