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Bad Study Highlights Misunderstanding About Where Smoking Risks Come From

smoke inhalation risks
Written by Sarah Friedman

A new study about the perceptions of the dangers of smoking found that cannabis users tend to think of smoking as less dangerous than their non-smoking counterparts, at least as per study investigators. Is this study accurate? Or is it a case of bad research that simply shows the ongoing misunderstanding of how smoking does cause risks?

There are tons of smoking risks, but such risks apply to anything being smoked, not just cigarettes; a point a recent study failed to account for when looking at opinions of smoking danger. If you prefer your news source be independent and honest, this is the place for you. We provide the Cannadelics Weekly Newsletter so readers can access daily updates, a well as get themselves some great deals on all kinds of products including vapes, edibles, and cannabinoid compounds like the uber popular Delta 8 & HHC. Head to our ‘best of’ lists for more info, and remember to only purchase the products you’re happy to use.

The study

First and foremost, this not an actual research study. This is an example of study investigators using compiled research from another investigation, that has nothing to do with what they’re looking for. According to the writers, the point of this research is to look at opinions on smoking risks for “prioritizing next steps for tobacco control”, in which they “discuss four new findings to illuminate the possible ways in which the material in this issue may show us a way forward if we can integrate data from different disciplines within the field of nicotine and tobacco research.”

Then it gravitated toward the question “why is cancer associated with increased quitting success whereas daily cannabis use is associated with decreased quitting success?” From there the investigators decided to look at opinions of cigarette smoking dangers, by comparing the responses of one question between those who use cannabis, and those who do not.

This paper was not able to control for any confounding factors, which often play a big role in study outcomes. Confounding factors are anything that can affect the result of an investigation, other then the variables being studied. Confounding factors of interest here include how cannabis is used (smoked or not) and whether respondents smoke cigarettes already. Neither of these was accounted for, making the study weak to begin with. However, weak or not, or on point or not, the researchers did show something interesting. That there is a massive misunderstanding in what causes smoking risks, even by those researching the field.

smoking risks
Smoking risks

The paper is called: Everything old is new again: Creating and maintaining a population-level ‘shared reality’ of health risks associated with cigarette use toward both reducing the prevalence and eliminating disparities in cigarette use among all Americans, and was conducted at Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health in New York. Where did researchers get their data? Well, not from a pool of respondents picked for their particular study, because the researchers designed no such study. What they did, was pull unrelated information from the 2020 National Survey on Drug Use and Health for people 18 and above.

The entire paper just published, was based on only one question that was asked in this other research project. The question was about if participants think smoking a pack of cigarettes a day, or more, is harmful to them. That answer was compared between two groups of people; one made up of people who had used cannabis daily, and one made up of people who did not use cannabis in the last year. And that’s it. Nothing else went into the results. What were the results of this incredibly faulty study? That “Sixty-two percent of adults who use cannabis daily perceived pack a day cigarette use to be of “great” risk to health, compared with 73% of those who did not use cannabis in the past year.”

The best point made in this study, wasn’t even a part of the study. Research investigators themselves were looking at the wrong question…and did nothing to help the gross misunderstanding of what smoking risks are, and where they come from. In terms of simply getting good information, the biggest glaring omissions of this ‘study’ was to disregard how people were using cannabis (as in smoking it or not), and how many people from either group, were already cigarette smokers.

Asking the same question to someone who only eats edibles or vapes might net an entirely different answer from asking someone who only (or primarily) smokes cannabis, but this wasn’t accounted for. Disregarding whether the participants actually smoke cigarettes is even more confusing, as this is an integral part in looking at attitudes toward smoking. Last, the entire issue of where the smoking risks come from, was completely ignored. The question that was answered was about whether respondents thought smoking cigarettes can be harmful, NOT if they thought smoking anything in general is harmful, and that’s the real question. The dangers of smoke inhalation affect all smokers, whether of just cannabis, just tobacco, both, or something else.

Where do smoking risks come from?

Of all the craziness I see out there in the press, and the smear campaigns, and misunderstood information, this is one of the things that gets me the most. The idea of where smoking risks come from. The US – and the world at large – has put so much effort into demonizing tobacco, that the majority seem to actually believe that it’s merely smoking tobacco that causes danger. Many times I’ve heard the ridiculous line from people that smoking marijuana is safe, while smoking cigarettes is not.

