An article recently published by the American Academy of Pediatrics found that cannabis use was increasing among college-age adults, while tobacco use was decreasing. The study used information provided by the National Survey on Drug Use and Health from the years 2002-2016 and looked specifically at the 18-22 year-old age group. The survey originally asked questions pertaining to cannabis and tobacco use in the past 30 days and the past 12 months. The study even breaks down the comparison between college students, and adults of the same age not attending college.
In 2016, over half (51.6 percent) of non-college and almost half (46.8 percent) of college young adults reported using either marijuana or tobacco in the past year. Looking at exclusively marijuana use, this was higher among college students (11.5 percent compared to 8.6 percent in the past 30 days and 14.6 percent compared to 10.8 percent). This suggests that young adults not enrolled in college are more likely to smoke both tobacco and cannabis than their college-enrolled counterparts.
Over the last 14 years, college students who reported only using marijuana has increased by 8 percent, while non-college young adults saw an increase of about half of that, at 4 percent.
Comparatively, non-college individuals were more likely than college students to have used tobacco at all. However, there has still been a significant decrease in exclusive tobacco use, with the number of college students who exclusively used tobacco in the last 30 days dropping from 23.5 percent to 4 percent over the years.
When it comes to smoking tobacco, 17.7 percent of non-college students and 10.4 percent of college students claimed to have smoked tobacco in the last 30 days. For the past year, the numbers were similar at 17.4 percent for non-college young adults and 12.2 for those enrolled in classes.
The decline in tobacco use is a positive sign, especially considering the years of evidence of the harmful effects of smoking tobacco. With it being well-known that tobacco causes cancer and increases the risk of stroke and heart attack, as well as the increase in tobacco-free campuses and clean-air laws, the decline in tobacco use has been not only steady, but expected.
However, legalization of cannabis and the changing attitudes toward marijuana use in the last few decades are clearly impacting the number of people open to trying – and enjoying – the plant. Thirty percent of young adults still believe that frequent marijuana use can be harmful – but that is the lowest that number has been since 1980. Again, not necessarily surprising, but a change that has been a long time coming.
Overall, this is a positive thing; more people using marijuana isn’t a bad thing. Many might be choosing cannabis over something more harmful, like alcohol or hard drugs. Others might be using it medicinally to handle the stresses of college and life. All this data shows is that more people than ever are open to trying cannabis – and are turning away from harmful substances like tobacco.