A new federal anti-pot ad that started running in newspapers this week revives an old canard and gives it a new twist. Under the headline "Introducing a Really High-Tar Cigarette," it says:
Quite a few people think that smoking pot is less likely to cause cancer than a regular cigarette. You may even have heard some parents say they'd rather their kid smoked a little pot than get hooked on cigarettes.
Wrong, and wrong again.
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, one joint can deliver four times as much cancer-causing tar as one cigarette. So if your kids smoke a joint, their lungs are being filled by far more carcinogens than if they smoked a cigarette.
It's true that a typical joint delivers more carcinogens than a typical tobacco cigarette. But the comparison is highly misleading because the typical pot smoker does not consume even as much as one joint a day, whereas the typical cigarette smoker consumes nearly a pack (four-fifths of cigarette smokers light up every day, with an average daily consumption of about 18 cigarettes). Given the relatively low doses involved, it's not surprising that an association between pot smoking and cancer has yet to be clearly demonstrated, as the Marijuana Policy Project points out.
MPP plausibly argues that the new anti-pot ad could easily be read as suggesting that a marijuana habit is more likely to cause cancer than a cigarette habit, which is clearly not true. If parents are mainly concerned about long-term health effects (as opposed to, say, the risk of arrest), it's perfectly reasonable for them to say "they'd rather their kid smoked a little pot than get hooked on cigarettes." In short, the Office of National Drug Control Policy is wrong, and wrong again.