The Evolution of Public Perception of Cigarettes and Cannabis: How Attitudes Have Changed

For decades, cigarettes and cannabis have had a significant impact on society, causing a shift in attitudes from widespread acceptance to increased scrutiny and regulation.

In this article, we will examine the evolution of public perception of cigarettes and cannabis, and how these attitudes have changed over time.

By understanding the historical context and societal shifts, we can gain a better understanding of the current attitudes and laws surrounding these substances, as well as potential future developments.

How bad is smoking pot for my lungs? -

The early days

The early days of cigarettes and cannabis had very different public perceptions. The late 19th century saw the introduction of cigarettes, which were marketed as a fashionable and sophisticated way to smoke.

Advertising campaigns portrayed smoking as a harmless habit and even endorsed it as a way to improve one’s health. Consequently, smoking became widely accepted, and people considered it a normal part of everyday life.

In contrast, cannabis has served medicinal, spiritual, and recreational purposes for thousands of years.

However, in the early 20th century, negative stereotypes and public perception started associating cannabis use with Mexican and African American cultures.

Sensationalist news stories further fueled the negative perception by linking cannabis use to violence and insanity.

As a result, cannabis was stigmatized and demonized in the early days, while cigarettes were widely accepted. These perceptions would change dramatically over time, as we will see.

The mid-20th century

Both cigarettes and cannabis experienced significant shifts in public perception and regulation during the mid-20th century.

In 1964, the US Surgeon General released a report linking smoking to lung cancer and other serious health problems, which caused a major shift in public perception. People began to view smoking as a dangerous habit that they should avoid. In response, public health campaigns were launched to educate the public on smoking’s dangers, and laws were passed to regulate cigarette advertising and sales to minors.

Simultaneously, the counterculture movement of the 1960s and 1970s brought cannabis use into the mainstream. Many young people embraced it as a symbol of rebellion against authority. This increased acceptance led to efforts to legalize cannabis, with several states decriminalizing or legalizing it for medical use. However, despite these efforts, cannabis remained illegal under federal law and stigmatized by many.

The mid-20th century marked a dramatic shift in public perception of cigarettes from acceptance to skepticism and eventually widespread condemnation. Meanwhile, cannabis continued to be controversial, with some embracing it as a symbol of counterculture rebellion and others condemning it as a dangerous drug.

The 21st century

Public perception and legislation around cigarettes and cannabis have undergone significant changes in the 21st century.

Concerning cigarettes, public health campaigns have continued to raise awareness of smoking’s dangers, with a focus on the negative impact of secondhand smoke.

Regulations have also been implemented to restrict smoking in public places, and cigarette taxes have been raised to discourage smoking.

As a result, smoking rates have significantly decreased in many countries, although smoking still poses a significant public health concern.

For cannabis, there has been a growing movement towards legalization and decriminalization, with several states in the US and worldwide legalizing cannabis for medical or recreational use.

This shift is partly driven by a growing recognition of the potential medical benefits of cannabis, as well as the belief that criminalizing cannabis use is unjust and disproportionately affects marginalized communities.

These changing attitudes have led to increased research on cannabis’s effects and potential uses. Some studies suggest that cannabis may have medical benefits for various conditions, including chronic pain, anxiety, and epilepsy.

However, concerns about the potential negative effects of cannabis use, particularly among young people, remain the focus of public health campaigns and regulatory efforts.

The 21st century has seen continued shifts in public perception and regulation surrounding cigarettes and cannabis, with a growing recognition of both substances’ potential risks and benefits.

The future of these two substances is uncertain, but it is evident that attitudes will continue to evolve as more research is conducted, and society grapples with the complex issues surrounding substance use and public health.


Over the years, public perception of cigarettes and cannabis has undergone significant changes. Cigarettes, once widely accepted and even marketed as healthy, are now considered a major public health concern and subject to strict regulations.

In contrast, cannabis, previously stigmatized and demonized, is increasingly being acknowledged for its potential medical benefits and legalized or decriminalized in various parts of the world.

These changes in public opinion are driven by factors like scientific research, public health campaigns, and shifting societal attitudes towards substance use.

While both cigarettes and cannabis remain controversial topics, it is evident that attitudes are evolving, and there is a growing recognition of the need to balance individual freedom with public health concerns.

Going forward, it is crucial to continue researching the potential risks and benefits of these substances and finding ways to minimize harm while respecting personal choices.

The public perception and regulation of cigarettes and cannabis are expected to keep evolving in the future, and staying informed and engaged in these ongoing discussions will be critical.