Report Linking Teen Smoking to Marijuana Use Disputed
(CNSNews.com) - A new study concluding that marijuana use among teenagers would be sharply reduced if the teens could first be steered away from cigarettes was criticized Tuesday by a libertarian group for allegedly presenting an unbalanced view of tobacc
The report, compiled by the American Legacy Foundation and the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University (CASA), based its findings on a survey of 1,987 teens between 12 and 17 years of age.
It claims 60 percent of repeat marijuana users smoked cigarettes first, teens who smoke are 14 times more likely to try marijuana, six times likelier to be able to buy marijuana in an hour or less, and 18 times likelier to say most of their friends smoke marijuana. And the study asserts that the reduction of teen smoking by half would result in teen marijuana use dropping 16 to 18 percent.
"This underscores - for parents, teachers, policymakers and anyone else connected with the welfare of American children - the importance of intervening to end cigarette smoking in order to help prevent other drug use," said Cheryl Healton, president and CEO of the American Legacy Foundation.
CASA President Joseph Califano, Jr., pointed to President Bush's commitment to reduce illegal drug use by 10 percent over two years and 25 percent over five years.
"Because of its widespread use, the only way to achieve such reductions is to cut marijuana smoking significantly. This new report shows that attacking teen cigarette smoking is critical to attaining the administration's goal," Califano said.
Yet one critic took issue both with the results of the report and its source.
"I don't believe anything that comes out of the Columbia center," Steven Milloy, adjunct fellow at the Cato Institute, told CNSNews.com. "The American Legacy Foundation? They would say anything. They're never balanced about tobacco use. So I'm skeptical right from the start."
Milloy mentioned a CASA study on teen drinking from earlier this year that Milloy said left the organization "embarrassed." The incident, detailed in a special report by the Center for Consumer Freedom (CCF), involved a CASA report claiming that half of the alcohol consumed in the country consisted of underage and excessive adult drinking.
"If you and your significant other share a bottle of wine over dinner, you are an excessive drinker. That's the latest message from CASA," the CCF report stated. "In order to arrive at this overblown conclusion, CASA researchers defined an 'excessive' adult drinker as anyone who consumed more than two drinks per day. CASA made no attempt to account for recent science from Harvard and Tulane showing that two drinks per day can reduce the risk of heart attacks and strokes by 30 percent."
The CCF report also pointed to an editorial by the Journal of the American Medical Association labeling CASA's standard for excessive drinking as "invented" and noting that it differed from drinking limits used to screen patients for alcohol disorders.
While withholding comment about the science involved or the results related to the CASA/American Legacy Foundation's study of marijuana and cigarette use, a spokesperson for America's largest tobacco company agreed with the motive for the study.
"Philip Morris USA applauds the efforts of organizations including the American Legacy Foundation in their commitment to help prevent youth smoking," Jamie Drogin, Philip Morris spokesperson, told CNSNews.com.
Milloy did not dispute the findings of the study, linking cigarette smoking to pot use among teens, but he said the survey broke no new ground and represented "anti-tobacco nonsense."
"It certainly wouldn't be news that kids who smoke are bigger risk takers and might be more likely to try marijuana," Milloy said. "But as far as the numbers (in the report), that's probably sensationalism based on the reputation of those two groups. They have no interest in doing anything that's fair and balanced."
Milloy said his own experience in college was that not many kids smoked cigarettes, but "everybody" smoked marijuana. The CASA report partially backed that view, conceding that even though the risk of marijuana use was higher among youth who had smoked cigarettes, a third of the teenagers who had tried marijuana had never smoked cigarettes.
In related news Tuesday, the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, along with the U.S. Department of Transportation and other safe driving organizations, launched the "Steer Clear of Pot" campaign to discourage teens from driving while impaired on marijuana.
At a Washington press conference, the groups revealed that approximately one in six high school seniors in the United States admitted driving under the influence of marijuana, according to a recent analysis of "Monitoring the Future" data, and 41 percent of teens surveyed by Students Against Drunk Driving/Liberty Mutual said they were not concerned about driving after using drugs.
"The Bush administration is committed to the safety of all Americans," Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta said. "Teens already have the highest crash risk of any age group, making traffic crashes the leading cause of death for young people age 15-20. Combining drug use with teens' inexperience on the road and risk-taking behavior is a recipe for disaster."
Still, Milloy contended that both the CASA report and the White House initiative were just scoring "cheap" political points against teen smoking.
"Of all the things teens can do - and I have a 12-year-old - if the worst thing she does is smoke cigarettes when she's a teen, that will be a good thing because it's safer than drunk driving, it's safer than adolescent sex, it's safer than drugs," Milloy said. "Compared to those things, it's not such a bad thing. I'm not saying it's a good thing, but of all the problems that face teens, I think that smoking is not that big of a problem."