A smoke is a smoke is a smoke: New research suggests that folks who smoke pot may be more prone to taking up -- or returning to -- the cigarette habit.
One tobacco-cessation expert said the findings aren't surprising.
"Among individuals that I have treated, the majority of those who smoke cannabis as well as cigarettes often have a more difficult time quitting, do not want to give up their cannabis use, and are more likely to relapse to cigarette smoking," said Patricia Folan. She directs Northwell Health's Center for Tobacco Control in Great Neck, N.Y.
The new research was led by Renee Goodwin, of Columbia University School of Public Health in New York City. Her team tracked data on nearly 35,000 American adults who took part in a national survey.
While the study couldn't prove cause-and-effect, Goodwin's team found that marijuana use was associated with an increased risk that nonsmokers would start smoking cigarettes. Pot smoking was also tied to a lower likelihood that smokers would quit and a greater chance that former smokers would return to the habit.
While cigarette smoking is declining in the United States, the relaxation of laws against marijuana means its use is on the rise.
That's why it's important to gain "a better understanding of the relationship between marijuana use and cigarette use," Goodwin said in a university news release.
A prior study by Goodwin and colleagues found a dramatic rise in the use of marijuana by cigarette smokers over the past two decades. It also found that daily marijuana use is more than five times higher among cigarette smokers than among nonsmokers.
"As indicated in the article, the relaxation of laws banning cannabis may have had an impact on the cannabis use of many, who now perceive cannabis as less harmful with fewer risks for health consequences," Folan reasoned.
Other experts agreed.
"This study demonstrates that smoking anything combustible is a generalized habit," said Dr. Len Horovitz, a pulmonary specialist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City. "It would seem that 'smoking is smoking.'"
Dr. Alan Mensch is a pulmonologist and senior vice president of medical affairs at Plainview and Syosset Hospitals, in New York. He said there's a worry that "cannabis use could negatively affect the success we've had in decreasing tobacco use and result in an increase in tobacco-related diseases and death."
A greater focus on marijuana use is needed in efforts to reduce smoking and to help people stop smoking, Goodwin said.
The trend could be especially important for young Americans, Goodwin added. She pointed to recent data suggesting that marijuana use is more common than cigarette use among teens, so it's important to learn more about how marijuana use may affect teens' risk of starting smoking.
The study was published online recently in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry.
The U.S. National Institute on Drug Abuse has more about marijuana.
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