Stephen Harper’s claims that cannabis is “infinitely worse” than tobacco has no basis in science, according to University of Waterloo researcher Dr. David Hammond.

Harper made the comments Oct. 3 to a reporter, in response to his rejection of Justin Trudeau’s legalization plan for cannabis. Harper said the evidence for “the bad long-term effects” of cannabis use is “overwhelming and growing.”

Harper said compared to tobacco, “Marijuana is infinitely worse, and is something we do not want to encourage.”

Hammond said the Prime Minister’s statements were “misleading,” and that compared to the between 30,000 and 40,000 tobacco related deaths in Canada, cannabis deaths are “extremely rare.”

“Tobacco has much more damage to physical health,” said Ontario Tobacco Research Unit director Dr. Robert Schwartz. “I’m hoping that others in the political arena will use the scientific evidence to call him on it.”

Schwartz said each year tobacco kills more people in Canada than alcohol, motor vehicles, firearms, illegal drug use, and HIV put together.

Harper’s Conservatives have attacked the Liberals’ promise to begin the legalization of cannabis “right away” if they’re elected in October.

In late September, Conservative MP and retired police officer Julian Fantino issued a statement slamming the Liberal leader’s position and that the sale of cannabis products will put children at risk.

“Justin’s singular justice policy will make smoking marijuana a normal, everyday activity for Canadians and he wants to make marijuana available in storefront dispensaries and corner stores just like alcohol and cigarettes,” Fantino said. “This is simply wrong, and puts the health and safety of our children and communities at risk.”

Trudeau told reporters  in early September he doesn’t believe the drug should be sold at corner stores.

“My focus is on making it more difficult for young people to access it, and at this point I don’t think that corner stores necessarily are rigorous enough in checking ID to make me comfortable with that as an option,” Trudeau said.

“We believe that marijuana is an illegal drug with dangerous and lasting health effects, especially on our youth,” said Conservative spokesperson Stephen Lecce. “We will continue to discourage Canadians from using marijuana at every step.”

A 2009 article from Visions Journal stated cannabis-related health costs are estimated at $20 per user (compared to tobacco at over $800 and alcohol at $165 per user) but costs for cannabis enforcement are estimated at $328 per user ($153 per user of alcohol).

The report identified that 94 per cent of social costs for cannabis are linked to enforcement.