reading list: marijuana advertising and lessons from tobacco

Kimber P. Richter, Ph.D., M.P.H. & Sharon Levy, M.D., M.P.H., Big Marijuana — Lessons from Big Tobacco, New England Journal of Medicine:

[T]obacco was not always as lethal or addictive as it is today. In the 1880s, few people used tobacco products, only 1% of tobacco was consumed in the form of manufactured cigarettes, and few deaths were attributed to tobacco use. By the 1950s, nearly half the population used tobacco, and 80% of tobacco use entailed cigarette smoking; several decades later, lung cancer became the top cause of cancer-related deaths. This transformation was achieved through tobacco-industry innovations in product development, marketing, and lobbying….

Marketing strategies go hand in hand with product innovation. The market for marijuana is currently small, amounting to 7% of Americans 12 years of age or older, just as the tobacco market was small in the early 20th century. Once machines began mass-producing cigarettes, marketing campaigns targeted women, children, and vulnerable groups by associating smoking with images of freedom, sex appeal, cartoon characters, and — in the early days — health benefits. There is reasonable evidence that marijuana reduces nausea and vomiting during cancer treatment, reverses AIDS-related wasting, and holds promise as an antispasmodic and analgesic agent. However, marijuana manufacturers and advocates are attributing numerous other health benefits to marijuana use — for example, effectiveness against anxiety — with no supporting evidence. Furthermore, the marijuana industry will have unprecedented opportunities for marketing on the Internet, where regulation is minimal and third-party tracking and direct-to-consumer marketing have become extremely lucrative. When applied to a harmful, addictive commodity, these marketing innovations could be disastrous. This strategy poses a particular threat to young people. Adolescents are more likely than adults to seek novelty and try new products.

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