Survey on the social attitudes about smoking shows conflicts
It's been 35 years since the U.S. Surgeon General released a landmark report that linked smoking with cancer. Since then, the percentage of Americans who smoke has fallen from 42 percent to about 24 percent.
After three decades of health warnings, most Americans now agree that using tobacco is a dangerous habit. But we remain divided about restrictions on smoking and to what extent government should regulate tobacco.
That's the conclusion researchers at Mississippi State University reached after conducting a survey that looked at social attitudes about smoking. The results were released Nov. 28.
The researchers at MSU's Social Science Research Center billed the study as the first to look at social views of smoking since cigarette companies agreed in 1998 to scale back their advertising and pay $246 billion to states to recover health care costs and fund anti-smoking programs.
Some results not surpising
The survey of 1,503 Americans drew some results that aren't surprising at all. For example, 98 percent of respondents agreed smoking is either very dangerous or somewhat dangerous, and more than 90 percent believe parents and schools shouldn't allow children to smoke and that stores should be punished for selling cigarettes to children. The survey's sampling error was plus or minus 2.5 percent.
But other results left the researchers pondering what they called the "unfinished business" of the tobacco-control movement. Based on the survey, researchers concluded that nearly 22 million households (21 percent) allow smoking in the presence of children, and nearly 13 million Americans (6.3 percent) don't believe secondhand smoke can harm infants and children. About 18 million adults (9 percent) don't believe parents should keep children from smoking. As for allowing children to smoke at school, 20 million adults (10 percent) have no problem with it.
"Although the number of Americans who fail to support these aspects of tobacco control is diminishing, there remains a very large, high-risk group of adults that continues to place youth at risk," the researchers wrote in their 94-page report. Three decades after the Surgeon General's report, "the message has not consistently taken hold across the fabric of American society," said Robert C. McMillen, a professor of psychology at MSU.
Divided over lawsuits
About 84 percent of the survey respondents said they don't believe tobacco companies' claims that cigarette advertisements don't encourage children to smoke. And 93 percent said they don't believe companies' claims they don't manipulate the nicotine levels in cigarettes.
At the same time, however, Americans are divided on lawsuits against cigarette makers. About 52 percent of respondents said they would support government-imposed limits on the damages tobacco companies have to pay, while 48 percent said they wouldn't.
And Americans also seem ambivalent about tobacco advertising restrictions. About 58 percent said they support restrictions on direct-mail tobacco ads, 52 percent favored prohibiting ads at cultural and sporting events, but only 42 percent supported keeping ads out of magazines.
While most of the respondents thought shopping malls, convenience stores and restaurants should be smoke-free, only 33 percent believe bars and taverns should prohibit smoking.
Gender and racial differences
There seems to be a gender and racial divide when it comes to regulating tobacco. Although 64 percent of respondents said it is the responsibility of the government to regulate tobacco, women were a lot more supportive of the idea than men.
About 58 percent of men agreed tobacco should be regulated as a drug, but 68 percent of women agreed with that idea. Not surprising, there were significant differences between smokers and nonsmokers on most questions. Nearly 70 percent of non-smokers agreed with regulating tobacco as a drug, while only 42 percent of smokers did.
The survey also indicated that African-Americans are more likely than whites to support increased taxes on tobacco products to pay for control efforts. African-Americans also were more likely to support more indoor smoking restrictions and tougher punishments for minors caught with tobacco products.