Consumers Narrowly Divided on New Tobacco Law

Congress is in favor. The president is in favor. The general public isn’t so sure, though, about a measure augmenting the federal government’s power to regulate the manufacture and marketing of tobacco products.

In Gallup polling fielded between passage of the bill by Congress and its signing into law last week by the president, respondents split almost down the middle on whether they favor it (46 percent) or oppose it (52 percent). Among smokers, 28 percent were in favor and 69 percent were opposed. Among nonsmokers, th split was 50 percent in favor, 48 percent opposed. One caveat: It’s not as if everyone is well informed about the issue. In CBS News/New York Times polling after the bill passed, 18 percent said they’d “very closely” followed news about it, with another 30 percent saying they’d followed it “somewhat closely.”

You might say the new law is a case of the government kicking a bad habit when it’s already down. Asked whether they’d “smoked any cigarettes in the past week,” just 20 percent of Gallup’s respondents answered affirmatively — “tying a November 2007 reading for the lowest since Gallup first asked the question in 1944.”

And taken by itself, that figure understates the degree to which consumers have cut down on smoking. Fifty-six percent of the Gallup respondents who indulge in cigarettes said they smoke less than a pack a day. Prior to 1999, Gallup’s polling on the topic routinely found a majority of smokers saying they burned through at least a pack a day.

One school of thought says the government should either get off the tobacco industry’s case or ban smoking entirely. But Gallup has found scant support for the latter option. Seventeen percent of respondents to the new poll agreed that “smoking in this country [should] be made totally illegal,” a figure at the high end of the narrow range in which sentiment has moved in a couple decades of the company’s surveys on this question.