According to a new study that analyzes online behavior, the interest in alcohol has gone down since legalization. However, for uncertain reasons, it also shows that tobacco use has increased as well.
Another intriguing finding is that the interest in cannabis among young people also seems to have declined at the end of prohibition. University of Georgia and Syracuse University researchers were looking to identify the cross-commodity effects of legalization and used data from a “leading US-based web portal” from January 2014 to April 2017 to learn how ending prohibition changed online behavior in regards to web searches and advertisements engagement. The data covers “over 28 million searches and 120 million ad impressions related to cannabis, alcohol and tobacco industries,” wrote the researchers.
The study was published in the journal Marketing Science, revealing diverging trends for alcohol and tobacco. It found that legalization “reduces search volume and advertising effectiveness for alcohol, but increases those for tobacco.” “Hence, cannabis appears a substitute to alcohol, but not to tobacco.” Researchers also found that recreational marijuana legalization generated a 17 percent increase in cannabis-related searches. That increase was “significantly attenuated” for young people, who didn’t search for marijuana more post-legalization. In contrast, the study found a “significant decrease in cannabis search[es] among the youth after legalization.” “Contrary to widely held public concern after recreational cannabis is legalized, teenagers appear to lose interest, rather than gain interest,” study author Pengyuan Wang released in a press statement. “Policymakers only concerned with an uptick in teen users, may want to rethink their stance.” These findings are supported by another recent study detailing cannabis consumption in youth. A federal data analysis from 1993 to 2017 showed that self-reported past-month youth cannabis use went down by about eight percent in states that legalized marijuana. Researchers also found that alcohol searches went down by about eleven percent after a state legalized marijuana.
Researchers argued that the findings show that the alcohol industry “has valid reasons to be concerned about legal cannabis and may need creative strategies to avoid market decline if [recreational cannabis legalization] passes.” In addition, forecasts of marijuana’s ability to disrupt the tobacco industry might have been overblown, the study shows. Searches for tobacco products went up by almost eight percent and so “tobacco companies may need to reexamine their presumption, and that anti-cannabis legalization is not in their best interest,” Wang said. It’s uncertain whether the analysis of tobacco search trends included cannabis-adjacent products such as “blunt” tobacco wraps, rolling papers or vaporizer devices, which could overlap between tobacco and marijuana consumers. The research team said that their study is the only one to analyze “large-scale unobtrusive behavioral data before and after policy change to unveil the treatment effect of [recreational cannabis legalization] using a difference-in-difference approach.” “These findings on cross-commodity relationships help resolve the conflicting literature and provide distinct implications for practitioners,” the study authors wrote.