Neal: Marijuana and Tobacco, Mixed Messages

June 3, 2013

by Andrea Neal

“For First Time, Majority in U.S. Supports Public Smoking Ban.” That was the headline in July 2011 as cigarette bans swept the country. In 2000, just one major U.S. city banned smoking at work sites, restaurants and bars. As of last year, 60 percent of the 50 largest cities did, including Indianapolis. Last July, Indiana became one of 38 states with smoke-free air laws.

“Majority Now Supports Legalizing Marijuana.” That headline appeared this spring amidst growing debate over liberalizing marijuana laws. Although marijuana use is still against federal law, 26 states have moved to legalize medical marijuana, decriminalize recreational marijuana or both. Indiana has been flirting with the idea.

Senate Bill 580 this past session would have made possession of less than two ounces of marijuana a Class C infraction punishable by nothing more than a fine — the same as a traffic ticket. The bill died without a hearing; its author, Sen. Karen Tallian, D-Portage, promised to reintroduce it next year. A WISH-TV/Ball State University Hoosier Survey showed support for decriminalization at 53 percent.

What’s going on here? The Hoosier Survey and poll results from Gallup and Pew Research Center suggest a severe case of schizophrenia when it comes to smoking.

Health advocates have succeeded in their marketing campaign against Big Tobacco but have failed to gain the upper hand in the marijuana debate. This is partly due to misinformation and partly due to misrepresentation by activists.

The National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) is the most vocal group that seeks to repeal marijuana restrictions. The group says prominently on its website, “According to the prestigious European medical journal, The Lancet, ‘The smoking of cannabis, even long-term, is not harmful to health.’ ”

Since The Lancet said those words in 1996, however, it has published numerous studies refuting the conclusion. In 2009, it wrote, “Epidemiological, clinical and laboratory studies have established an association between cannabis use and adverse outcomes . . . (including) dependence syndrome, increased risk of motor vehicle crashes, impaired respiratory function, cardiovascular disease, and adverse effects of regular use on adolescent psychosocial development and mental health.”

Any smoking is bad for one’s health. Tobacco is addictive, and second-hand smoke is a proven cancer-causing agent, justifying bans in public places.

Yet on almost every measure, marijuana is a more dangerous substance than tobacco, comparable with alcohol in its ability to impair judgment and to more-potent narcotics in its lasting effects on the brain. The typical cannabis cigarette “increases the smoker’s risk of developing lung cancer by 20 times the amount of one tobacco cigarette,” says the British Lung Foundation, which published a review of medical research in 2012.

Marijuana ingestion harms short-term memory, and makes it difficult to learn and retain information or perform complex tasks. It slows reaction time and reduces motor coordination. Prolonged use is “associated with lower test scores and lower educational attainment because, during periods of intoxication, the drug affects the ability to learn and process information, thus influencing attention, concentration and short-term memory,” said researchers M. T. Lynskey and W. D. Hall.

One reason commonly given for decriminalizing marijuana is to free law enforcement to focus on serious crime and to reduce the number of minor possession cases that clog the court system. Pot smokers are not criminals, the thinking goes.

The argument is naïve. The National Research Council has found that long-term marijuana use can alter the nervous system in ways that promote violence. Further, legalizing drugs doesn’t end illegal activity connected with the drug trade. Consider Amsterdam, where coffee houses selling marijuana are commonplace. The city has been plagued by drug trafficking, drug tourism and street crime.

Support for legalizing marijuana has risen 11 points since 2010, a stunning increase that can only be attributed to propaganda. This is why policymakers must resist the urge to do the popular thing. Society can’t in good conscience deem cigarette smoking a top public-health hazard and simultaneously embrace marijuana smoking.

Andrea Neal is an adjunct scholar with the Indiana Policy Review Foundation. Contact her at



  • Classic says:

    Dribble. I believe the government sponsored another ‘study’ in 1972, ordered by Nixon. It is convenient to site the studies that support a position, naturally. The facts are out there for everyone to read and the facts are generally not provided by a government whose main goal is to incarcerate instead of educate. Have you also read the study from the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine on COPD being treated by Cannabis? Or the hundreds of other studies available?

    It took my a minute on Google… so, here you are:

  • Thanks says:

    What a load of irresponsible reporting. This itself is nothing more than a propaganda piece garnished with literally no fact.

    A Study Posted less than 30 days ago in MEDICAL JOURNALS: “Marijuana habit not linked to lung cancer”

    A Study by The American Journal of Medicine less than 14 days ago: “Marijuana Blood Sugar Study Says Cannabis Lowers Diabetes And Obesity Risk” Journal Source:

    Not to mention: vaporizing and ingesting cannabis are becoming increasingly popular. Which negates ANY argument used related to the act of smoking.

  • Efren Moran says:

    In this investigation, the authors reviewed a set of studies that explored the relationship between smoking marijuana and lung cancer. Specifically, investigators wanted to ascertain if marijuana smoking was related to either lung cancer risk factors or a greater prevalence of lung cancer. A search of several research databases yielded 19 studies that met criteria (e.g., individuals 18 years or older) to be included in a qualitative review of the relevant research.

  • Support for legalizing marijuana has risen 11 points since 2010, a stunning increase that can only be attributed to propaganda. This is why policymakers must resist the urge to do the popular thing. Society can’t in good conscience deem cigarette smoking a top public health hazard and simultaneously embrace marijuana smoking.

  • Raul Wallace says:

    Marijuana prohibition causes far more problems than it solves, and results in the needless arrest of hundreds of thousands of otherwise law abiding citizens each year. The NORML Legal Committee provides legal support and assistance to victims of the current marijuana laws.

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