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.
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.
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.
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.