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Nine of Ten Americans View Smoking as Harmful

Nine of Ten Americans View Smoking as Harmful

Public Blames Smokers More Than Tobacco Companies for Smoking-Related Health Problems

by David W. Moore

GALLUP NEWS SERVICE

PRINCETON, NJ -- Virtually all Americans -- 95% -- think cigarette smoking is harmful, according to a Gallup poll conducted September 23-26, about the same number as recorded in a 1990 Gallup poll, but substantially higher than that recorded a half century ago, when the question was first asked. In 1949, 60% of Americans said that cigarette smoking was harmful to their health, although follow-up questions asked in both 1949 and 1954 suggest Americans' definition of harm at that time was less serious than what people believe today. For example, the new poll shows that when asked specifically if cigarette smoking is one of the causes of lung cancer, nine of ten Americans today say yes, compared with just four in ten who felt that way when the question was first asked in 1954. By the 1960s, half the public said smoking was a cause of lung cancer; by the 1970s, seven in ten had that view; and by the 1980s, the proportion had climbed to eight in ten.

Americans are less convinced that cigarette smoking is the cause of some other diseases, although in each case the percentage well exceeds a majority. Nine in ten Americans believe smoking causes throat cancer, eight in ten believe smoking to be a cause of heart disease, and about seven in ten say smoking causes birth defects.

Public Tolerates Smoking in Public Places if Smoking Areas Are Set Apart
While eight of ten Americans say second-hand smoke is harmful, most nevertheless endorse smoking in public places when areas are specifically set aside for that activity. Only about a quarter of the public -- 24% -- would ban smoking completely in hotels and motels, but a third would do so in the workplaces, and four in ten would do so in restaurants. These views are little changed from 5 years ago, but represent at least a twofold increase in opposition to smoking in public places over that recorded in a Gallup poll in 1987, when the questions were first asked. At that time, only 10% of Americans wanted a total ban on cigarette smoking in hotels and motels, and 17% wanted a total ban both at the workplace and in restaurants.

Public Blames Smokers More Than Tobacco Companies for Health Problems
Americans are more likely to blame smokers than tobacco companies for the health problems associated with smoking, but tobacco companies are not viewed as blameless. Overall, 55% say smokers are completely or mostly to blame, compared with 30% who feel that tobacco companies are mostly or completely to blame. An additional 13% volunteer that the two groups are equally to blame. Compared with similar figures obtained in a 1994 Gallup poll, the new figures suggest that the public may be shifting the blame somewhat toward the tobacco companies. Five years ago, the Gallup poll showed that only 25% put the major blame on tobacco companies, five percentage points lower than today, while 64% blamed smokers -- nine points higher than in the current poll.

Despite these figures, Americans adopt a more critical stance against the tobacco companies when asked about the recent U.S. Justice Department lawsuit filed against the tobacco industry seeking to recover billions of dollars in federal health costs for smoking-related illnesses. Just over half of Americans -- 51% -- support the lawsuit, while 42% take the tobacco companies' point of view that the charges have no merit and should be dismissed.

Most Smokers Wish They Had Never Started Smoking
According to the new poll, 23% of Americans currently smoke cigarettes, down slightly from the 26% reported in 1997. For 30 years after 1944, when Gallup first asked Americans about their smoking habits, the rate of smoking among Americans apparently remained fairly steady, with about four in ten Americans indicating they were smokers. Over the next decade and a half, the number of self-reported smokers declined gradually, so that by the end of the 1980s, only about three in ten Americans said they smoked cigarettes.

Among smokers, more than half -- 55% -- say they generally smoke less than a pack a day, while 35% say a pack a day, and 9% say they smoke more than that. The average reported number of cigarettes smoked per day is 14. Most smokers start young, with 36% starting before age 16, and another 35% between the ages of 16 and 18.

More than three-quarters of all smokers say they would like to give up smoking, and two-thirds say they have made a serious effort to do so. Although 72% of smokers say they are addicted to cigarettes, 77% of smokers believe they could quit if they made a decision to do so. The difficulty of quitting, however, is highlighted by the fact that only 13% of smokers say that if they had to do it all over again, they would take up the smoking habit.

Survey Methods
The results reported here are based on telephone interviews with a randomly selected national sample of 1,039 adults, 18 years and older, conducted September 23-26, 1999. For results based on this sample, one can say with 95 percent confidence that the maximum error attributable to sampling and other random effects is plus or minus 3 percentage points. 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.

