Tokepure – a campaign whose time has come

TokePure on CLEAR – click here

A campaign to get cannabis users to stop smoking tobacco is the biggest and simplest harm reduction campaign the government could and should be running. This is an issue that affects millions of mostly young people.  In all honesty, tobacco use is by far and away the biggest danger to health cannabis users face, strange then that the government has never done anything to address the issue. The cannabis law reform campaign CLEAR in association with UKCIA is about to put that right.

It’s been a long time coming. Tokepure was born around 1995 as a “safer smoking campaign” after I had approached the local drugs information campaign here in Norwich called The Matthew Project. Back then I had the idea of involving the drug advice agencies in a cannabis law reform campaign based on the proper regulation of the commercial trade, Matthew Project was the local one so off I went to talk to them.

I had been along to meetings of the old CLCIA – the grandly named “Campaign to Legalise Cannabis International Association” which had set itself up here in Norwich a couple of years earlier. I was uneasy with the approach they wanted to take, which was very much “free the weed” and more or less from day one I didn’t fit in too well.

So I engaged with the Matthew Project and in particular one of their workers called Mark. Mark was very interested in the whole recreational drug scene and devoted some not inconsiderable time to talking the whole issue through with me. We covered a large amount of ground concerning the social effects of a regulated cannabis trade and what the health  effects of such a development might be.  One of the issues we debated was smoking and in particular the connection with tobacco and after a particularly memorable discussion one evening, I had to admit he was right. Whatever the harms of cannabis may or may not be, smoking the stuff with a fist full of tobacco was not really a very clever thing to do.

In April 1994 after a couple of failed attempts I finally managed to grit my teeth and dive headlong into tobacco cold turkey, which apart from anything else did little to endear me to the rest of the CLCIA members. Truth is I became a born again non-smoker and began evangelising the message to a lot of people who really didn’t want to listen to it. I may have learned a lot from Mark the drugs adviser, but how to put the message across was not one of them.

But out of all this came the idea for a safer smoking campaign and once I had come down from the buzz of having seen the non-smoking light I set about trying to convince other cannabis law reform campaigners of the merit of an anti tobacco campaign.  In 1998 I took over the running of this website, UKCIA, and in 2000 launched the first version of a proper Tokepure campaign.

A lot of water has flowed through a great many bongs around the country in the past 11 years and many things have changed. Most importantly of course tobacco smoking has been driven from the mainstream to the fringes of society and these days the fact that tobacco is a  dangerously addictive and carcinogenic drug is widely understood. But cannabis is still mostly smoked in tobacco filled joints. The other big development is that the UK finally has a serious cannabis law reform campaign in the shape of CLEAR and as Tokepure fits CLEAR’s agenda perfectly it has now been adopted as one of the major core campaigns.

Millions of people – often young people – start smoking tobacco because they try cannabis and the idea of Tokepure is to break that connection. Tokepure does not claim cannabis is harmless or without risk but simply points out that adding tobacco is only going to make things very much worse.

There are many  reasons for wanting to see this change, all of them worth serious consideration:

1: All smoking is probably bad to be honest and the less of it you do the better. Smoking pure cannabis involves breathing in far less smoke than a tobacco joint provides.

2: There is some debate as to whether cannabis is carcinogenic, cannabis smoke certainly contains carcinogens. But when actual pure cannabis smoking populations are examined we don’t find the cancers the prohibition supporters had been predicting (here or here for example)

Tobacco however is a very different story, we know without doubt the damage it does. So whatever the risk posed by cannabis, tobacco is a known killer and mixing tobacco with cannabis in a joint makes a joint a killer.

3: Cannabis may be habit forming for a minority of users, it’s generally claimed that around 10% get some kind of “dependency”, although it’s usually fairly mild. Tobacco however is fiercely addictive – both physically and psychologically.  As I can personally attest stopping tobacco was horrendously difficult and very unpleasant, far more difficult that stopping cannabis was when I eventually did that some years later.

