Public health professionals are concerned about the effects of advertising and marketing legal marijuana. A January 2018 study in the American Journal of Public Health assessed exposure to marijuana advertising in Oregon after retail sales started in October 2015. Here’s why the results of the study have some health experts concerned.
A Study of Smoking
One of the lessons learned from tobacco and alcohol control is that advertising encourages youths to use those drugs. Oregon has adopted rules that restrict marijuana advertising to locations where no more than 30% of the audience is under the age of 21 and prohibits advertising that targets individuals under the age of 21. Other requirements include publicizing the age restriction and the need to keep marijuana products “out of the reach of children.” Medical dispensaries are subject to other restrictions designed for their market.
In some respects, the results of this study on exposure to advertising were not surprising. Advertising works. More than half (54.8%) of adults reported seeing or hearing advertising for marijuana products or dispensaries. About 3 in 10 adults reported exposure a few times in the last month, 18.8% reported exposure several times and 7.4% reported exposure nearly every day.
“The most reported advertising types were storefronts (74.5%), streetside marketing like sandwich boards (66.5%), billboards (55.8%), magazines or newspapers (40.2%), and sign-wavers on sidewalks (29.3%)” the study says.
Exposure to marijuana advertising was consistent with all age groups surveyed and did not differ by other characteristics such as income, gender, or education. In comparison, 28.3% of adults reported exposure to advertising about the health risk of marijuana use in the past month.
However, people who lived near a marijuana dispensary had greater exposure to advertising (63.4%), as with people who lived in counties with retail stores compared to those who lived in counties without stores. Nonetheless, about one-third of adults living in counties without marijuana stores reported exposure to advertising.
Final Hit: New Public Health Concerns About Marijuana Advertising in Oregon
One of the lessons from the study of tobacco advertising is that counter-marketing is effective to reduce marijuana use among youths. One of the key concerns of the authors of this study is that “Nearly 5 times as many adults overall reported near-daily exposure to marijuana advertising (7.4%) compared with health risk messages (1.5%).” The health risks advertised at this time concerned preventing child poisoning, use during pregnancy, and driving under the influence.
Overall this survey shows that advertising is reaching the 18 to 24-year old age group, and this includes the 18 to 20-year old who cannot use marijuana legally in Oregon. The authors argue that as legalization spreads, advertising and marketing will become more acceptable. The American Public Health Association has made regulating and limiting marijuana advertising a key component of efforts to limit marijuana use in the era of legalization. This study demonstrates that marijuana advertising will be prevalent in a legal market and that it “may reach and inﬂuence border communities even if they have not legalized marijuana, and be seen by most groups of people, including people younger than 21 years.”
It appears that the centralized view of the study is that the authors are calling for pro-legalization states to learn from alcohol and tobacco prevention, and continue to set standards so as not to encourage irresponsible drug use. Particularly among youth.