Have you, yourself, smoked any cigarettes in the past week?

  Yes No/ Don't know
1999 Sep 23-26 23% 77%
1998 Jun 22-23 28 72
1997 Sep 25-28 26 74
1997 Jun 26-29 26 74
1997 Jun 23-24 26 74
1997 May 6-7 25 75
1997 Mar 24-26 27 73
1996 27 73
1994 27 73
1991 28 72
1990 27 73
1989 27 73
1988 32 68
1987 30 70
1986 31 69
1985 35 65
1983 38 62
1981 35 65
1978 36 64
1977 38 62
1974 40 60
1972 43 57
1971 42 58
1969 40 60
1957 42 58
1954 45 55
1949 44 56
1944 41 59

About how many cigarettes do you smoke each day?
[BASED ON -- 226 -- SMOKERS; MARGIN OF ERROR ± 7 PCT PTS]

  Less than one pack One pack More than one pack No answer
1999 Sep 23-26 55% 35% 9% 1%
1997 Jun 26-29 48 32 19 1
1997 Jun 23-24 48 30 21 1
1996 43 38 16 3
1994 44 38 18 0
1991 48 34 17 1
1990 51 32 14 3
1989 39 39 20 2
1988 40 38 20 2
1987 48 32 18 2
1981 38 37 24 1
1977 41 31 27 1

At what age did you begin smoking?
[BASED ON -- 226 -- SMOKERS; MARGIN OF ERROR ± 7 PCT PTS]

  Under 16 16-18 Over 18 No answer
1999 Sep 23-26 36% 35% 29% *%
1994 Mar 11-13 32 37 29 2
1991 Nov 34 36 29 1

All things considered, would you like to give up smoking, or not?
[BASED ON -- 226 -- SMOKERS; MARGIN OF ERROR ± 7 PCT PTS]

  Yes No No opinion
1999 Sep 23-26 76% 23% 1%
1997 Jun 26-29 74 24 2
1997 Jun 23-24 64 34 2
1996 73 26 1
1994 70 28 2
1991 76 22 2
1990 74 24 2
1989 63 33 4
1988 68 27 5
1987 77 20 3
1986 75 22 3
1981 66 30 4
1977 66 29 5

Have you ever made a really serious effort to stop smoking, or not?
[BASED ON -- 226 -- SMOKERS; MARGIN OF ERROR ± 7 PCT PTS]

  Yes No/DK
1999 Sep 23-26 65% 35%
1997 Jun 26-29 62 38
1997 Jun 23-24 59 41
1996 74 26
1994 68 32
1991 64 35
1990 67 33
1989 60 40
1988 70 30

Do you feel you would be able to quit smoking if you made the decision to do so, or not?
[BASED ON -- 226 -- SMOKERS; MARGIN OF ERROR ± 7 PCT PTS]

  Yes No No opinion
1999 Sep 23-26 77% 20% 3%
1990 Jul 6-8 78 16 6
1980 66 27 7

Do you consider yourself addicted to cigarettes or not?
[BASED ON -- 226 -- SMOKERS; MARGIN OF ERROR ± 7 PCT PTS]

  Yes, addicted No, not addicted No opinion
1999 Sep 23-26 72% 28% *%
1997 Jun 26-29 73 27 *
1997 Jun 23-24 68 31 1
1996 69 31 0
1991 70 29 1
1990 61 39 *

If you had to do it over again, would you start smoking, or not?
[BASED ON -- 226 -- SMOKERS; MARGIN OF ERROR ± 7 PCT PTS]

  Jul 6-8 1990 Sep 23-26 1999
Yes 13% 13%
No 83 85
No opinion 4 2
  100% 100%

Do you think cigarette smoking is harmful, or not?

  Yes No No opinion
1999 Sep 23-26 95% 4% 1%
1990 Jul 6-8 (¨) 96 3 1
1981 Jun 26-29 91 7 2
1977 Aug 19-22 90 7 3
1954 Jan 9-14 70 23 6
1949 Nov 1-5 60 33 7

(¨) WORDING: Do you think cigarette smoking is harmful to your health?

Have you heard or read anything recently to the effect that cigarette smoking may be a cause of cancer of the lung?

