Report: Politics, Not Science, Drives Double Standard on Cannabis, Nicotine Policies

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As the House votes on a bill this month to end the federal prohibition on cannabis – once unthinkable –  a new Competitive Enterprise Institute report looks at how a different low-risk, recreational substance – vapor nicotine – is politically demonized.

“Legalizing recreational cannabis is now a cause célèbre, yet a prohibition on nicotine vapor products—electronic cigarettes— has also become fashionable, often among the same people who actively fight to legalize cannabis,” said Michelle Minton, CEI senior fellow and author the report, The Double Standards of Cannabis and Nicotine.

In terms of public opinion, people seem to have concluded the costs of cannabis prohibition outweigh potential risks of legalization. Sixty-six percent of Americans support legalizing cannabis, according to a 2019 Gallup poll. Yet 52 percent favor banning all but tobacco-flavored e-cigarettes, and nearly half (49 percent) favor a total ban on nicotine vaping products, according to a Kaiser Family Foundation poll from the same year.

In terms of health risk, as with recreational cannabis, clinical evidence indicates nicotine vaping risks are minimal. Nicotine replacement therapy, for example, is not associated with increased risk of cancer, cardiovascular disease, stroke, or other diseases commonly linked with smoking. Moreover, there is ample evidence that smokers use e-cigarettes to kick their far more deadly habit: smoking, which contributes to 480,000 deaths per year in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

With all the evidence piling up on e-cigarettes, why the disparity in public opinion and politics? “Anti-tobacco activists have waged a relentless messaging campaign against e-cigarettes,” Minton explained. “They have consistently worked to suppress any investigation into the possibility that nicotine is not all that bad, blame nicotine products for harms caused by other substances, and shut down any challenge to their narrative.”

Since government health policies and restrictions directly impact people’s lives, freedom, and well-being, the report urges policymakers to take an evidence-driven approach to setting those policies.

View the report, The Double Standards of Cannabis and Nicotine, by Michelle Minton