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THE IMPACT DIVERGING PUBLIC OPINION ON
CANNABIS AND TOBACCO REGULATION HAS
ON CONSTRUCTIVE ENGAGEMENT BETWEEN
Public and professional opinion has diverged considerably on
cannabis and tobacco regulation, making it increasingly
unlikely that advocates in these disparate areas will engage
constructively in discussions about best practice policy
interventions, to the detriment of both sides.
There is an irony that California was the ﬁrst state
to enact a state-wide ban on smoking in public places
in 1995 , extended recently to include vaping ,
and was then also the ﬁrst to legalize medical use of
marijuana in 1996 and now recreational use of
As Hall & Kozlowski  point out, there is an acceptance
by advocates of cannabis legalization of the social value of
recreational cannabis use by adults, and concern about any
risk of physical harm is outweighed by this. This message
resonates increasingly with public opinion; a Gallup poll
in 2015 found 60% support for cannabis legalization in the
United States, up from only 36% in 2005 .
Conversely, tobacco control advocates are moving in
favour of increasing restriction of use , as are the public.
In the United States, support for a ban on smoking in all
public places rose from 40 to 59% between 2007 and
2011, during which time support for a total ban on
smoking rose from 12 to 19% and has continued to rise
to 24% in 2015 [7,8].
Tobacco control advocates have been very success-
ful in gaining acceptance from the public and
policymakers that tobacco is exceptional, and should
be treated as such. They have achieved this by empha-
sizing the lethality and addictiveness of tobacco, and
arguing that while it is too widely used to be banned,
it kills such a high proportion of its users that it
should be regulated much more stringently than other
legal products. Indeed, tobacco is the only legal con-
sumer good that has a binding international treaty
dedicated to its control and prevention, the World
Health Organization (WHO) Framework Convention
on Tobacco Control, which stems from the
acceptance that it is uniquely harmful . Unfortu-
nately the argument that it is ‘unique’ now militates
against cannabis, once legal, being treated the same
Worse still, nicotine, the addictive component of
tobacco, has become identiﬁed closely with its toxicity, both
for advocates and the population as a whole. In both the
United Kingdom and the United States, fewer than half
the population identify correctly that nicotine in cigarettes
does not cause cancer, and this ﬁgure has been declining in
recent years [ITC Project (unpublished data 2002–2015)].
It is therefore unsurprising that, compared to cannabis,
there is less acceptance among advocates and the public
that the social value of recreational nicotine use outweighs
the risks of physical harm.
Public perceptions of both the level of harm and intrin-
sic addictiveness of nicotine have transferred from tobacco
and smoking to e-cigarettes and vaping. The evidence from
the United Kingdom and the United States shows how
deeply embedded these views are as public opinion has be-
come more, not less, negative about the relative riskiness of
vaping and smoking in recent years [10,11]. Mispercep-
tions of the risks of nicotine are an intractable problem
© 2017 Society for the Study of Addiction Addiction, 113,602–609