Would you like some nicotine with your CBD? We knew Big Tobacco was moving into the cannabis space. What we didn’t know is they can produce a cannabis cigarette laced with nicotine

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What is the deadliest invention in the history of human civilization? The cigarette.

In 2018, the tobacco giant Altria, which owns the Marlboro brand, made its first big move into the cannabis industry by investing $1.8 billion in the Canadian cannabis company Cronos Group, which sells CBD and other non-THC cannabinoids in the US.

And last summer, as federal legalization of cannabis ramped up, Altria made another move by spending $3 million lobbying Washington in an effort to get the fledgling cannabis industry’s rules and regulations written in their favor, and using Joe Biden’s former chief of staff when he was a senator, to do so.

So Altria’s all in. But an eye-opening piece in The Boston Globe has sounded an alarm: It says tobacco companies have been waiting since forever to blend tobacco with CBD/THC in the same cigarette, should cannabis ever become legal. Importantly, the only reason we know this is because tobacco litigation has forced internal industry documents out into the open. One such document, a 9-page 1983 paper titled New Product Ideas, contains the following gems:

If marijuana is legalized – change blend formula to include marijuana leaf – lace the cigt.

Cigt. that would deliver ‘compound’ in last two puffs which would make individual want another cigarette.

Sweeter smoke that can take place of desserts or snacks – i.e. sugar tip, flavors, etc.

All three ideas suggest that cigarette tobacco, far from being a natural product, is something engineered to make you want more – your health be damned. And that’s exactly what Stanford professor Robert Proctor says is the case in his comprehensive book about the tobacco industry, Golden Holocaust: Origins of the cigarette catastrophe and the case for abolition.

There’s an old saying in the world of smoke, writes Proctor:

A cigarette is no more tobacco than the New York Times is a pine tree. . . . How many know that only about two-thirds of what goes into a cigarette is actually tobacco with much of the rest being a witches’ brew of added sugars, burnt accelerants, feeebasing agents, bronchial dilators and moisteners like glycerine and diethylene glycol [a sweet-smelling and tasting liquid used in antifreeze] and how many know that cigarette smoke contains arsenic, cyanide, and radioactive isotopes?

“Freebasing” might sound familiar. It’s the street word, says Proctor, for the trick used in the cocaine trade to turn powder cocaine into it’s more addictive form, “crack” cocaine. (Chemically, it’s the transformation of a molecule from a (bound) salt to a (free) base, typically by adding ammonia.) The crucial point is that whether the molecule is cocaine or nicotine, its ‘free’ form packs a more potent punch because you absorb more of it and what you absorb reaches the brain instantly.  

And it was Altria, then known as Philip Morris, who in 1964 first applied ammonia technology to nicotine, propelling its Marlboro brand from runt of the litter status to the world’s most popular cigarette – “the most spectacular rise of a single brand in cigarette history.”

It’s this engineered nicotine which is “that which would make [an] individual want another cigarette.” Properly viewed, writes Proctor, “a cigarette is an optimally addictive drug delivery device . . . a slow-motion killing machine” responsible for 100M deaths in the 20th C with hundreds of millions more predicted this century, thus making cigarettes “the deadliest artifacts in the history of human civilization.”

Altria has a market capitalization greater than the estimated market value of the entire US cannabis market – an industry it’s now targeting. And that’s no joke say the highly respected authors of the Globe piece. In fact, although they’ve worked for cannabis legalization for decades they both say that unless federal policy builds in sufficent protections against Big Tobacco, then we’d be better off not legalizing cannabis:

Cannabis is a relatively benign substance in its natural form, but it is not risk-free and there is nothing inherent about cannabis that protects it from being combined with other substances to create products that kill people and target vulnerable populations. The tragic public health consequences of cigarettes were exacerbated through sustained profit-driven predatory marketing practices and deregulatory efforts. Instead of repeating that history, federal policy makers should work with tobacco control and state-level marijuana experts to prevent Big Tobacco 2.0. If we’re not willing to take steps to prevent these familiar schemes, then we’re not ready for legalization.

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