Why do cigarette smokers get all the heat?

Reducing the number of cigarette smokers has been the aim of several public health forums for years now. In 1989, smoking was banned from all flights, and in 2001 designated smoking rooms were installed in restaurants and bars. This was accepted until 2004, when smoking in public places was banned altogether. Today, smokers are not permitted inside a public place, and they must maintain a minimum distance from the building.

Of course for many people, these mandates make a lot of sense. Smoking cigarettes is known to cause a variety of health problems,  with second-hand smoke causing many of the same issues for non-smokers.

People between the ages of twenty and twenty-four have the highest rates of smoking as compared with all the other age groups, and the maritime provinces are known for having the highest rates of smoking per capita. As a result of this, Canadian provinces are starting to ban smoking on campus all together.

As opposed to half a century ago, we’re now taught from a young age that smoking is bad for you. We’re told that you don’t look cool doing it. Rather, it is increasingly the case that smokers are put into a light that is unattractive and disgusting.

“I often get told that I’m too young to smoke,” says one student who describes herself as a habitual cigarette smoker. “Or someone tells me that I look unattractive. I’ve never been told ‘oh you look cool,’” she laughs. “And for some reason, I get a lot of people telling me it’s bad for my health, as if I didn’t know.”

So why is it that cigarettes have such a bad reputation, but marijuana has flown under the radar?

“If my parents found out I was smoking cigarettes, they’d be really mad,” says one Mt A. student. “But they know I smoke weed and they weren’t really fazed.”

The British Lung Foundation found that seventy-eight percent of teenagers believe that marijuana isn’t harmful, especially not in comparison to tobacco. They report that while there is a wealth of research and studies examining the effects of cigarettes, there are relatively little facts on the effects of marijuana.

We’ve all heard someone say it – “weed isn’t bad for you. It’s a plant. It’s not like drugs that are chemically manufactured.” This might be true, however, what people forget is that you are inhaling smoke; regardless of it’s from a cigarette or a joint. And what many don’t know is, smoking marijuana is actually more harmful than smoking cigarettes.

In a study conducted by the British Lung Foundation, it was found that marijuana causes many of the same health issues as cigarettes. Habitual marijuana smokers were found to have a significantly higher prevalence of chronic and acute respiratory symptoms. They were also found to be at a higher risk for heart disease and various forms of cancer. In addition, while smoking cigarettes is known as a relaxer, smoking marijuana causes many psychological symptoms that cigarettes do not. The main effects of marijuana are having a distorted sense of time, being paranoid, random thoughts, short-term memory loss, and anxiety. Long-term psychological effects in chronic users show deficits in connection with the learning and memory area of the brain, especially in those who started smoking weed in their teens.

In terms of respiratory and cardiac health issues, it was found that these are actually compounded in marijuana smokers. The British Lung Foundation study reported that smoking three to four joints a day would cause the same damage as smoking twenty tobacco cigarettes. This is because marijuana tends to be smoked in a way that increases the puff volume by two-thirds and the depth of inhalation by one-third. Additionally, breath-holding time is four times longer when smoking a joint, than if you are smoking a cigarette. It has also been estimated that smoking weed results in a fourfold greater amount of tar inhaled. Again, this is due to the longer breath-holding time and differences in filtering characteristics.

So, while dangers of tobacco are highly publicized and well known, it doesn’t mean the dangers of marijuana are non-existent. At the end of the day, neither substance is good to put into your body. So next time you go to light up, keep in mind what you’re risking, regardless of what’s rolled in the papers.

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