Friday, August 13, 2010

A recent USA Today/Gallup poll found that opinions on smoking in public places are drastically changing and not to the benefit of tobacco users. Since Gallup’s first poll in 1987 on restricting smoking in public places, respondents have become increasingly opposed to smoking in restaurants, hotels, and in workplaces. The percentage of those in support of banning smoking in restaurants and hotels has more than tripled since the first Gallop poll, and has more than doubled for the percentage of those in favor of workplace smoking bans.

The 2010 Gallup poll found that 59 percent of respondents believed that smoking should be banned in restaurants, an increase when compared to the 54 percent who wanted smoking restrictions in restaurants during the 2007 Gallup poll. Partnership for Prevention is pleased that smoking bans in public places are becoming more and more popular and the risks of secondhand smoke are also becoming increasingly evident. However, only 31 percent of poll respondents favored, in bars. In fact, 23 percent of respondents actually favored having no restrictions in bars and 43 percent believed that designated areas should be set aside for smokers in bars. In addition, while only 36 percent of participants felt that smokers should be accommodated in restaurants, the majority thought that smokers should be accommodated in workplaces and hotels/motels (52% and 58% respectively).

Why this change in opinion all of a sudden?

One possible reason is that the percentage of current cigarette smokers has declined from 30 percent in 1987 to the current prevalence of 22 percent. Gallup polls have consistently shown that nonsmokers are more likely to support smoking bans compared to smokers. Thus, this decline in smoking trends could offer some explanation as to why public smoking is being favored less and less.

Another possible reason is that the public is becoming increasingly aware of the dangers of secondhand smoke, especially after the US Surgeon General’s 2006 report, The Health Consequences of Involuntary Exposure to Tobacco Smoke. The percentage of people who perceive that exposure to secondhand smoke poses a serious threat to a nonsmoker’s health has also increased dramatically from 36 percent in 1994 to 55 percent in 2010.

These poll results suggest that we may be going further than the majority of Americans would prefer with some restrictions on public smoking, but more importantly that we may not be going far enough with other restrictions. Currently only half of all states in the U.S. have broad smoking bans that restrict smoking in public places.

The question remains however: How far should we go?

Certainly we need to protect nonsmokers from the dangers of secondhand smoke, but at what point do we have to stop ignoring public opinion? Perhaps the problem is not simply overriding the public’s opinion on smoking bans, but rather working towards educating the public and helping to change the public’s opinion on smoking restrictions in public places.

For more information please visit:

Katie Burggraf
Tobacco Control Team
Partnership for Prevention


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