According to a recent Gallup poll, for the first time ever, more Americans are smoking cannabis over tobacco: 16% of those surveyed reported that they smoke cannabis, with 48% saying they have tried it at some point, compared to the 4% reported in 1969. Meanwhile, tobacco use has been declining over the years, with only 11% of people reporting smoking cigarettes versus 45% in the mid-1950s.
Though not necessarily surprising, this data is alarming given the known and unknown risks related to an unregulated cannabis market.
While cigarettes are highly-regulated by the FDA in an effort to protect public health, cannabis is not. We should learn from the history of tobacco regulations and advertising guidelines – especially as many state and federal policymakers push for legalization. The FDA oversees cigarette manufacturing, labeling, advertising (particularly ads targeting youth), sale, and distribution. In July, the agency banned the marketing of a popular vaping product believed to contribute to the increase in nicotine addiction in youth. And in August, FDA proposed a ban on menthol products.
Cannabis-derived consumer products, however, lack federal regulation and are inconsistently regulated by a patchwork of state regulations. In addition, there are issues of inadequate and uneven safety testing, rampant mislabeling, no testing whatsoever for product effectiveness, and a lack of resources for enforcement. Cannabis is unique as consumers turn to products for both recreational use and therapeutic use, often guided by misleading marketing efforts promising effectiveness not supported by science. Whether you’re attempting to “get a high” or “treat” symptoms of a disease or mitigate stress and anxiety, the products you’re using are not as they seem.
This is why Cannabis Consumer Watch is encouraging the FDA to warn the public about the dangers posed by untested and mislabeled products and require clear and sensible health warnings on cannabis consumer products, including warnings for pregnant and breastfeeding individuals similar to those on tobacco products. Further, all products should include a 1-800 phone number to allow concerned consumers to call the manufacturers to make specific inquiries about the product.
Our leaders can and should do more to protect consumers who unknowingly put themselves at risk.