A recent Gallup poll conducted in the USA has revealed that for the first time more people smoke cannabis than smoke tobacco. 11% per cent of Americans surveyed said they smoked tobacco compared with 16% who said they currently smoke cannabis.
Tobacco use in the USA has been steadily declining since its peak in the 1950s when nearly half of Americans reported that they smoked some sort of tobacco product. This year’s figure is down from last year’s 16% who said they consider themselves to be tobacco smokers.
In contrast to tobacco use, self-reported cannabis use has increased dramatically over the past six decades. When Gallup first started asking Americans about cannabis in 1968 only 4% said they had ever smoked cannabis in their life, that figure now stands at a comparatively huge 48%.
In the late 1940s and the 1950 multiple studies started to reach the conclusion that tobacco smoking caused cancer, one of the most prominent being the 1950 Wynder and Graham study. Following campaigns from not-for-profit organisations such as the American Lung Association and the American Cancer Society, the 1964 landmark report “Smoking and Health: Report of the Advisory Committee to the Surgeon General of the Public Health Service” was produced by the government.
Such reports helped shape individual attitudes negatively towards tobacco smoking. Regulations such as the 1970 tobacco advertising ban, introduced by President Nixon, accelerated the huge reduction in tobacco smoking in the country.
There are now 37 states in the USA that allow medical cannabis use, and 31 states that have either legalised or decriminalised in some form cannabis for adult use/recreational use. Scientists and doctors have been able to study the plant extensively, with over 3800 studies published on cannabis in 2021 alone.
In a similar way to how the attitude to tobacco use changed negatively via measures imposed by the government and the public’s exposure to scientific research, the attitude to cannabis seems to have been changed positively through the same means. A 2021 study found that two-thirds of Americans believed cannabis use should be legal, which reflects a steady increase over the last decade.
Gallup Senior Scientist Frank Newport wrote in August about the findings. “The recognition of smoking’s downside is almost universal. Smoking cigarettes is clearly on the decline and is most likely to become even more of a rarity in the years ahead.”
In stark contrast to the USA, this week the UK’s Health Secretary Thérèse Coffey is expected to announce a U-turn on a promise made in February this year to “enable people across the country to live longer, healthier lives” by tackling smoking which it said, “is still one of the largest drivers of health disparities” due to the estimated six million UK residents that still smoke tobacco.
Thérèse Coffey has been the Health Secretary since 6th September 2022, she also holds the position of Deputy Prime Minister. In the past she has accepted hospitality from the tobacco industry and is herself a smoker. She has historically voted against a raft of anti-smoking measures that the government have introduced, including a regulation to prevent adults from smoking in cars where children are present.
The anti-smoking nonprofit group Foundation for a Smoke-Free World reported that 14.1% of the UK population smoked tobacco products in 2019, which is similar to the USA. Also similar to the USA there has been a steady decline in tobacco use since the 1970s when roughly 47% smoked.
The attitudes of the British public to cannabis use mirror those in the USA. However, the UK Government seems to be going backwards in regard to its beliefs around cannabis and drug use in general.
The new government, led by Liz Truss, seems to be continuing the theme of announcing ridiculous-sounding initiatives like the Priti Patel and Boris Johnson-headed idea to take away passports and driving licenses from people caught using cocaine. This week Home Secretary Suella Braverman was said to be “receptive” to apparent calls from a group of Conservative Police and Crime Commissioners to re-classify cannabis to a Class A substance, which would increase the penalty for supply and production to life in prison. This would put it on par with drugs such as heroin and crack cocaine.
The government’s swing to more authoritarian drug rules goes against the feelings of the majority of the UK public, with only 23% of people believing that cannabis laws “should be tougher with more restrictions, and greater punishments” according to a recent YouGov poll. Downing Street has since distanced itself from Braverman’s statement and said they have no plans for the reclassification of cannabis.
The UK did change the law in 2018 to allow doctors to prescribe cannabis for conditions where traditional medication were not working. Cannabis is available on the NHS, and although there are only a handful of patients currently benefiting from this there are around fifteen private clinics prescribing cannabis to an estimated 20,000 patients.
If you would like to find out more about obtaining a medical cannabis prescription in the UK, you can learn more here.