This is wildly untrue. Dangerously, wildly, untrue. The danger of smoking is the danger of lighting anything on fire and breathing it in. Smoking of any kind is smoke inhalation, and it doesn’t matter what is smoked. Now, technically, everyone knows smoke inhalation is bad in the context of a house fire, or wildfires in the woods. But the population at large has been taught to separate this smoke inhalation from the smoke inhalation that comes from smoking something like tobacco or weed. The issue with cigarettes is partly the frequency. If you get a tiny bit of smoke in your lungs once a day, you’ll probably be okay. But consistently filling the lungs with smoke 100, 200, 300+ times a day, means constant smoke inhalation.

smoking cigarette risks
Smoking cigarette risks

Tobacco does come with some extra special detractions. As a huge global sales industry, tobacco is a mass-produced item for consumption, and that means most tobacco sold commercially is full of tons of other chemicals, and many of these chemicals compound the danger. But even if those chemicals weren’t there, it still wouldn’t matter. A person smoking organic tobacco, or some other tobacco-free herb mixture, is still as likely to develop issues related to smoking, because they’re still doing the most deadly part – lighting something on fire and breathing it in. A further detraction of cigarettes, however, is the sheer number of puffs taken, which is generally way more than a joint smoker will take in a single day.

It’s shocking, and scary, how little health organizations feel like being honest about this, and how hard it is to find useful information to better explain this massive misunderstanding. In fact, one of the funniest parts about it all, is that tobacco holds no proven health risk beyond smoking it. Even statistics for oral cancers related to chewing tobacco are minuscule at best and unconfirmed. Tobacco has been used medicinally for thousands of years, and only became an issue when smoking it became the norm around the 1700s. And yet this plant, which contains tons of medicinal benefits, has been so badly demonized, that instead of looking at the topic as ‘the dangers of smoking’, its become, ‘the dangers of smoking tobacco’; and this is how most people understand the issue.

What did these researchers just do? Reinforce that backwards notion, by making this about how respondents view cigarette smoking, and not how they see smoking in general; along with the fact they put this together to help with tobacco control steps, NOT smoking control steps. As their entire investigation is rooted around tobacco control policies, it says very little for how these high-level researchers actually understand the issue of smoking. And that it applies to anything smoked, not just tobacco.

Back to the study results

In my opinion, this study is a useless way for a researcher to get a paper published and get their name in the press. It essentially serves no other purpose. The two major things that needed to be controlled for, in order for the study to have value, are how the cannabis users use cannabis, and what percentage of responders in both categories are cigarette smokers.

Asking a group of smokers vs asking a group of non-smokers, will likely get a very different response; but that can’t be said for sure with this study, because those super important questions, weren’t a part of it. Plus, they asked the wrong question. It should have been asked if respondents think smoking cannabis everyday is as dangerous as smoking cigarettes every day. And to take it a step further, they shouldn’t be looking to inform policy on cigarette smoking, but to educate about smoking as a whole.

Beyond that, this study was published off of one question, and even that one question shows results that the majority of cannabis smokers, actually do think smoking cigarettes can cause them harm. Yet the paper authors instead molded this to sound like the opposite, I imagine in order to garner attention when published. 62% who use cannabis daily did see a threat in smoking cigarettes as compared to 73% who didn’t use cannabis, and also perceived danger. It’s hardly much of a difference. But as most people who use cannabis still smoke it, and many in the study were likely cigarette smokers, it also means that the original investigation was actually asking smokers how scared they were that their current behavior might hurt them. And that brings a whole different complication into the research.

smoking cannabis risks
Smoking cannabis risks

I’d say overall, one of the only things that can be gleaned from this fake study (no actual study was done), is that the majority of both cannabis users and non-cannabis users, do see the dangers of smoking cigarettes. The better question though? How many people understand that smoking cannabis is just as bad as smoking cigarettes?


This study is a great example of the lack of research integrity seen in the cannabis field, and the desire to sell a misplaced idea in headlines, without having an actual or useful study to back anything up. Not only does it not do a good job of answering the one question it did seek to answer, but it highlights the general misunderstanding around smoking – and even promotes this misunderstanding by proliferating the idea that there is a difference between cigarette smoking and cannabis smoking.

This ‘study’ is fantastic at expounding why information on things like smoking and cannabis is always confused, when it shouldn’t be. And why it’s so hard to find good information on anything these days.

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About the author

Sarah Friedman

I look stuff up and and write stuff down, in order to make sense of the world around. And I travel a lot too.