Because of this highly addictive nature, tobacco smoking cannabis users more often than not satisfy their tobacco craving by rolling a joint. The long and short of that being to make cannabis users smoke a lot more cannabis than they would otherwise do. It doesn’t work for everyone, but anecdotal feedback, having had Tokepure on UKCIA for over 10 years , suggests most people cut their cannabis consumption by close to 50% simply by stopping the tobacco. That was certainly what happened for me. It also makes cannabis use far less habitual, a half smoked pipe can be left for later whereas a tobacco joint is always smoked down the roach.

If there is any truth in the claims that cannabis is connected with mental illness, this aspect is clearly important.

Lastly there a simple activist reason to promote Tokepure, it deprives the government of money. The war on drugs is partly funded of course by the huge amount of tax paid on tobacco.

Tobacco is a strange drug, it doesn’t seem to “do” anything, it doesn’t make its users high or stoned or in anyway intoxicated. What it does do however is to mess about with the dopamine flow in the brain and in so doing it makes the smoker feel happy about having smoked. If ever there were a losers drug, tobacco is it. Interestingly tobacco has another strange effect, it makes other drugs taken at the same time much more enjoyable which is why fags were so closely associated with drinking – a pint and a fag in the pub was seen as a traditional part of British culture until very recently.

It’s also worth pointing out that the vast majority of problem drug users – of street drugs anyway (including alcohol) – are also heavy tobacco users, as are people with severe mental illness. As UKCIA is always keen to point out correlation does not equal cause, but the close relation between problematic drug use, mental illness and tobacco use does give food for thought.

The TokePure demands are simple:

* A Safer use campaign: The government should be advising the millions of cannabis users how to use cannabis as safely as possible through a safer toking campaign.

A Pipesafe policy: The carrying of pipes and other safer ways of consuming cannabis (what they call “paraphernalia”) should no longer count as evidence of illegal drug use and headshops should be encouraged to sell safer smoking equipment.

You can see the TokePure page on CLEAR here. Probably the most important campaign ever launched in the name of cannabis law reform.


17 thoughts on “Tokepure – a campaign whose time has come

  1. Great article, when I started my grow around 6 years ago I said I would stop smoking Tobacco the day I could smoke my own Cannabis, and I did.

    Proof of the pudding came when I got busted several months back, I haven’t started smoking Tobacco again, I have well and truly given up, even though I have nothing to smoke.

    To take this and run it instead of the government is a good move, I would say that a lot of people do still like to smoke a spliff tho’…

  2. “which apart from anything else did little to endure me to the rest of the CLCIA members”

    Surely you mean “endear”?

  3. Hi Dave – that was a malapropism if I’m not mistaken! Yes, I did mean endear, thanks. I’ve corrected it.


  4. Sent to Barroness Browning at the Home Office


    Dear Baroness Browning

    I am writing to you in order to draw your attention to an initiative from the cannabis law reform organisation “CLEAR” called “Tokepure” (

    Tokepure is a safer use campaign intended to break the connection between cannabis use and tobacco. As you will no doubt be aware most cannabis users in the UK smoke tobacco/cannabis “joints” – hand rolled cigarettes which often contain more tobacco than cannabis and have no filter.

    Whatever the dangers of smoking cannabis may be, adding a mix of tobacco to it is only going to make things far worse for two reasons:

    1: Tobacco is a known carcinogen.

    You will be aware of several large scale studies of the smokers of pure cannabis (for example “Marijuana Use and Lung Cancer: Results of a Case-Control Study” by Taskin et al 2006 or “Marijuana and chronic obstructive lung disease:
    A population-based study” wan et al 2009) which seem to show cannabis does not lead to lung disease in the way that tobacco clearly does. Although cannabis smoke undoubtedly contains carcinogens, it also appears THC has anti cancer properties (eg Antineoplastic activity of cannabinoids. Munsen et al 1975) which may go some way in explaining this. Therefore the use of cannabis along with tobacco is clearly introducing a level of harm far worse than cannabis alone would cause.

