The British Lung Foundation is a charity whose aim is to help sufferers of respiratory diseases, and also provide public information around safety and prevention. They caught my attention recently as some of their work has been used as the basis for more media scare stories around cannabis.
Dame Helena Shovelton, chief executive of the BLF:
“It is alarming that, while new research continues to reveal the multiple health consequences of smoking cannabis, there is still a dangerous lack of public awareness of quite how harmful this drug can be.”
“Young people in particular are smoking cannabis unaware that, for instance, each cannabis cigarette they smoke increases their chances of developing lung cancer by as much as an entire packet of 20 tobacco cigarettes.”
“We therefore need a serious public health campaign – of the kind that has helped raise awareness of the dangers of eating fatty foods or smoking tobacco – to finally dispel the myth that smoking cannabis is somehow a safe pastime.”
What’s largely being referred to here is a single research paper conducted in-house by the BLF over a decade ago, which forms the basis of their website’s information on cannabis. The UKCIA did an excellent job deconstructing this study, which an be found here.
If we look at the BLF’s annual review of 2002-2003, their then Chairman, Dr Mark Britton, suggested that their study had been great for publicity and getting people to visit their website, above all:
In November 2002, the BLF achieved its biggest ever media success with the release of Cannabis: A Smoking Gun? The report was areview of existing research and highlighted startling statistics such as smoking three cannabis joints a day causes the same damage to the lining of the airways as 20 cigarettes. Additionally, the tar from pure cannabis which is smoked is up to 50 per cent more carcinogenic than tobacco. These shocking facts engaged the world’s media and the spotlight was on the BLF. Coverage was gained on all major UK radio stations, BBC TV News, Channel 4 News, Sky News, The Times, TheDaily Telegraph and The Guardian. In total a minimum audience of 10 million was reached with the debate caused by this controversial report continuing for several days. The story was carried in nine other countries across the world.
The BLF website is increasingly the tool of choice in communicating with the public. [The report] has been the biggest single factor in this, reflected in the 32,500 downloads from ourwebsite the day it was published. The period between then and the end of this year saw more than two million hits and 140,000 visitors: 15% up on the previous period. The site also led to just under 140,000 pieces of information being downloaded and more than 150 people joining Breathe Easy.
It’s imperative that institutions such as the BLF are seen to rely on the most up-to-date research, and aim for the best possible health outcomes for people across the globe. It should not fall into the trap of prohibitionist misinformation in an attempt to coerce people into quitting something or joining their cause, especially when that substance is relatively safe, given the correct information. I’d like to see them instead adopt an approach which mentions safer ways of doing things that people are going to do anyway. We know that tobacco is a very dangerous substance, so we should focus on this element, rather than taking a stance which will ensure use remains at the same level in those millions of cannabis users.
Rather than go over the same points covered in the UKCIA report, I’ve chosen to contact the BLF and present them with a few key studies which have superseded those on which they base their public advice:
I’ve been a big supporter of your attempts to reduce harm to those suffering from respiratory issues, and I’ve a keen on interest in decreasing the use of tobacco and combusted materials in general.
I was browsing your website today and I felt there was some key information around cannabis consumption which was missing, and also a few studies are referenced which have since been contradicted by new research and better understanding of cannabinoids, along with improved means of ingestion. Given the prevalence of cannabis use in the UK (estimated at around 3m regular users), attempts to convince people to avoid tobacco could have a huge impact on health.
There are a number of papers published which speak about the relative safety of cannabis, compared to tobacco, and it would be great if your organisation could focus the bigger problem. I can’t see any mention of smoking without tobacco, consuming as edibles, or even using vaporisation. If you could provide the public with information on safer cannabis consumption it would be a great help.
Thanks for your time and excellent work.