Blunt products more popular in states where marijuana is legal

March 15, 2018 — A study by researchers at Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health finds that cigars commonly used to roll blunts–hollowed out cigars that are filled with marijuana and smoked–dominate the cigar marketplace in states where recreational marijuana is legal compared to nationally. The findings, which could help direct tobacco prevention efforts, are published online in the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence.

"Cigars with fruit flavors, the brand Swisher Sweets, and inexpensive, small pack sizes are valued among blunt users," said Daniel Giovenco, PhD, assistant professor of Sociomedical Sciences at Columbia's Mailman School of Public Health, and first author. "Our study demonstrates that these tobacco products hold a larger percent of the market share in states with recreational marijuana laws."

Using 2016 tobacco sales data obtained from the Nielsen Research Company, the authors compared cigarillo sales in regions with legalized recreational marijuana (i.e., Denver, CO; Seattle, WA; Portland, OR) to the overall U.S. marketplace. Nielsen collects electronic point-of-sale data for tobacco products in U.S. convenience stores, gas stations, drug stores, grocery stores, mass merchandisers, dollar stores, and other tobacco retailers.

Although Black & Mild, not traditionally used as blunts, was the top brand nationally, Swisher, more commonly used for blunt making, was the most popular brand in all three market regions where recreational marijuana has been legalized. In Colorado, the first state that legalized marijuana and which has experienced a boom in "weed tourism," cigarillo wraps constituted a sizable portion of overall sales (12 percent vs. 3 percent nationally). The wraps eliminate the need to remove the tobacco filler, facilitating easy blunt-making. Notably, however, per capita sales of cigarillos were lower in markets where marijuana is legal, possibly a reflection of the states' stronger tobacco control laws, cultural attitudes toward tobacco use, or consumer preferences for alternative forms of marijuana consumption.

"Irrespective of the legal status of marijuana, local policymakers should employ strategies that reduce the appeal of cigarillos," he says. "Many of the features that are popular for blunt use, such as flavors and small pack sizes, have been banned for cigarettes. Cigarillos should face similar restrictions to improve public health. Knowing where these products are most popular can help direct prevention efforts."

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Co-authors include Torra Spillane, Christine Mauro, and Silvia Martins of the Mailman School of Public Health. This study was supported by the National Institutes of Health Director's Early Independence Award (DP5OD023064).

Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health

Founded in 1922, Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health pursues an agenda of research, education, and service to address the critical and complex public health issues affecting New Yorkers, the nation and the world. The Mailman School is the third largest recipient of NIH grants among schools of public health. Its over 450 multi-disciplinary faculty members work in more than 100 countries around the world, addressing such issues as preventing infectious and chronic diseases, environmental health, maternal and child health, health policy, climate change & health, and public health preparedness. It is a leader in public health education with over 1,300 graduate students from more than 40 nations pursuing a variety of master's and doctoral degree programs. The Mailman School is also home to numerous world-renowned research centers including ICAP and the Center for Infection and Immunity. For more information, please visit http://www.mailman.columbia.edu.

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Stephanie Berger
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