    2: Tobacco is highly addictive.

    That tobacco is highly addictive – both physically and psychologically – is beyond doubt. As joints contain large amounts of tobacco smoked without a filter, it is clear joint smokers are getting a very large dose of tobacco when they smoke. This leads many cannabis users to become heavily addicted to tobacco and so there is a high risk that they will consume cannabis joints not for the effect of cannabis, but to satisfy a tobacco craving. It is therefore reasonable to assume that cannabis/tobacco smokers will consume more cannabis and more regularly than user of pure cannabis.

    Although cannabis may be “habit forming” for a proportion of users (around 10% is a figure often claimed) this dependency is usually mild in nature, certainly when compared to a tobacco addiction.

    All smoking is probably dangerous to some degree, so obviously the less smoke breathed in the better. Smokers of pure cannabis without tobacco inhale far less smoke than do joint smokers. Using a vaporiser of course presents no such problems.

    Tokepure is calling on the government to run a safer use campaign aimed at cannabis users to encourage them to use cannabis without tobacco. This would seem an obvious health education message to aim at the several million cannabis users we have in this country, I can see no reason why this has not happened before. It is also very easy to use cannabis without tobacco, although it does involve the use of paraphernalia such as pipes or vaporiser. If these devices are regarded as evidence of criminal behaviour it would seem the law is acting to re-enforce dangerous methods of use which is why Tokepure is proposing these devices are no longer seen as incriminating evidence by police.

    In closing I would add that recent statements by members of your party – from David Cameron on Al Jazeera TV and from MP Nadine Dorries on “Any Questions” for example – have been really quite shocking in their exhibition of ignorance. We are assured that drugs policy will be evidence based, but I see little sign of that from the present administration thus far.

    Will you support the Tokepure initiative and incorporate it into the Frank campaign? I would expect a full and detailed explanation if not.


    Derek Williams

  5. I Agree with all that has been said.
    Just suppose cannabis was as dangerous as some people would say it is – surely the goal must be to reduce cannabis use. The toke pure campaign is reducing some of the harm and reducing the amount of cannabis being used (users who don’t use tobacco generally use/smoke less).
    There is no evidence that stopping tobacco use will increase cannabis use in the long term (even if there is a period of heavier cannabis use when giving up tobacco). Most ex tobacco users report eventually using less cannabis than when they smoked a mixture.
    A vaporiser uses least cannabis of all and gives the most accurate control of how stoned you get (and how quickly) which allows the user to use as much as is needed whatever the potency.
    I think cooking is only really an option once full legalisation and control are introduced since you have no way of telling how potent the stuff you are eating is. Also over dosage is common since it is easy to eat too much and regret it as the high intensifies.

    Can’t wait to hear the reply to Derek’s letter – keep pestering !

    As an aside — Some time, perhaps someone will explain why when a user gets stronger cannabis (much touted as more dangerous) they don’t simply smoke less since they get high by using less. Is this not the way people behave with alcohol ? beer is served by the pint but wine is not reflecting a difference in the percentage alcohol in the 2 substances.

  6. Hi Derek good to see your TokePure campaign step up a gear.

    I have sent CLEAR a message regarding the following extract from the campaign, but thought i would raise it here as well:

    “Tobacco joints don’t have filters and so they are far worse than cigarettes.”

    This is not true. Filters were added to cigarettes in the 1950s in response to the rising health concerns of cancer and lung damage. It has been shown that the filter tips only filter the smoke to the same extent an equivalent length of tobacco does. As such filters in cigarettes can be understood to be a psychological marketing technique – much like ‘light’ cigarettes; they are designed to make the smoker feel ‘healthier’ about smoking. The net effect is that smokers have been sold slightly less tobacco per cigarette and made to feel healthier about the decision to smoke – a clever bit of marketing doublespeak trickery.

