Interest in alcohol declines after states legalize marijuana, according to a new study analyzing online behavior. But for reasons that aren’t entirely clear, interest in tobacco products increases following the policy change.
Another notable finding is that interest in cannabis among young people appears to decline after the end of prohibition.
Researchers from the University of Georgia and Syracuse University sought 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 see how the implementation of adult-use legal marijuana programs in states changed online behavior such as web searches and engagement with advertisements.
The data set “covers over 28 million searches and 120 million ad impressions related to cannabis, alcohol and tobacco industries,” they wrote.
Published in the journal Marketing Science, the study reveals diverging trends for alcohol and tobacco.
Legalization “reduces search volume and advertising effectiveness for alcohol, but increases those for tobacco,” the authors wrote. “Hence, cannabis appears a substitute to alcohol, but not to tobacco.”
It also determined that recreational marijuana legalization leads to a nearly 17 percent increase in cannabis-related searches—however, that increase was “significantly attenuated” for young people, who did not search for marijuana more post-legalization. On the contrary, the study noted 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 said in a press release. “Policymakers only concerned with an uptick in teen users, may want to rethink their stance.”
That finding is supported by another recent study exploring youth cannabis consumption. An analysis of federal data from 1993 to 2017 showed that self-reported past-month youth cannabis use decreased by about eight percent in states that legalized marijuana for adult use.
Alcohol searches decreased by about 11 percent after a state legalized marijuana, the researchers behind the new study found. They argued that the results 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.”
However, predictions about marijuana’s potential to disrupt the tobacco industry might have been overblown, the study indicated. Searches for tobacco products increased 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 not clear whether the analysis of tobacco search trends included cannabis-adjacent products such as blunts, rolling papers or vaporizer devices, which could overlap between tobacco and marijuana consumers. Marijuana Moment reached out to Wang for clarification but she did not immediately respond.
The research team said that their study is unique because it’s the first 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.
Photo courtesy of Martin Alonso.