Metro Morning

Could Ontario's new cannabis rules increase tobacco use in public?

A scientist with the Ontario Tobacco Research Unit says that allowing people to smoke cannabis in public could impact the province's cigarette smoking habits.

Scientist with the Ontario Tobacco Research Unit is ‘mixed’ on new provincial rules

A scientist with the Ontario Tobacco Research Unit says that allowing people to smoke cannabis in public could impact the province's cigarette smoking habits. (Ben Nelms/Reuters)

Two days after the Ontario government introduced its legislation on regulating recreational marijuana, questions are still swirling about what the new set of rules will mean for Ontarians.

For Michael Chaiton, a scientist with the Ontario Tobacco Research Unit, those questions focus on how allowing the smoking of cannabis in public places will impact Ontario's smoking habits overall.

"We're concerned about the new laws and how they might change the social acceptability of smoking in general," he said in a Friday interview on Metro Morning.

In contrast to rules established by the previous Liberal regime which restricted smoking pot to private residences, the Ford government said Tuesday that people will be able to smoke recreational cannabis anywhere the smoking of tobacco is permitted.

Chaiton's fear is that more people smoking in public — whether they're smoking a joint or a cigarette — will erode the work his organization has done to discourage people from lighting up. 

"Increasing the social acceptability of smoking generally may increase use," he said. "We may see a re-normalization of tobacco use."

Second-hand smoke impacts

But that same issue — more people smoking outside of their homes — might have a fringe benefit as well, Chaiton continued.

Second-hand smoke has long been a concern when it comes to pot legalization, and Chaiton said his organization already hears constant complaints about marijuana drifting between apartment units.

"That is really where our main concern of second-hand smoke exposure would be," he said.

In other words, more people toking outside means less trapped second-hand smoke inside apartments and houses.

Overall, Chaiton said his view of the new rules is "mixed."

"I think this is a giant social experiment that we're running," he said. "We need to make sure that we are evaluating and minimizing the damage to public health." 


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