For the 1st time, more adults in U.S. smoke marijuana than cigarettes, Gallup poll says

For the first time in a Gallup poll, slightly more adults in America say they smoke marijuana than cigarettes, although alcohol remains the most commonly consumed drug, by far.

Sixteen percent of adults in America say they use marijuana, compared to 11% percent who smoke cigarettes, according to the poll of 1,013 adults in July. Just a year ago, 16% called themselves cigarette smokers and 12% considered themselves consumed cannabis.

The shift in attitudes toward weed and tobacco began years ago. There are now 37 states that allow marijuana to be sold to registered patients and 19 states and the District of Columbia permitting recreational sales to adults, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. New Jersey has had a medical marijuana law since 2010 and a law for the sale of marijuana for personal use since 2021.

Meanwhile, cigarette use has steadily declined from the 1950s, when 45% of adults were smokers, Gallup said. Decades of medical research and anti-tobacco campaigns have convinced the public how dangerous smoking is. A 2019 Gallup poll found 83% of Americans believed smoking is “very harmful” and another 14% said it is “somewhat harmful.”

The “recognition of smoking’s downside is almost universal,” Gallup Senior Scientist Frank Newport wrote in an Aug. 26 article highlighting the findings of the poll.

“Smoking cigarettes is clearly on the decline and is most likely to become even more of a rarity in the years ahead,” Newport wrote.

In New Jersey, 13% of the population smoked, according to 2019 data contained in the latest Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s Healthiest Counties report.

The increase of people who identify themselves as marijuana consumers from 12% to 16% is “not statistically significant,” Gallup said. But it is a sign that this population will likely grow. The survey found 48% said they had tried the drug, compared to 40% in 2015 and 33% in 1985.

The majority of the population, 68%, support the legalization of marijuana. People are split over whether legal marijuana benefits society, depending on whether they have tried it for themselves. Gallup found 66% of those who had tried marijuana believed making it legal benefitted society compared to 35% of people who have never used the drug and who shared that opinion.

Christine Delnevo, director of the Rutgers Center for Tobacco Studies said she saw good news in the survey.

“Cigarette smoking is at an all-time low,” Delnevo said.

Laws that limit where people can smoke, raising taxes, as well as the age of people who may buy cigarettes are among the policies and laws that have driven down smoking rates, she said.

The marketplace has changed, as well, she said, with the arrival of e-cigarettes, she said. Gallup’s poll does not ask whether people use electronic cigarettes, nor does it include participants who are younger than 18. Delnevo said she didn’t think excluding e-cigarette use skewed the findings. “The prevalence of use in general is much lower than cigarettes – roughly half that of cigarettes for adults.”

Adults who vape nicotine products “have used e-cigarettes to transition away from combustible cigarettes,” she said. “The evidence from randomized clinical trials is increasingly clear that e-cigarettes are effective for cigarette cessation.”

As for the rise in cannabis consumption, Delnevo said public health researchers should keep a close eye on the health effects of smoking cannabis.

“It is important to recognize that it is the burning of tobacco or cannabis – that is combustion – which creates the smoke that is harmful to lung health,” she said. “And so like with tobacco and nicotine products – how cannabis is consumed is important in the context of negative health effects.”

Alcohol is by far the most consumed substance, with 45% saying they drank at least once a week and 23% who considered themselves “occasional” drinkers, according to the poll. These results have been largely the same since 1939, Gallup said.

Two-thirds even acknowledged alcohol is unhealthy and harmful for the drinkers and 71% said it “has a negative effect on society,” Newport wrote. “The majority of Americans recognize that alcohol consumption has negative effects on both the user and society more generally.

“But unlike the case with smoking, there are no signs that these attitudes have resulted in a decrease in alcohol use,” Newport wrote.

The poll is based on telephone interviews with a random sample of adults from all 50 states and the District of Columbia from July 5 to July 26, 2022. The margin of error is plus or minus 4 percentage points.

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Susan K. Livio may be reached at slivio@njadvancemedia.com. Follow her on Twitter @SusanKLivio.

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