    Tobacco smokers, like other drug users, auto-titrate their use – that is they smoke as much as they require to attain the high they are after (this is what phrtao alludes to above – the beer versus whisky analogy). Since a filter tip filters the entire smoke contents proportionately (more or less), the damaging particulates/tars inhaled in order to reach a given high are the same for a filtered or unfiltered cigarette.

    It follows that tobacco joints are therefore no more damaging to the smoker than a filtered (or unfiltered) cigarette of equal weight of tobacco. In fact there is plenty of room to argue that a joint is far healthier than a cigarette owing to the cancer-abating and expectorant qualities of cannabis – studies have shown that tobacco smokers who also smoke cannabis have lower incidences of smoking-related diseases.

    It’s also worth pointing out that joint-rollers are more likely to use rolling tobacco than crumbling down cigarettes – this is an immediate improvement as additional chemistry is implemented on ‘straights’ involving toxic chemicals such as ammonia, arsenic and cyanide in order to make the tobacco more addictive and more ‘pleasurable’.

    I would always recommend that people smoke cannabis PURE and in a vapouriser or water-pipe, but it simply isn’t true that a tobacco joint is more dangerous than a cigarette.


  7. Hi Real Frank – thanks for that comment. First of course, joint smokers generally smoke right down to the roach, so even if the effect of a filter is the same as the equivilant amount of tobacco, that protection isn’t there.

    I’ll try and dig it out, but I’m sure I seen evidence that tobacco with cannabis is more dangerous than tobacco alone, due to the effect THC has of relaxing the blood vessals, but I don’t have it to hand right now.

    But regarding filters, whatever the truth the government makes this point about lack of filter. The aim is to encourage them to run this campaign and so there is no vlue in challenging the assertion.

    It doesn’t change the basic message of tokepure in any case.

  8. Hi Derek i am glad that this campaign has a shot at getting backed by the government – it would do a lot more good than ANY drugs health campaign to date that i can think of.

    If you can find the study linking tobacco lung damage with the bronchodilatory effect of cannabis i would appreciate giving that a read.

    I just want to underline the filter issue once more because i don’t think we’re on the same page. Joint smokers may smoke down to the roach but the point is that if they used a cellulose acetate filter (as with cigarettes) they would simply end up rolling bigger joints as some of the ‘goodies’ in the smoke are wasted and thrown away with the filter.

    As i pointed out above, drug users auto-titrate their intake to attain a certain level of high. Since cellulose acetate filters filter the ENTIRE smoke contents more or less proportionately, using one (either for cannabis or tobacco) simply represents waste as the desirable psychoactive compounds are filtered out along with the undesirable tars.

    The problem is with our historic perception that filtering the smoke with a filter tip makes it ‘healthier’. It does not. Water filtration is a different story because it is a chemical filter as opposed to just a physical filter (like fag filters).

    I understand the core message of the campaign and that government involvement is the goal, but i do not accept that there is “no value in challenging the assertion” that joints are more harmful because they are unfiltered. The idea that filters improve the health of the smoker is an industrial lie and has a role to play in conflating the dangers of smoking tobacco with the smoking of cannabis.

    I only hope that this issue will be raised in the future as the campaign settles and gains more ground.


  9. Hi Real Frank

    This is a comment from one of the studies TP links to: Marijuana and chronic obstructive lung disease: a population-based study

    “However, we were able to detect a significant synergistic effect between marijuana smoking and tobacco smoking. This effect suggests that smoking marijuana (at least in relatively low
    doses) may act as a primer, or sensitizer, in the airways to amplify the adverse effects of tobacco on respiratory health”.

    Nobody is suggesting to use a filter with joints, as you say it would filter some of the cannabis smoke as well.

  10. Busy 3 months! In May we had the first substantial move by government of China to restrict cigarette smoking, especially indoors (remember, they have over 300,000,000 addicts, and they own the tobacco factories). Then Douglass Bettcher at WHO announced findings that “tobacco” (actually mainly cigarette) DEATHS have reached the magic number !!! 6,000,000 a year !!! (30 May 2011 press release). But this new alliance of UKCIA and CLEAR is by all means the most important event yet. First-ever platform issue in a political party anywhere with potential to eliminate the #1 “plague” (Bettcher’s term) in the history of the human race (and get OUR herb legalised).

