Young Adults Would Rather Quit Cigarettes Than Marijuana

Posted on December 4th, 2014

Cigarette smoking and marijuana use are two of the most common forms of recreational drug intake in the U.S. and across the world. However, scientists have devoted relatively few resources to the examination of people who regularly participate in both of these activities. In a study published in January 2014 in the journal Addictive Behaviors, researchers from two U.S. universities evaluated the overlap between cigarette smoking and marijuana use among young adults between the ages of 18 and 25, as well as the factors that link and separate the two forms of drug intake.

Background Statistics

The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention track smoking rates among U.S. residents age 18 or older through a project called the National Health Interview Survey. According to the figures compiled in the most recently available version of this survey (from 2011), 19 percent of all adults smoke; this number represents a slight drop from other recent years. Men (21.6 percent) are substantially more likely to smoke than women. In the target age group of young adults, the overall smoking rate is 18.9 percent. Again, men in this age range smoke cigarettes considerably more often than women.

The federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration tracks the cannabis (marijuana and hashish) use rates among U.S. preteens, teenagers and adults through a project called the National Survey on Drug Use and Health. The latest figures from this survey (gathered in 2012) indicate that roughly 18.7 percent of all 18- to 25-year-olds use marijuana or hashish on a monthly basis. The rate of use rises to 31.5 percent when any marijuana or hashish intake within a 12-month period is considered. More than half (52.2 percent) of all U.S. 18- to 25-year-olds have used marijuana or hashish at some point in their lifetimes.

Frequency of Overlap

In the study published in Addictive Behaviors, researchers from Stanford University and UC San Diego used an anonymous, remotely administered survey of 1,987 18- to 25-year-olds to find out how often cigarette smokers in this age group also use marijuana (or vice versa). Specifically, the survey asked all of the respondents to detail their cigarette and marijuana use for the previous month. All told, slightly more than half of the participants used both substances in the indicated time frame. Males made up roughly 68 percent of these users, who had an average age of slightly more than 20. Seventy-one percent of the combined cigarette/marijuana users identified themselves as white.

Shared and Unshared Factors

In addition to determining how many young adults in their study combined cigarette and marijuana use, the researchers looked at several factors that commonly influence all patterns of substance use. These factors include frequency of intake, the internal and external cues that trigger any given instance of substance use, the ways in which users decide to respond or avoid responding to the cues for substance intake, the presence of any issues related to substance dependence or addiction, the motivations to quit using a substance and the success of any attempts to quit substance use.

The researchers concluded that, in most respects, the factors that influence the use of cigarettes are the same as the factors that influence the use of marijuana. However, they also concluded that significant differences between the two substances appear when users express their level of motivation to cease substance intake. Compared to their feelings about quitting marijuana, young adults who use both substances display a considerably stronger urge to quit smoking cigarettes; they’re also more willing to take active steps toward quitting smoking cigarettes and more likely to see complete smoking cessation as a desirable goal. However, despite these more positive feelings, cigarette smokers who also use marijuana still doubt their ability to actually quit cigarette smoking or to stay away from smoking if they quit.

The authors of the study published in Addictive Behaviors believe their findings indicate that cigarette smokers who use marijuana may be more willing to go along with efforts aimed at curbing smoking than with efforts aimed at curbing marijuana use. They also believe that public health officials trying to prevent or reduce the use of either cigarettes or marijuana will benefit from understanding how the factors that influence intake of the two substances overlap and differ.

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