  Yes No No opinion
1999 Sep 23-26 85% 15% *%
1954 Jun 12-17 90 10 --
1954 Jan 9-14 83 18 --

What is your own opinion -- do you think cigarette smoking is one of the causes of lung cancer, or not?

  Yes No No opinion
1999 Sep 23-26 92% 6% 2%
1990 Jul 6-8 94 4 2
1981 Jun 26-29 83 10 7
1977 Aug 19-22 81 11 9
1972 Apr 21-24 70 13 17
1971 May 14-17 71 16 14
1969 Jul 24-29 70 11 18
1960 May 26-31 50 28 21
1958 Jul 10-15 44 30 26
1957 Nov 28-Dec 4 47 32 21
1957 Jun 27-Jul 2 50 24 26
1954 Jun 12-17 39 29 32
1954 Jan 9-14 41 31 29

What is your own opinion -- do you think cigarette smoking is one of the causes of heart disease?

  Yes No No opinion
1999 Sep 23-26 80% 13% 7%
1990 Jul 6-8 85 9 6
1981 Jun 26-29 74 14 12
1977 Aug 19-22 68 17 15
1969 Jul 24-29 60 15 25
1960 May 26-31 34 38 28
1958 Jul 10-15 33 37 30
1957 Nov 28-Dec 4 36 42 27
1957 Jun 27-Jul 2 38 34 28

How about cancer of the throat?

  Yes No No opinion
1999 Sep 23-26 90% 6% 4%
1981 Jun 26-29 81 10 9
1977 Aug 19-22 79 10 12

How about birth defects?

  Yes No No opinion
1999 Sep 23-26 67% 21% 12%
1990 Jul 6-8 68 16 16
1981 Jun 26-29 54 23 24
1977 Aug 19-22 41 30 29

In general, how harmful do you feel second-hand smoke is to adults -- Very harmful, somewhat harmful, not too harmful, or not at all harmful?

  Very harmful Somewhat harmful Not too harmful Not at all harmful DEPENDS (vol.) No opinion
1999 Sep 23-26 43% 39% 11% 5% 1% 1%
1997 Jun 26-29 55 29 9 5 * 2
1996 48 36 9 5 * 2
1994 36 42 12 6 1 3

What is your opinion regarding smoking in public places? First, in [ROTATE A-C] -- should they SET ASIDE certain areas, should they totally BAN smoking, or should there be NO RESTRICTIONS on smoking? How about in ...

  Set aside areas Totally ban No restrictions No opinion
A. Hotels & motels
1999 Sep 23-26 70% 24% 6% *%
1994 68 20 10 2
1991 70 17 12 1
1990 73 18 8 1
1987 67 10 20 3
B. Workplaces
1999 Sep 23-26 61 34 4 1
1994 63 32 4 1
1991 67 24 8 1
1990 69 25 5 1
1987 70 17 11 2
C. Restaurants
1999 Sep 23-26 56 40 4 *
1994 57 38 4 1
1991 66 28 5 1
1990 66 30 4 --
1987 74 17 8 1

Which of the following statements best describes your view of who's to blame for the health problems faced by smokers in this country? [ROTATE 1-4/4-1: 1) The tobacco companies are completely to blame, 2) The tobacco companies are mostly to blame, 3) Smokers are mostly to blame, 4) Smokers are completely to blame]?

  May 6-7 1997 Sep 23-26 1999
The tobacco companies are completely to blame 5% 9%
The tobacco companies are mostly to blame 20 21
Smokers/companies equal to blame (vol.) 10 13
Smokers are mostly to blame 38 31
Smokers are completely to blame 26 24
No opinion 1 2
  100% 100%

As you may know, this week the U.S. Justice Department filed a lawsuit against the tobacco industry seeking to recover billions of dollars in federal health costs for smoking-related illnesses. The tobacco companies being sued have stated the charges have no merit and should be dismissed. Which side do you agree with more in this lawsuit - [ROTATE: The Justice Department, or the tobacco companies]?

The Justice Department (or) 51%
The tobacco companies (or) 42
Both equally (vol.) 2
Neither (vol.) 2
No opinion 3
  100%

Has smoking ever been a cause of serious health problems in your family?

Yes 45%
No 54
No opinion 1
  100%

* less than 0.5%
(vol.) volunteered response

For more information on this issue, click here: http://www.gallup.com/poll/topics/tobacco.asp.

Gallup

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