    The oligargh companies, with all their hatefearteasing– oops sorry advertising, are doing their “best” to replace the 15,000,000 “tobacco” (i.e. cigarette) smokers who die each year (6,000,000 “prematurely” by medical attestation) by “recruiting” 40,000 more youngsters a day! In Europe, the middle east and India an unknown-but-significant amount of that recruitment is occuring via the above-described “Trojan Horse” method (term coined by Australian Department of Health) of luring youngsters who want to explore cannabis into mixing in addictive drug tobacco. If over the past decades (and I saw “mixing” going on in Amsterdam in the 70’s) 1% (one per cent) of all cigarette addictions started this way, then it figures the death toll therefrom is now around 60,000 A YEAR. (Ratko Mladic is in The Hague now for a one-time 83,000 genocide…) I think the true percentage may be much higher.

    I hope Derek and/or Peter will get a communication off now to Douglass Bettcher/WHO asking him/them to pay some serious attention now to the mix-with-tobacco issue. Ask him to have the WHO issue its own, stronger statement on the matter, because a few “tough guy” pro-joint editors at Wikipedia have kicked a reference to the Australian DoH paper out of the Wikipedia “Hashish” and “Cannabis smoking” articles, and also bullied through the imposition of a picture of a “person” smoking a joint” at the top of the “Cannabis smoking” article where previously a picture of a midwakh(type of one-hitter) had been. A strong WHO statement would be something they can’t resist including in those WP articles! May I remind everybody, the Wikipedia article is #1 source on the Google for “Cannabis smoking” (and UKCIA is #2)! (If you go there, be polite to all editors, read the editing tutorials, don’t get accused of incivility, fighting or soapboxing like Tokerdesigner did.)

    ONE-HITTERS: There also has to be peer-reviewed research positively establishing the health/harm-reduction virtues of cheap, easy-to-make one-hitters compared to joint-smoking (which no researcher, institution, organization, medical journal has dared touch yet). Pressure governments into endorsing and encouraging such research and protecting those who conduct or house it from retailiation from the $$tobacco interests which they obviously fear till today.

    There is something operating against such research analogous to the situation addressed by the Pipesafe policy (that’s Paraphernalia, you know… or listening with Dr. Freud’s Third Ear: PARAnoia-inFERNal-ALIEn). Medical journalists and publishers all know if they so much as offer a picture of a device other than a cigarette/joint they’re “in trouble with the man”. Tons of limited-value studies roll off involving how many cigarettes, how often etc. and nobody assesses the difference between lighting up 500 mg every time you want “a hit” and a 25-mg single serving with slow draw through a flexible extended drawtube.

    I think the good news behind the bad news is that the $igarette “industry” is by far the biggest enemy of cannabis legalisation; they fear one-hitters because unlike a vapouriser costing you several hundred pounds anyone can make their own one-hitter for pennies (visit Make Smoke Pipes From Everyday Objects, and further articdles on how to sift herb for vapourising in aone-hitter and how to make a crater screen). Once the wall against one-hitters is broken down (or kicked in), the entire worldwide $400-bil. $igarette sales empire will crumble overnight, curing a huge percentage of all human medical costs and economic corruption. Sounds like a tall order for activists and organizations primarily interested in cannabis but if it works out Derek and Peter can share a Knowable Prize ($1,000,000 smackers).

  11. (that’s Paraphernalia, you know… or listening with Dr. Freud’s Third Ear: PARAnoia-inFERNal-ALIEn)

    You are 100% batshit crazy!

  12. Hey Sam, sorry that bugged you about the
    PARA(noia) (in)FERN(al) ALIE(n).

    I repuncted it to make the audibles more apparent.

