The Rebuttal: Is Cannabis More Harmful Than Tobacco?

"We've spent a couple of generations trying to reduce the usage of tobacco in Canada, with a lot of success. Tobacco is a product that does a lot of damage. Marijuana is infinitely worse." - Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Oct. 3, 2015

It is certainly true that health researchers and anti-smoking advocates are concerned about the health effects of smoking cannabis, but there seems to be no evidence to support Harper's claim that smoking marijuana is "infinitely worse" than tobacco.

In an interview with The Toronto Star, Dr. David Hammond, the applied public health chair at the University of Waterloo, said that cannabis does pose health risks to young people and pregnant women, but there is "no comparison" between those detriments and the dangers of tobacco.

Hammond estimates that 30,000-40,000 Canadians die every year due to complications from tobacco use. In contrast, deaths stemming from cannabis use are "very rare."

Dr. Robert Schwartz, the principal investigator and executive director of the Ontario Tobacco Research Unit, puts things another way: tobacco kills more Canadians each year than alcohol, motor vehicles, firearms, illegal drug use, and HIV. Combined.

According to the Canadian Cancer Society, "smoking marijuana for a long period of time may increase your risk of head, neck, lung and throat cancers. However, the quality of this research is not as strong or comprehensive as the evidence that links tobacco use and cancer." The fact that many cannabis consumers also smoke tobacco also makes it difficult to determine the potential risks associated with marijuana.

But while the CCS cannot determine the exact dangers of smoking marijuana, that is no reason to assume that cannabis must be worse than tobacco.

Across the border, a study published by Scientific Reports last January found that cannabis was less harmful than tobacco, which is the leading preventable cause of death in America, according to NBC News.

So not only does cannabis appear less dangerous than tobacco, but the un-cited research that Prime Minister Harper mentioned does not appear to exist.

'The Rebuttal' is a regular feature that takes the statements of politicians and tests them against the facts at hand. Do you have suggestions for statements we should fact-check. Leave a comment below. Twitter: @civilized_life. Facebook: Civilized

h/t CBC, The Star, NBC News

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