Twenty years after the U.S. surgeon general first warned about the health risks of cigarette smoking, Americans are convinced that the practice is harmful--but are not ready to make this a tobacco-free nation.
Congress and the Clinton Administration are pondering sweeping anti-smoking measures. And a landmark class-action lawsuit recently charged tobacco companies with conspiring to addict smokers to their product.
But new national polls, including one by The Times, show that the public remains torn between concerns over health and smokers' rights.
The surveys have lots of bad news for the embattled tobacco industry: Despite its claims to the contrary, almost 8 in 10 Americans think secondhand smoke is a health risk, an ABC News poll found. About the same number believe that nicotine is an addictive drug, and two-thirds support its regulation by the federal government. That possibility recently was raised by Food and Drug Administration Commissioner David A. Kessler.
The Times Poll found that 73% of those surveyed support raising taxes on cigarettes to help pay for health care reform. And more than 3 in 5 favor a proposed Labor Department directive to ban smoking in almost all indoor workplaces, including restaurants and offices.
That rule would still allow for smoking in designated enclosed areas with separate ventilation systems--a policy that fits well with the public's feelings. For despite concerns about smoking, a Gallup Poll found that 63% of the public still wants some kind of set-aside where people can smoke in the workplace. Fifty-seven percent back smoking areas in restaurants.
Just one-quarter of adults say they smoke at least a pack per week, the Times survey found. But even among nonsmokers, support for radical anti-smoking measures is limited. Just 45% of the public told Gallup that they would back a complete ban on cigarette advertising, and only 11% would ban smoking entirely.
Nor are Americans ready to make tobacco firms the prime culprits in the smoking battle.
Asked whether the companies or the individual smoker bears more of the responsibility for smoking, just 23% fault the industry "for making cigarettes and encouraging smoking." Almost two-thirds blame smokers "for deciding to start and for not taking the steps to quit."
Smokers Blamed More Than Industry
Even though Americans think nicotine is addictive, most still blame smokers more than the cigarette industry for people smoking. Addictive: 79% Not addictive: 15% Don't know: 6% *Smokers: 64% Industry: 23% Neither/both: 11% Don't know: 2% \o7 Source: Los Angeles Times Poll of 813 adults taken nationwide April 16 to 19. Margin of error is 4 percentage points.\f7