Poll: Majority disapprove of tobacco fine
Saying smokers are themselves to blame, most Americans disapprove of a Florida jury's recent decision to fine the tobacco industry a whopping $145 billion, according to a Gallup poll released Tuesday.
The independent polling firm used a sample of 1,063 adults over the weekend to test public opinion on the largest civil damage award in U.S. history, stemming from a class-action case for about 700,000 Sunshine State smokers.
It found that 59 percent of people ``disapprove'' of the punitive damage award compared with 37 percent who ``approve'' and 4 percent who had ``no opinion.''
The question asked was this:
``As you may know, a Florida jury Friday ordered tobacco companies to pay $145 billion in damages to Florida smokers who have been made sick by smoking. Would you say you approve or disapprove of this decision by the Florida jury?''
The sentiment is consistent with a series of polls that showed Americans think ``that smokers themselves, rather than the tobacco companies, are the ones responsible for the injurious effects of smoking,'' said Frank Newport, editor of the Princeton, N.J., based poll.
For example, people were asked in the weekend poll to choose along a continuum -- with tobacco companies being ``completely to blame'' on one end and smokers being ``completely to blame'' on the other.
It found that 59 percent of people said smokers were either ``mostly to blame'' or ``completely to blame'' for their own health problems.
On the opposite end, 6 percent of Americans said tobacco companies were ``completely to blame'' and 20 percent thought tobacco was ``mostly to blame'' for sick smokers.
Another 14 percent of Americans blamed tobacco companies and smokers equally.
Just under one-quarter of all Americans -- 23 percent -- smoke cigarettes, according to a Sept. 23-26 Gallup poll, its most recent measure of tobacco users.
It found that most smokers wish they had never started.
Gallup first asked Americans in 1994 about who was to blame in tobacco illness and found similar findings.
Studying the results by age group, Newport said support for the Florida award declined by age, although no age group approved of the decision. Forty-four percent of Americans ages 18-29 said they approved, compared with 34 percent of those 50 and older.
In terms of political party affiliation, left-leaning people were more approving of the big-bucks fine than those who leaned toward the right.
Forty-five percent of self-described liberals and 40 percent of Democrats said they approved of the award, compared with 31 percent of conservatives and 27 percent of Republicans.
The poll's margin of error was plus or minus 3 percent.
Tuesday's opinion poll was consistent with results of other surveys of public sentiment toward industry whose products cause harm, Newport said.
In December, for example, the public was asked ``if they sided with the U.S. Justice Department, which was attempting to recover the costs associated with gun-related crimes, or with the gun manufacturing industry.''
The public chose gun makers, by a 67 percent to 28 percent margin, meaning ``Americans have less sympathy for efforts to hold industry accountable for what the users of their products do than some might have imagined,'' he said.