Smoke & Mirrors


Among all the heated debates in recent years, one of the most controversial conversations has revolved around the possible legalization of marijuana. Ever since, a plethora of behavioral research, media documentaries, and medical tests have been released to prove the advantages of weed with the aim of decriminalizing usage. On the other hand, as support for marijuana develops, I’ve noticed that the cigarette industry has been struck with legislation aimed at reducing the demand for tobacco. As a user of both of these products, I’ve always considered it odd that these two very similar substances are treated so differently in terms of regulation and distribution restrictions. 

I will be the first to admit that both cigarettes and marijuana represent significant health risks. For one thing, both narcotics have the potential to cause addiction. Yes, while the behavioral reliance caused by cigarette use is more easily demonstrated by neurological and/or other physical testing, users of cannabis products can develop a psychological dependence on the drug. Like biting our nails or religiously drinking coffee, humans can easily get psychologically addicted to whatever object, product, or activity that is ever-present in their routine. 

In addition to stimulating addictive tendencies, both drugs also expose users to health risks such as gum disease, lung infections, and responses caused by inhaling toxins present in cigarettes and rolled cannabis, including carcinogens. Similarly, these narcotics can cause nearly identical withdrawal symptoms such as anxiety, stress, and insomnia. 

The truth is that the potential side effects of these two substances are undeniably comparable, so why are they being addressed and hence regulated so differently? 

One reason both drugs are seen differently may be owing to the polarizing associations they have each garnered in the largest market, the United States. For its part, Marijuana legalization in the US has emerged as a key proposal of left wing politicians. As a result, the expansion of the cannabis industry has become part of the notion of a progressive society, influencing worldwide dialogues.

Furthermore, research has indicated the presence of systematic racism in the processing of those charged with marijuana usage and distribution. As a result, discussions on legalization have gained backing from other significant social movements seeking greater judicial equality. Similarly, the growing sustainability agenda has expressed support for marijuana, a natural drug that requires little to no chemical processing. Spiritualist groups alike, who are emerging as influential voices in shaping public opinion, also continue to promote the benefits of marijuana for mental health. 

On the other hand, the connotations associated with cigarettes have become more grim over the years. For instance, ecologists have protested against the introduction of tobacco products, stating that the latter causes more environmental concerns than cannabis. This, combined with the history of cigarettes (including its historical use as a status symbol), along with the state-wide campaigns of the health risks of smoking has managed to associate the product with antiquity, traditionalism, and unsustainable consumption.

Another explanation for such disparities in judgements involving the usage of comparable substances is that the legalization of marijuana might allow criminal groups to disband while the cigarette business is controlled by companies that pose no danger. Indeed, the potential legalization of cannabis has become a tool for combating the global network of criminal gangs and narco organizations. After all, despite the availability of several other narcotics, the sale of marijuana is the primary source of income for the majority of illegal groups. Thus, by legalizing the manufacturing and sale of cannabis products, the government and private firms are bound to obtain market domination. The latter may improve global security and will very certainly bring in money, which brings us to our last point. 

The third reason why the cannabis market appears to be obtaining the acceptance of the government and businesses while the cigarette industry drowns in scrutiny is the profit potential in the marihuana sector. With an estimated annual growth rate of 25%, the weed market has piqued the interest of public and private investors searching for new opportunities. Given its economic potential, it is not surprising that one of the leading countries in the legalization movement (the United States) is also the primary producer and distributor of cannabis goods. 

On the contrary, those in charge of the tobacco sector are mainly established in Eastern nations such as China and India, which provide the most economic rivalry to Western economies like those of the EU or the US. Taking all of this into account, some argue that Western institutions have polarized public opinion against cigarette products in order to obtain an economic edge over other rising economies. 

Before I conclude, I want to emphasize that all information concerning the potential risks of weed and tobacco use is based on my own experience. However, regardless of my decision to use these products, I believe that while many may debate the distinctions between the two, claiming that one or the other carries no health concerns would be incorrect. Similarly, believing that one is superior to the other would be redundant, given that both are essentially harmful to the human body. Likewise, I believe that what drives policy makers’ attitudes toward cigarettes and weed — two very comparable drugs — is not a desire to incentivize people to consume ‘the safer option’ but some sort of bias engraved in their rationales.

Why are up-and-coming dispensaries gleaming with contemporary packaging, edgy marketing, and bright branding while cigarette manufacturers are obliged to put images of deceased infants on the cover? Why are so many teens clutching vapes while preaching against cigarette smokers? Why are we not discussing the environmental impact of multinationals developing cannabis farms or the growth of a tobacco black market if we continue to place purchase restrictions? Why are we forgetting that the use of cigarettes, like weed, has also played a key role in social revolutions like the Women’s Suffrage movement? Or that they were once also prescribed by doctors that believed tobacco to be helpful?

All of these questions essentially lead me to wonder whether drug policies — and public opinion — are motivated by a genuine commitment to global health, subjective views and social implications, allegiance to national security, or mere profit.

Featured image: Unsplash

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