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Record in U.S. Say Smoking, Secondhand Smoke Very Harmful

Record in U.S. Say Smoking, Secondhand Smoke Very Harmful
by Art Swift

Story Highlights

  • 85% of Americans say smoking is very harmful to smokers
  • 59% say secondhand smoke is very harmful to adults
  • Concern about risk of smoking much lower among smokers

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Americans are more likely to believe smoking is very harmful to adults who smoke (85%) than to say secondhand smoke is very harmful to adults (59%). Both percentages are the highest in Gallup's trend, although not substantially different from prior measurements.

More Americans Say Smoking Is Very Harmful Than Say Secondhand Smoke Is

Perceptions of the harmful effects of smoking come at a time when smoking rates are the lowest Gallup has measured. Very few people -- only 4% in the July 5-9 poll on Americans' consumption habits -- say smoking is not harmful.

Americans express far less certainty about the dangers of secondhand smoke than about actual smoking. Fifty-nine percent say that secondhand smoke is very harmful to adults, tying the highest level previously recorded on this question, in 2013.

When Gallup first asked in 1994 how harmful secondhand smoke is to adults, 36% thought secondhand smoke was very harmful. The subsequent rise in this belief has paralleled the implementation of public smoking bans throughout the nation.

Majority of Smokers Say Smoking Is Very Harmful to Them

Two-thirds of those who smoke say smoking is very harmful, with another 17% reporting it is somewhat harmful. This level of awareness may be surprising since smokers themselves are engaging in a habit they deem very harmful to their health.

However, smokers are much less likely to regard smoking as harmful than are nonsmokers, including both those who never smoked and those who smoked at some point in their life but have since quit.

Most Smokers Believe Smoking Very Harmful
In general, how harmful do you feel smoking is to adults who smoke?
Smokers Nonsmokers who never smoked Former smokers U.S. adults
% % % %
Very harmful 66 89 87 85
Somewhat harmful 17 8 9 10
Not too harmful 7 1 2 2
Not at all harmful 3 1 1 2
Depends 2 * - *
Don't know/Refused 5 1 * 2
Note: * is equivalent to less than 0.5%
Gallup, July 5-9, 2017

There is nearly unanimous agreement among those who have never smoked and former smokers that smoking is at least somewhat harmful, and nearly nine in 10 in both groups say it is very harmful. By contrast, barely eight in 10 smokers agree smoking is at least somewhat harmful. Another 10% of smokers -- compared with just 2%-3% of former smokers and nonsmokers -- downplay the effects as not too or not at all harmful.

Seven percent of smokers appear to hedge on this question, either saying it "depends" or expressing uncertainty about the risks of smoking.

Americans Believe Secondhand Smoke Is Harmful -- but Less Harmful Than Smoking

Americans are far less certain across the board about the severity of the dangers of secondhand smoke. The percentage calling it very harmful is roughly 60% among nonsmokers and former smokers, while 43% of current smokers say the same. Altogether, large majorities of all three groups consider it at least somewhat harmful, including 77% of smokers, 88% of former smokers and 92% of nonsmokers.

Smokers Not as Likely to Say Secondhand Smoke Very Harmful
In general, how harmful do you feel secondhand smoke is to adults?
Smokers Nonsmokers who never smoked Former smokers U.S. adults
% % % %
Very harmful 43 62 59 59
Somewhat harmful 34 30 29 30
Not too harmful 9 5 8 5
Not at all harmful 2 3 3 3
Depends 5 * - 1
Don't know/Refused 6 1 1 2
Note: * is equivalent to less than 0.5%
Gallup, July 5-9, 2017

Bottom Line

Smoking, once a common American habit, has declined to the point that fewer than one in five adults smoke cigarettes. Medical professionals have identified secondhand smoke as dangerous for nonsmokers, fueling public policy against smoking in the U.S. The policies include bans on smoking in bars, restaurants, workplaces, and even parks and beaches. These policies likely are a reason that a majority of smokers say they are discriminated against.

Most Americans find smoking to be harmful, but even with this in mind, nearly a fifth of Americans smoke anyway. It may be extraordinary to many Americans that 66% of smokers say their habit is very harmful, yet they continue to smoke. Despite this apparent sign of smoking's hold on these Americans, 77% of smokers say they would like to quit.

These data are available in Gallup Analytics.

Survey Methods

Survey Methods

Results for this Gallup poll are based on telephone interviews conducted July 5-9, 2017, with a random sample of 1,021 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 total sample of 147 smokers, the margin of sampling error is ±10 percentage points at the 95% confidence level. All reported margins of sampling error include computed design effects for weighting.

Each sample of national adults includes a minimum quota of 70% cellphone respondents and 30% landline respondents, with additional minimum quotas by time zone within region. Landline and cellular telephone numbers are selected using random-digit-dial methods.

View survey methodology, complete question responses and trends.

Learn more about how the Gallup Poll Social Series works.

Gallup


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