Economy

For First Time, Majority in U.S. Supports Public Smoking Ban

by Frank Newport

Little support for making smoking illegal, however

PRINCETON, NJ -- A majority of Americans (59%) support a ban on smoking in all public places for the first time since Gallup initially asked the question in 2001. At the same time, fewer than 2 in 10 support the idea of making smoking totally illegal in this country.

Support for Making Smoking Illegal in All Public Places, and Totally Illegal Across Country

According to the American Lung Association, 27 states plus the District of Columbia have passed comprehensive smoke-free laws. A New York City law bans smoking in virtually all public places, including outdoor plazas and beaches.

When Gallup first asked about a ban on public smoking in 2001, 39% were in favor, an attitude that stayed roughly the same through 2007, the last time Gallup asked the question until this year's July 7-10 survey.

Americans are much less supportive of the idea of a Prohibition-like law that would make smoking totally illegal within the United States. Nineteen percent support that option, not much different from the 14% who favored making smoking illegal in 1990, when Gallup first asked the question.

Adult Smoking Stable at 22%

Twenty-two percent of adult Americans in the July poll reported having smoked cigarettes within the last week, a percentage that is essentially unchanged over the last five years. On average, closer to 25% of American adults reported smoking between 1989 and 2007. Before that, Gallup surveys ranging back to World War II found the percentage who smoke in the 30% to 40% range. The highest smoking percentage as measured by Gallup was 45% in 1954.

1945-2011 Trend: Have you, yourself, smoked any cigarettes in the past week?

Another 24% of Americans say they are former smokers, meaning 55% of the adult population has never smoked on a regular basis.

Additionally, the self-reported number of cigarettes smokers say they smoke each day has dropped significantly over the years. In the July survey, 30% of smokers say they smoke a pack or more each day. As recently as 1997, over half smoked a pack or more a day.

Implications

A majority of Americans now support the concept of a full smoking ban in all public places, marking a significant change from four years ago, when Gallup last measured this attitude. Support for the control of smoking through legal means goes only so far, however. Relatively few Americans support the idea of making all smoking illegal across the country -- perhaps partly in recognition of the practical difficulties involved in enforcing such a ban.

Gallup did not ask Americans this year about bans on smoking in specific venues such as restaurants, bars, hotels, and workplaces. However, data on such policies from Gallup's research last July showed that, when given the options of a total ban, setting aside certain areas for smokers, or no restrictions at all, Americans were generally less likely to choose the total ban and more likely to select the "set aside" idea. The one exception to this pattern was restaurants, in which Americans favored a total ban on smoking. It's possible that the broad question about making smoking totally illegal in public places would produce different results if the option for setting aside areas for smokers had been included.

Survey Methods

Results for this Gallup poll are based on telephone interviews conducted July 7-10, 2011, with a random sample of 1,016 national adults, aged 18 and older, living in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia.

For results based on the total sample of adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±4 percentage points.

For results based on the sample of 170 smokers, the maximum margin of sampling error is ±9 percentage points.

For results based on the sample of 846 nonsmokers, the maximum margin of sampling error is ±4 percentage points.

Interviews are conducted with respondents on landline telephones and cellular phones, with interviews conducted in Spanish for respondents who are primarily Spanish-speaking. Each sample includes a minimum quota of 400 cell phone respondents and 600 landline respondents per 1,000 national adults, with additional minimum quotas among landline respondents for gender within region. Landline telephone numbers are chosen at random among listed telephone numbers. Cell phone numbers are selected using random-digit-dial methods. Landline respondents are chosen at random within each household on the basis of which member had the most recent birthday.

Samples are weighted by gender, age, race, Hispanic ethnicity, education, region, adults in the household, and phone status (cell phone only/landline only/both, cell phone mostly, and having an unlisted landline number). Demographic weighting targets are based on the March 2010 Current Population Survey figures for the aged 18 and older non-institutionalized population living in U.S. telephone households. All reported margins of sampling error include the computed design effects for weighting and sample design.

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.

View methodology, full question results, and trend data.

For more details on Gallup's polling methodology, visit www.gallup.com.

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