Is Marijuana More Popular Than Tobacco?

Cigarettes vs Marijuana
The perception that marijuana use is on the rise while tobacco use is decreasing seems to be supported by data. Marijuana, which gained mass popularity in the United States during the 1920s, has seen a shift in public sentiment due to its potential therapeutic properties, leading to its legalization in several states. A 2017 survey revealed that 52% of Americans aged 18 or older have tried marijuana. Interestingly, while education seems to decrease cigarette smoking, marijuana use among college students is at its highest in three decades. Current data suggests that 54.5 million U.S. adults use marijuana, compared to 34 million cigarette smokers, making marijuana 60% more popular than tobacco cigarettes.
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As time goes on, it feels as though tobacco use is drastically decreasing, whereas marijuana use continues to rise in popularity.

However, are we actually seeing these assumptions reflected in the data?

For readers that remember the D.A.R.E. anti-drug campaigns from the early 1990’s, you’ll notice that anti-marijuana programs have faded into the background as anti-tobacco campaigns have gained traction. Could exposure to different ads be playing a role?

Today, CannaMD takes a closer look at tobacco cigarettes, cannabis, and society’s preference when it comes to smoking.

Marijuana Background

Marijuana has a rich history of both medical and recreational use around the world. However, smokable marijuana gained mass popularity in the United States during the 1920’s thanks to Prohibition. Historians believe that when alcohol was outlawed, people began to search for an alternative substance to lift their moods. Marijuana fit the bill, and thus the little green plant took its place in history as a “party favorite” among American adults.

But, while recreational use held steady, marijuana’s reputation as a purely social substance soon changed. As more and more research emerged suggesting medicinal properties, cannabis took on a different role. Public sentiment shifted as headlines touted the therapeutic potential of cannabinoids in treating a variety of conditions, ranging from cancer to PTSD to Crohn’s disease.

Before too long, opinions began to change in political circles, as well. In 1996, California became the first state to legalize medical marijuana. Today, 33 states have legalized medical marijuana. Eleven states have legalized recreational use. Washington D.C. has legalized both forms.
legal marijuana states 2019
According to a 2017 survey:

52% of Americans, 18 years of age or older, have tried marijuana at some point in their lives.

That’s 128,842,329 people!

(Since the poll was conducted in 2017, four additional states have legalized marijuana – which indicates the probability of an even higher number of adult users in present-day than those originally reported.)

The Role Of Education

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), cigarette smoking in American adults dropped from 42.4% in 1965 to just 14% in 2017.

But what caused this change?

While the answer is complex, with a number of contributing factors – including the ad campaigns discussed earlier, the CDC highlights an important influence: institutionalized learning.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, in 1960 only 7.7% of the adult population completed a college degree. In 2018, that number skyrocketed to 35%. However, during this same period, cigarette smoking decreased.

As the CDC reports, in 2017 current cigarette smoking was highest among persons with a general education development (GED) certificate and lowest among those with a graduate degree:

  • 12 or fewer years of education (no diploma): 23.1%
  • GED certificate: 36.8%
  • High school diploma: 18.7%
  • Some college (no degree): 17.4%
  • Associate’s degree: 15.5%
  • Undergraduate degree: 7.1%
  • Graduate degree: 4.1%


As education increases, cigarette smoking decreases.

On the contrary, college students’ use of marijuana was at the highest levels seen in the past three decades in 2016, and that trend remained true in 2017, according to a national study.

Marijuana VS. Cigarettes

So back to our original question: “Is marijuana more popular than tobacco?”

According to the data – although marijuana has battled with the government for decades – its use is now wildly more popular than cigarette smoking!

Experts estimate that 54.5 million U.S. adults currently use marijuana, compared to 34 million current cigarette smokers.

By those figures, marijuana is 60% more popular than tobacco cigarettes!

Cigarettes By The Numbers

According to the CDC, cigarette smoking is the leading cause of preventable disease and death in the United States, accounting for more than 480,000 deaths every year, or about 1 in 5 deaths.

Fortunately, current smoking has declined from 20.9% in 2005 to 14.0% in 2017, and the proportion of ever smokers who have quit has increased.

Cigarette Smoking Numbers In more good news, a recent study published in the scientific journal, Addiction, suggests that cannabis may help users quick cigarettes.

According to researchers:

A single 800-mg oral dose of cannabidiol (CBD) reduced the salience and pleasantness of cigarette cues, compared with placebo, after overnight cigarette abstinence in dependent smokers.

While more work is needed, this study provides hope for countless Americans struggling to quit.

Updated: July 27, 2023

Article Written By:

McKenzie Lewis

McKenzie Lewis has been a member of the CannaMD marketing team since 2018. Prior to joining CannaMD, she attended the University of Central Florida where she received a Bachelor’s of Science degree in psychology. When it comes to cannabis research, she is especially interested in the application of marijuana as a treatment method for insomnia.


Questions about medical marijuana? Ready to get your card and purchase legal cannabis products? CannaMD‘s state-certified network of medical marijuana doctors are here to help! Contact CannaMD‘s experienced team at (855) 420-9170 today. You can also find out if you qualify for medical marijuana treatment with our quick online application!

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