What the Cannabis Industry Can Learn From Big Tobacco



Given the rapid rate the recreational cannabis space has grown at, it’s only natural to wonder what, if anything, could slow that growth down. In order to find out what some potential roadblocks could be for recreational marijuana, look no further than big tobacco.

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Even though it isn’t legalized nationally yet, it’s easy to note numerous similarities between recreational cannabis companies and businesses in the tobacco industry. As the legal cannabis industry continues to grow, it’s imperative that they don’t repeat the same mistakes as the tobacco did in the early 20th century.

Here are some insights on what the biggest lessons the cannabis industry can learn from Big Tobacco.

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Provide transparency about product risks 

One of the most costly mistakes the tobacco industry made in the early days was not being completely honest about the risks associated with tobacco use. In fact, back in the 1930s, it wasn’t uncommon to find advertisements with doctors endorsements of cigarette use. Unfortunately dishonest messaging continued to emerge from big tobacco throughout the decades, as tobacco executives claimed as recently as 1994 that cigarettes aren’t addictive. In order for the cannabis industry to maintain trust with its consumers and remain in the good graces of regulators, being honest and upfront about the risks associated with the use of specific cannabis products is paramount.

Be mindful of marketing best practices

Keeping cannabis products out of the hands of children is a key responsibility recreational cannabis companies share. Tobacco companies also have this responsibility, which is why recreational cannabis companies can learn from the marketing tactics used within big tobacco. 

John Hudak, Deputy Director of the Center for Effective Public Management for The Brookings Institution, believes that part of the onus of ensuring responsible marketing practices are used falls at the feet of regulators.

“Left unchecked, a product like cannabis can induce business owners to behave in predatory ways. Those predatory behaviors disproportionately impacted younger people and people of color and continue to do so today,” he says.

Since many business owners instinctively gear their marketing efforts to suit their bottom line, entrepreneurs within the recreational cannabis industry will need to be much more mindful of how they go about advertising methods.

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Prepare for shifting sales regulations

Another area where the recreational cannabis industry can learn from Big Tobacco is in distribution and sales. Take the advent of cigarette vending machines for example. Ever since they became banned in most locations in 2010, sales figures for cigarettes had been down. In fact, cigarette sales had actually experienced 20 straight years of declining sales prior to 2020. In order for recreational cannabis companies to avoid this type of lull in sales, the industry needs to be more adaptable when it comes to sales regulations.

Despite cannabis vending machines increasing in popularity, who’s to say if they won’t eventually fall victim to stricter regulations? In order for the cannabis industry to achieve and maintain a high sales volume on a regular basis, it needs to be more nimble and prepared for changes than the tobacco industry originally was.



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