More Americans now favor legal cannabis over legal cigarettes for the first time in US history, surveys suggest.
About 59 percent of Americans support legalizing marijuana for recreational or medical use, according to an official survey by the CDC.
At the same time, a recent poll by Pew Research found 57 percent of Americans are also in favor of banning tobacco products.
The sea-change is the result of decades of anti-tobacco campaigning combined with a softening of attitudes towards marijuana.
It comes despite mounting evidence that cannabis carries many of the same health risks as cigarettes plus a host of mental health issues.
Results from two polls suggest that support for legal cannabis in the US is now higher than that for cigarettes. The data is shown above
The above shows cannabis use across American states. Twenty-one states and DC have legalized it for recreational use in addition to medicinal use, while nearly all now allow it to be used for medicinal purposes.
There are signs, however, that cannabis may finally be coming up against a brick wall after voters in Oklahoma yesterday voted overwhelmingly to reject recreational pot by 62 to 38 percent.
Tobacco use in the United States has been in decline since the 1960s when evidence first emerged of a link to cancer.
At the time, about two in five Americans smoked cigarettes, but now it is just one in ten. But over the past decade, there has been a marijuana revolution across the US.
The number of weed smokers of all ages has more than doubled in the past ten years to 16 percent. Among the under-30s, it has surged to a record 45 percent.
Some 21 states and Washington D.C. have moved to drop prohibitions on the drug, with Hawaii this week becoming the latest to move a step closer to full legalization.
In younger adults, marijuana use is particularly risky because it can harm developing brains by permanently changing their structure, leading to a loss of IQ. It has also been linked to higher rates of mental health problems such as depression.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) asked 6,455 Americans whether they would like all tobacco products to continue to be sold.
Results published last month showed that only 42.7 percent backed this, while the rest said they were opposed.
Older adults were more likely to support the continued sale than youngsters, but no age group had an average of 50 percent or higher.
Cannabis use among those under-30 has now hit a record high, data shows. It is climbing in all age groups as more and more states move to drop restrictions on the drug
This compared to a survey of 5,098 Americans carried out by Washington DC-based pollster the Pew Research Center.
This found that an overwhelming 88 percent of respondents supported the legalization in some sense. Of these, 59 percent said it should be cleared for both medical and recreational use.
Support was highest among younger age groups — up to 72 percent among under-30s — but dropped below half in the over-65s.
Democrat voters were nearly twice as likely to support legalizing marijuana for recreational and medicinal uses compared to Republicans.
In the latest move against the tobacco industry, California became the second state in the country to ban menthol cigarettes — behind only Massachusetts.
This type of cigarette is not as hard on users leading to deeper inhales and, as a result, greater exposure to nicotine and other chemicals in a cigarette.
It is also argued that the pleasant taste of menthol cigarettes tempt people who would not usually become smokers into taking up the habit.
At the other end of the scale, however, restrictions on the sale of marijuana are continuing to be rolled back.
Just this week a bill passed in Hawaii’s senate that would allow residents to recreationally use marijuana and carry on them up to one ounce of the drug. It still needs sign-off from the Governor.
But there are now signs that recreational marijuana is finally hitting a brick wall.
Yesterday Oklahoma rejected a bill to legalize the drug.
Its anti-marijuana campaigner and former White House drugs tsar Kevin Sabet called the victory a win for ‘public safety and common sense’.
‘The industry cannot buy votes and profit off our kids,’ he said.
‘Despite being vastly outspent [campaigners] worked tirelessly to educate voters about the unintended consequences of legalization ranging from more incidents of impaired driving and workplace accidents to higher youth use rates.’
In November, North Dakota, South Dakota and Arkansas all also voted to block recreational marijuana.
They were three of the five states taking the drug to the polls at that time, with Maryland and Missouri becoming the latest to back the measure.
Only Idaho, Kansas and Nebraska are sticking to their guns and keeping cannabis illegal for both recreational and medical use.
But experts predict that in the coming years, more states will roll back the bans and the law at the federal level could be revoked.
The US cannabis market is already worth some $26.1billion in sales and is on track to reach $44.5billion by 2027, driven by huge profits in California, New York and New Jersey according to research firm BDSA.
What are the health risks of marijuana?
About 48million Americans smoke cannabis at least once a year, official estimates suggest.
Marijuana is the third-most commonly used drug in the US behind alcohol and tobacco.
This figure is rising as states continue to legalize the drug.
21 US states have legalized the drug for recreational use for adults.
But evidence is also growing over its health risks, particularly for young adults.
Researchers suggest it has the following negative impacts:
- Brain damage: It can cause a permanent loss of IQ because it hinders brain development and could even have lasting cognition effects in young adults;
- Mental health: It has been linked to increased rates of suicide as well as psychiatric disorders such as depression and anxiety, although it is unclear if marijuana is the cause;
- Daily life: Surveys link it to more problems in careers and maintaining healthy relationships;
- Driving: Those who drive under the influence have slower reactions and less coordination, research shows.
Source: Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.