Tobacco companies lied to America for more than a century about the dangers of smoking. They deliberately targeted kids. They even had doctors promote cigarettes as medicine. And today we are paying the price.
Though smoking is down, three times as many Americans still smoke tobacco as marijuana. Tobacco use is our nation’s top cause of preventable death and contributes to about 430,000 deaths each year. Tobacco use costs our country at least $200 billion annually — which is about 10 times the amount of money our state and federal governments collect from today’s taxes on cigarettes and other tobacco products.
We know if it’s legalized, marijuana will be commercialized, too. A commercial marijuana industry will act just as the tobacco industry acts. Big Tobacco may even take over a marijuana industry once it’s up and running. According to a report commissioned by tobacco company Brown and Williamson:
The use of marijuana … has important implications for the tobacco industry in terms of an alternative product line. [We] have the land to grow it, the machines to roll it and package it, the distribution to market it.
Then there’s Altria, the parent company of Phillip Morris. It recently bought the Web domain names “AltriaCannabis.com” and “AltriaMarijuana.com.”
If this sounds frightening, it is. Big Tobacco has worked long and hard for decades to conceal the harms of its product — and hundreds of millions of lives have been lost worldwide in the past century. Big Tobacco knows it has to replace those lives with new customers every year. Who does it go after? Kids. Consider:
R. J. Reynolds: “Realistically, if our company is to survive and prosper over the long term, we must get our share of the youth market.”
Lorillard: “The base of our business is the high school student.”
Phillip Morris: “Today’s teenager is tomorrow’s potential regular customer… Because of our high share of the market among the youngest smokers, Philip Morris will suffer more than the other companies from the decline in the number of teenage smokers.”
We would be incredibly naive to think a commercial marijuana industry wouldn’t employ all of the same strategies to convince people — especially young people — to use marijuana.
We don’t need Big Marijuana targeting us and saddling our country with enormous social costs. And we don’t need Big Tobacco taking over Big Marijuana.