Academics Caution Against Big Tobacco Takeover of Cannabis

Big Tobacco must be prevented from utilizing “its profit-driven product engineering of addictive and deadly products, predatory marketing practices and anti-regulatory expertise” to dominate the legal cannabis industry, according to Andy Tan and Shaleen Title.

Writing in Tobacco Control, the academics say the tobacco industry has a demonstrated history of resisting government regulation, co-opting scientific experts, engineering tobacco products to be more addictive and using substantial marketing budgets to maximize sales and profits of its products. “If tobacco companies are permitted to dominate the legal cannabis industry, this will risk exacerbating public health harms on groups that are disproportionately harmed by tobacco use,” they write.

Driven by declining sales of tobacco products and spreading legalization of cannabis, the tobacco industry has been diversifying into cannabis in recent years.

In January 2016, Philip Morris International invested $20 million in Syqe Medical, which developed a medical cannabis inhaler. In June 2018, Imperial Brands invested in Oxford Cannabinoid Technologies.

In December 2018, Altria Group invested $1.8 billion in Cronos, a Canada-based multinational cannabis company. Imperial Brands in July 2019 acquired a stake in Auxly Cannabis.

If tobacco companies are permitted to dominate the legal cannabis industry, this will risk exacerbating public health harms.

Andy Tan and Shaleen Title

And just last month, British American Tobacco signed a strategic collaboration agreement with Organigram, a wholly owned subsidiary of publicly traded Organigram Holdings.

In their piece, Tan and Title urge authorities to restrict Big Tobacco’s participation in the cannabis industry, for example by placing limits on the seizes of cannabis businesses by enforcing regulations on how many stores or plants one individual can own.

Tan is associate professor of communication at the Annenberg School for Communication, University of Pennsylvania.

Title is a distinguished cannabis policy practitioner in residence at the Drug Enforcement and Policy Center of the Ohio State University Moritz College of Law.