No evidence for tobacco’s gateway theory

Bo Gemmell

Most of us don’t think about it, but September marked an important month in history. The FDA showed its newfound power to regulate tobacco by banning certain tobacco products.

The new ban of flavored and clove cigarettes is assumed to prevent young people from becoming nicotine users. Proponents use the flawed “gateway theory” as anti-marijuana activists, who argue that the given products entice people to progress to other, more harmful products.

In fact, FDA commissioner Margaret Hamburg openly expressed her ignorance to the gateway theory when announcing the ban in September. Note well that “guess” or “uninformed hypothesis” would probably be a better word than “theory.”

In announcing the ban, Hamburg told the media that, “flavored cigarettes are a gateway for many children and young adults to become regular smokers.” In keeping with the trends of anti-marijuana advocates of decades past, Hamburg presented zero evidence for the claim.

She failed to present evidence for good reason, of course — because there is none. As far as illicit drugs are concerned, gateway guessers argue the use of marijuana prompts people to move on to more dangerous drugs like heroin. According to a 2000 study by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 10.7 million Americans identify as regular marijuana users while 130,000 people use heroin monthly, which makes one heroine user for every 80 marijuana users.

Additionally, a 1999 study from the Institute of Medicine stated, “There is no conclusive evidence that the drug effects of marijuana are causally linked to the subsequent abuse of other illicit drugs.”

The gateway guess is even more flawed with cigarettes, cigars and the rest of the plethora of nicotine delivery tools because they are just that – different tools for delivering the same drug. The idea is identical to banning coffee because it’s a stepping-stone to the “hard stuff” like espresso.

So we’ve now applied the gateway guess to three of our top four non-prescription drugs, but where does that leave our fourth vice? Will the government ban sugary alcoholic beverages to prevent hard liquor use?

I doubt it. Anheuser-Busch would probably welcome such a ban because it would funnel more folks to beer.

Similarly, tobacco giants like Phillip Morris probably aren’t too worried about the ban on flavored cigarettes. According to the Wall Street Journal, flavored cigarettes are produced by small firms or imported into the United States.

Knocking them out just increases the market share for the industry leaders.

As a nonsmoker, I probably shouldn’t care about tobacco regulation. But at this rate, I’m starting to fear that the FDA will ban my beloved raw honey because it’s a gateway to cavity-causing table sugar.

Bo Gemmell is a senior magazine journalism major and columnist for the Daily Kent Stater. Contact him at [email protected].