Majority Disapproves of New Law Regulating Tobacco

by Jeffrey M. Jones

Only a small minority believes smoking should be made illegal in the United States

PRINCETON, NJ -- By 52% to 46%, more Americans disapprove than approve of the new law expanding the federal government's power to regulate the manufacturing and marketing of tobacco products. Opposition is especially strong among smokers.


These results are based on a new Gallup Poll, conducted June 14-17. Earlier this month, the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate passed bills by overwhelming majorities to increase the federal government's ability to regulate tobacco. But apparently the public does not share the same enthusiasm for government regulation of tobacco as did Congress.

In addition to the smoker-nonsmoker difference, attitudes vary significantly according to education and political party affiliation. Whereas 62% of postgraduates approve of the new legislation, only 36% of those with a high school education or less share this view. Part of this difference may stem from the fact that those with lower levels of formal education are more likely to smoke than those with higher levels.


The differences by party affiliation are not quite as large as the educational differences, but show that a majority of Democrats approve of the new governmental powers, while most Republicans disapprove.


Few Favor Smoking Ban

Given Americans' apparent reluctance to endorse increased government regulation of tobacco, it probably comes as no surprise that only a very small minority favor an outright ban on smoking in the United States. The poll finds just 17% of Americans saying smoking should be made "totally illegal" in this country. Gallup has never found widespread support for a universal smoking ban, ranging from 11% to the current 17%, since 1990.


Smoking Prevalence at Historical Low

According to the poll, 20% of national adults 18 and older say they have smoked cigarettes in the past week -- tying a November 2007 reading for the lowest since Gallup first asked the question in 1944. The high point is 45% in 1954.


Just as the proportion of smokers is declining over time, so is the amount of smoking. Among smokers, 56% say they smoke less than a pack of cigarettes each day, while 42% smoke a pack or more. Since 1999, a majority of smokers have reported smoking less than one pack of cigarettes per day. Prior to that, most smokers reported smoking more than a pack per day.



Even as fewer Americans are smoking today than in the past, and as those who do smoke report smoking fewer cigarettes, the public appears somewhat reluctant to back policies aimed at further reducing the prevalence of smoking. A slight majority disapproves of recent legislation that gives the federal government more power to regulate tobacco, and the vast majority opposes the most extreme anti-smoking policy of a total ban on smoking in the United States.

The precise reasons for Americans' lack of support for anti-smoking policies are unclear. However, it may be that Americans place a higher value on allowing people the freedom to choose to smoke over the public health benefits that would come from reducing smoking even further.

Survey Methods

Results are based on telephone interviews with 1,011 national adults, aged 18 and older, conducted June 14-17, 2009. For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±3 percentage points.

Interviews are conducted with respondents on land-line telephones (for respondents with a land-line telephone) and cellular phones (for respondents who are cell-phone only).

In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.

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