Many U.S. Smokers Say Higher Cigarette Taxes Are Unjust

Many U.S. Smokers Say Higher Cigarette Taxes Are Unjust

by Andrew Dugan

But many smokers think smoking restrictions in public places are justified

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Governments have increased taxes on cigarettes in recent years at least partly to discourage smoking, but more than half of U.S. smokers (58%) see these tax hikes as an act of unjust discrimination. About two in five smokers (39%) think the tax increases are justified. Smokers are now slightly less likely to feel discriminated against on this basis than they were in 2002.

Trend: As a result of increased taxes on cigarettes, do you feel unjustly discriminated against as a smoker, or do you think these tax increases are justified?

The latest result comes from Gallup's 2014 Consumption Habits survey, conducted July 7-10. The median state cigarette tax is $1.36 per pack, and the federal government tacks on another $1.01. In places such as New York City, the combined city and state tax is as high as $5.85 -- often higher than the price of a pack of cigarettes itself.

One reason various levels of government have increased these levies on cigarettes in recent years in that many public health advocates believe cigarette taxes can reduce smoking. But the large majority of smokers, 71%, do not believe they personally smoke less because of the tax increases. However, 26% admit that the higher taxes discourage them from lighting up, a finding that policy advocates might see as a success because cigarettes are notoriously addictive.

Independent research on the effectiveness of tax increases for reducing smoking rates is mixed. A study published by the National Bureau of Economic Research says, "It will take sizable tax increases, on the order of 100%, to decrease adult smoking by as much as 5%." Still, other researchers conclude that higher cigarette prices do reduce smoking rates among certain subgroups, such as the young.

Many Smokers Think Smoking Restrictions in Public Places Are Justified

While a majority of smokers think higher taxes on cigarettes are unjustly discriminatory, a solid majority of smokers say increased restrictions on smoking in public places are justified (58%). Meanwhile, 37% say these restrictions unjustly discriminate against smokers. These attitudes are similar to those in previous years.

Trend: As a result of increased restrictions on smoking in public places, do you feel unjustly discriminated against as a smoker, or do you think the restrictions are justified?

And while these restrictions certainly make it more challenging for smokers to light up in public places, they generally do not seem to lead to smokers cutting back. Three-quarters of smokers say they are not smoking less because of these restrictions. But as was the case with cigarette taxes, some smokers have responded to these policies. A quarter say restrictions on smoking in public places have reduced their smoking.

Smokers Lighting Up Less Frequently Each Day

Alongside this raft of anti-smoking measures, the percentage of "heavy smokers," defined as those who smoke more than a pack a day, has retreated. Fewer than one in 10 smokers (7%) say they smoke more than a pack a day -- down from a little less than 20% of smokers in the 1990s. And over two-thirds of smokers (68%) say they consume less than a pack per day, on par with historical highs seen in recent years.

A consistent majority of smokers since 1999 have said they smoke less than a pack per day. A fifth smoke one pack per day, also a figure that has declined considerably over time.

Trend: Amount Smokers Smoke in a Day

Nationally, a fifth of Americans (21%) report having a cigarette in the past week, close to the historical low on this Gallup measure dating back to 1944, but on par with recent readings.

Trend: Smoking Rate in the U.S.

Fifteen percent of smokers say they worry about their smoking all of the time and another 41% confess to worrying about it some of the time. About a quarter indicate they seldom worry about their smoking, and 21% of smokers say they never worry about it.

How often do you worry about your smoking? Would you say you worry all of the time, some of the time, not too often or never? July 2014 results

Bottom Line

Many smokers take exception to at least one anti-smoking policy -- higher taxes. A majority of smokers believe paying higher excise taxes on packs of cigarettes unjustly discriminates against them as smokers, and an overwhelming majority do not believe tax increases have discouraged them from lighting up. However, more smokers think restrictions on smoking in public places are justified than do not think so, a sign that smokers do not uniformly oppose all anti-smoking measures.

Survey Methods

Results for this Gallup poll are based on telephone interviews conducted July 7-10, 2014, on the, with a random sample of 1,013 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 national adults, the margin of sampling error is ±4 percentage points at the 95% confidence level.

For results based on the sample of 176 smokers, the margin of sampling error is ±9 percentage points at the 95% confidence level.

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 of national adults includes a minimum quota of 50% cellphone respondents and 50% landline respondents, with additional minimum quotas by time zone within region. Landline and cellular telephone 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 to correct for unequal selection probability, nonresponse, and double coverage of landline and cell users in the two sampling frames. They are also weighted to match the national demographics of gender, age, race, Hispanic ethnicity, education, region, population density, and phone status (cellphone only/landline only/both, and cellphone mostly). Demographic weighting targets are based on the most recent Current Population Survey figures for the aged 18 and older U.S. population. Phone status targets are based on the most recent National Health Interview Survey. Population density targets are based on the most recent U.S. census. All reported margins of sampling error include the computed design effects for weighting.

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 survey methodology, complete question responses, and trends.

For more details on Gallup's polling methodology, visit

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