More people in the United States smoke marijuana than cigarettes for the first time on record.
The revelation comes as legislative efforts to legalize the substance are being considered by the federal government.
A new Gallup poll found that 16% of Americans say they currently use marijuana. Roughly 48% say they have tried marijuana at some point in their life.
In comparison, just 4% of Americans reported having ever tried marijuana when Gallup first asked in 1969.
In 2013, 7% of respondents said they currently smoke weed – indicating a 9% increase in the last nine years.
Cigarette usage steadily declined during the same period. In the mid-1950, an all-time high of 45% of Americans reported smoking cigarettes. Just 11% of American smoke cigarettes in 2022.
The change may be due, in part, to government intervention.
The U.S. Surgeon General published a report detailing the adverse health effects of cigarettes on Jan. 11, 1964. By June of 1964, the Federal Trade Commission announced that the tobacco industry would need to include health warning labels on cigarette packages.
Despite lobbying from the tobacco industry, Congress ultimately passed the Federal Cigarette Labeling and Advertising Act in 1966 which “requires manufacturers, packagers, and importers to place one of four statutorily-prescribed health warning statements on cigarette packages and in advertisements, on a rotational basis.” The policy also “prohibits any advertising of cigarettes and little cigars on radio, television, or other media regulated by the Federal Communications Commission.”
Since the 1960s, additional regulations regarding health labels for cigarettes have been passed. This includes the Required Warnings for Cigarette Packages and Advertisements, which was passed in March of 2020 and created a total of 11 new health warnings for cigarettes “consisting of textual warning statements accompanied by color graphics, in the form of concordant photorealistic images, depicting the negative health consequences of cigarette smoking. These new required warnings depict some of the lesser-known, but serious health risks of smoking,” according to the Food and Drug Administration.
Between 2005 and 2016, the total number of American adults who smoked cigarettes declined from 20.9% to 15.5%.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported in 2018 that 34.2 million adults smoked cigarettes (13.7% of the adult population) – an all-time low since the 1960s.
“This marked decline in cigarette smoking is the achievement of a consistent and coordinated effort by the public health community and our many partners,” said Dr. Robert R. Redfield, who was then the director of the CDC. “The health benefits of quitting smoking are significant, and we are committed to educating Americans about the steps they can take to become tobacco-free.”
The government’s effort to educate the public about the dangers of cigarette smoking has not deterred marijuana usage.
Frank Newport, the author and analyst of the Gallup Poll, predicts marijuana usage will continue to increase.
“The majority of Americans are not convinced that marijuana use is harmful either for its users or for society,” wrote Newport. “Those who have tried marijuana are particularly likely to say marijuana has positive effects.”
“Americans are more ambivalent about the effects of smoking marijuana, and its future use by Americans will depend partly on changes in recognition of its potential harms and partly on the continuing shifts in its legality in states across the union,” he added.
Although several states have legalized marijuana, it remains illegal for recreational usage in half of the states in the union.
On July 21, Democrats in the Senate proposed the Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act which would end the federal prohibition on marijuana. The legal status of the drug would be solely regulated by the states.
The bill would also create a monitoring system governed by the FDA similar to regulatory authorities already established for tobacco and alcohol.
The bill has the backing of several notable Democrats including Majority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York, Finance Committee Chair Ron Wyden of Oregon, and Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey.
“By failing to act, the federal government is empowering the illicit cannabis market, it’s ruining lives and propping up deeply rooted racism in our criminal justice system, it’s holding back small cannabis businesses from growing and creating jobs in their communities,” said Wyden during remarks on the chamber floor. “Cannabis legalization is here, and Congress needs to get with the program.”