Americans Divided Over Smoking Tolerance
Americans appear to be "ambivalent" about smoking, with approximately 18 million adults saying that it's alright for parents to allow their children to smoke and nearly 64 million saying that tobacco use is "acceptable" or "very acceptable" among co-workers, according to a Mississippi State University report released yesterday, USA Today reports. The report, "Smoking in America: 35 Years After the Surgeon General's Report," examines Americans' opinions on smoking following decades of tobacco prevention campaigns. It reveals that about 70% of U.S. homes are smoke-free but smoking is permitted in the house or car by 31 million households, with children exposed to smoke in 21.6 million homes. Also, 90% of respondents consider smoking to be harmful to children, but more than 20% permit smoking in their presence; 90% believe that students should be prohibited from smoking at school, but more than 40% say that teachers and staff should be permitted to smoke there. More than 96% of respondents acknowledge that nicotine is addictive, but more than 20% say that smoking is "not dangerous" or "only slightly dangerous."
Arthur Cosby of MSU's Social Science Research Center said that public health campaigns have been effective and there are 40 million fewer Americans smoking today than when the surgeon general's tobacco report was released in 1965, but added that "because 46 million American adults continue to smoke cigarettes, it is clear there is substantial unfinished business for tobacco control. ... Every 10th patient coming in thinks it's OK for their kid to smoke. That 10% is awful important. It's a large number that surprised me." He also noted that tobacco control "has met the most resistance in the institutions of recreation, sports, and, notably, leisure and mass communication and culture" (Davis, USA Today, 11/29).
Smoking is "least tolerated" in the West, where it is not allowed in 78% of homes, and "most tolerated" in the Midwest, where it is permitted in all or part of 36% of homes. Despite the fact that tobacco is grown in many southern states, smoking is barred in 68% of homes in the South and Northeast. The survey did not find a significant racial difference in tolerance of tobacco use, nor when comparing urban versus rural residents, but women and college graduates were found to be less tolerant of smoking than men and high school graduates.
The study notes that Americans are also divided on the subject of government regulation. While 64% support government regulation "primarily to limit teen smoking," 53% support "limiting the amount of fines against tobacco companies" (Scripps Howard News/Newark Star Ledger, 11/29). The "conflicted" opinion about tobacco use may be a "reflection of the power of addiction," Cosby said, explaining that many tobacco users may not be able to quit, although they are "people who intelligently and emotionally decide these tobacco-control notions and beliefs are good things." He added, "They puff with one breath but acknowledge the danger with the next." The survey, based on phone interviews with 1,503 American adults in July, has a margin of error of plus or minus 2.5% (Hearst/St. Paul Pioneer Press, 11/29). The report is available on the Social Science Research Center's Web site, at www.ssrc.msstate.edu (USA Today, 11/29).
Critics are accusing tobacco giant Philip Morris Cos. of sending mixed messages to kids about smoking. The Los Angeles Times reports that the company distributed 13 million free illustrated book jackets to schools across the country, "firing up" tobacco critics who call the free supplies a "promotional endeavor" despite the anti-tobacco message, "Think. Don't smoke," ostensibly written across the cover. Under the $200 billion state attorney settlement in 1998, tobacco companies are not allowed to advertise to minors, and Philip Morris has launched a $100 million campaign to support anti-tobacco programs for youth.
In addition to the main anti-smoking message, the book jackets also included the surgeon general's warning that cigarette smoking causes lung cancer, heart disease and emphysema. However, school officials and other critics call the book covers an attempt to "begin building bridges with impressionable youngsters who could turn into future customers." Philip Morris, scheduled to distribute 125 million covers to students in kindergarten through 12th grade this year, denies the claim (Groves, Los Angeles Times, 11/29).
In other tobacco news, Friendship Heights, Md., a suburb of Washington, D.C., has proposed a ban on smoking in all public areas maintained by the local government, including sidewalks, streets and grass patches. The AP/Christian Science Monitor reports that the ban would be "the most extensive restrictions on smoking in the country." Individuals caught publicly smoking or disposing tobacco products could be fined $100 under the ordinance. Friendship Heights Mayor Alfred Muller, a physician, explains that the intent of the ban is "not only to deter smoking, but to protect civil rights." However, ban opponents "accuse Muller of trying to inhibit personal freedom," arguing that there is "scant evidence" that smoking outside is a health hazard for others. The Friendship Heights village council approved the ban in 1996, but removed it from county consideration before a vote could be taken due to "vehement opposition." The village council reintroduced the ban this year under a "friendlier environment to anti-smoking legislation." The Montgomery County Council will vote on the ban Dec. 12 (AP/Christian Science Monitor, 11/27).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.