Americans See Cannabis As Less Risky Than Tobacco

A recent study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association reveals a growing trend in people’s perceptions: Americans see cannabis as less risky than tobacco.

The study involved a survey of 5.035 American adults in 2017, 2020 and 2021, with the tendency to find cannabis safer than tobacco growing as the years passed.

The study highlights a significant shift in public perception, something other studies have found, as well. Participants increasingly consider smoking marijuana or encountering secondhand cannabis smoke as safer than engaging in or being exposed to tobacco smoke. The changing perspectives indicate a rising belief that cannabis smoke carries a lower level of danger compared to tobacco smoke.

“More than one-third of participants felt that daily smoking of cannabis was safer than tobacco, and their views increasingly favored safety of cannabis vs tobacco over time,” the researchers wrote.

Finding Cannabis Less Risky Than Tobacco

Many of those who participated in the survey felt daily cannabis smoking is safer than smoking tobacco every day. That number grew with each passing year, with 37% thinking it was safer in 2017 and 44% saying the same in 2021. The same increase happened on the issue of secondhand smoke, with 35% considering secondhand cannabis smoke safer than tobacco smoke in 2017, compared to 40% in 2021.

Younger respondents more strongly favored cannabis over tobacco. The study found that those between 18 to 29 were more likely to voice the view that cannabis is safer compared to those  60 or older.

Also, unmarried respondents aligned with a view that cannabis was safer. Those who were retired were less likely to move toward a view of cannabis being safer than those who were working.

Other Findings From the Cannabis vs. Tobacco Study

The survey further inquired about individuals’ perceptions of the relative safety of secondhand marijuana and tobacco smoke in various scenarios.

Among adults, 12.6% indicated that cannabis smoke was somewhat or entirely safe, whereas only 2.4% expressed a similar view about tobacco smoke. When considering children, 4.8% believed secondhand cannabis smoke to be partially or entirely safe, in contrast to 1.8 percent for tobacco smoke. Additionally, 5.3% held the opinion that exposure to marijuana smoke was generally safe for pregnant women, whereas merely 1.4% held the same belief regarding cigarettes.

Interestingly, the study found the tendency to find cannabis safer than tobacco did not correspond with the participant’s location. Those living in states where cannabis is legal did not view cannabis as safer than those in non-legal states.

That aspect of the survey led the researchers to write, “This suggests that the increasing perception of safety of cannabis may be a larger, national trend rather than a trend seen only in states with cannabis legalization.”

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