    The right wing prison industrial government syndicate (PIGS) uses fraeudian puns to good advantage against whatever they want to criminalize, try:

    “MARIJUANA”: Ameriwana, i.e. sounds like the name (adjective) of our country mispronounceed by evil foreigners, don’t it? And oh yes, rhymes with “piranha”

    “MASTURBATE”: MA(d) (me)SS (n)AST(y) (di)STURB STUP(id) B(ea)T (h)ATE

    The public out there hearing words like “Marijuana paraphernalia” also hears all those little scare words and wordlets buried inside the composite utterance, which work on their brain and cause them to elect politicians who promise to protect them against said evil.

    Another example: they used movies (such as “Suddenly”, 1954, starring Frank Sinatra as the assassin, and “The Man Shooterin’ Kennedydead”, summer 1963, starring Frank Sinatra as an advisor friend and Lawrence Harvey (sic) as the assassin, to get some guy with a similar name to Lawrence Harvey to kill the President who had a name that sounded like Joint Of Cannabis, thus shocking the public and making it easier to keep cannabis illegal another 50 years.

  13. I think you have good intentions, and I never intend to belittle anyone’s opinions without good reason, but…

    “MARIJUANA”: Ameriwana, i.e. sounds like the name (adjective) of our country mispronounceed by evil foreigners, don’t it? And oh yes, rhymes with “piranha”

    “MASTURBATE”: MA(d) (me)SS (n)AST(y) (di)STURB STUP(id) B(ea)T (h)ATE”

    This is clearly, excuse my French, bullshit of the highest order! MASSASTSTURBSTUPBTATE isn’t even a word to start with :-p And I won’t even get into the whole thing by demonstrating that you could do that with just about any word there is.

    I honestly believe any (relatively) sane minded person who came across this website, which is doing a great deal to dispel many myths about cannabis, a relatively benign psychoactive substance, would be put off by posts such as yours. I wouldn’t dream of suggesting you stop exercising your right to free speech, but I just have to exercise mine too, in the following statement:

    “I believe tokerdesigner to be totally fucking mental and to have lost his/her grip on reality. He/she is a proper fruitcake who may have a serious point but a seriously ineffective method of conveying that point, which undermines every effort they make”

  14. This is getting a little personal, enough please.

    Without commenting on Tokerdesigner’s claims above – which may or may not have some truth in America but do not here – it is important to be aware of the way politicians use language to misrepresent what they are doing and to mislead the public.

    The obvious example of course is to describe prohibition as “drug control” and prohibited drugs as “controlled drugs”. Control of course is the one thing totally absent from prohibition.

    With cannabis we have the word “potency” used to mean “strength”, which it doesn’t.

    There are many other examples of the subtle misuse of the language to promote drug prohibition, it does no harm to be aware of it.

  15. True, true.

    We all want the same thing on this issue. Still reckon that whole thing was pretty mental though!

  16. Re Sam’s use of “mental” to mean (I think) “mentally defective”– is that some new Britishism?

    Here’s an example from Rush Limbaugh (allegedly has 20 million listeners, known as “dittoheads” as he obviously thinks they’re stupid), putting down a group or class of people he hates:


    Notice that he has the sneakword “-mental-” in there in the first part, setting up the listener for the punchline, “Wacko”, a moment later.

    Sam’s interesting construction


    isn’t what I meant. My point is, ECHOES of the words “Mad Mess Nasty Disturb Stupid Beat Hate” (not necessarilty the whole words, just echoable parts of them) show up in the big pseudolatin word groanups use to terrorize and threaten children (“Don’t … or Gaawd will punish you”). These unacknowledged “echoes” support or reinforce in a sneaky way the intimidation the groanups are consciously pushing with the main word.

    The seminonpseudoscience of psycholinguistics has been given a Viennese-flavoured name which I know you’ll like:

    “die Fraeudeschoenegoettherdaemmerpsycho:echo:analyse”

    which means analysing not the psyche per se but the echo(es) of the psyche (deeds and especially words which may unintentionally show what the speaker (or corporate spokesmouth) meant.

Comments are closed.