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Attitudes Toward Smoking

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In the first year Gallup started polling citizens of the United States regarding their smoking habits, 41% of poll participants reported smoking. Three decades later we see that number drop by about half, to 22% . Along with the decline of smokers in the US, we see an increase of awareness by up to 50%, linking smoking to health hazards such as, cancer, heart disease, and many other conditions. In the last 30 years, public polls on the issue of smoking demonstrates what was once a publicly accepted behavior which was enjoyed by almost half of the population is now frowned upon as a serious health risk.

The issue with the smoking trend in the US is important to study to understand what caused such a drastic decline in a short amount of time. The significance of this study through the eyes of a sociologist is to see the causation vs. correlation issues regarding smoking habits.

Research Questions

Throughout my study of smoking trends a few research questions came to mind that I felt would put my paper together.

1. How has smoking changed in the United States over time?

2. When did these changes occur?

3. What are the population's views toward smoking?

Literature Review

1. Gallup Poll on "Tobacco and Smoking" in the US from the 1940s to 2000s.

2. Web MD article on "Smoking Cessation in the US".

3. CQ researcher article on the "Tobacco Industry".

4. CQ researcher article on the "Crackdown on Smoking"

5. CQ researcher article on "Regulating Tobacco"


The population of smokers today has dropped significantly from earlier times due to the advancement in science, which as linked smoking to diseases such as, cancer and heart disease. Furthermore, US government involvement regulating smoking and informing the public regarding the health hazards of smoking has caused many smokers to cut back or even quit smoking.

Research Method

The method I used in my research paper was a secondary analysis. The data sources I used for my analysis were from the Gallup Poll, in which questions related to smoking habits such as, "Do you smoke?" "How many cigarettes a day did you smoke?" "Does smoking cause lung cancer?" and others were asked and answered throughout the United States from a period of 30 years. Along with the Gallup poll, many articles from CQ researcher were used to retrieve facts on the regulation of tobacco products.


The graph below represents the decline of smokers in the United States from 1944 to 2002. As you can see, in 1944 roughly 40% of the population said they were smokers. Through 30 years, we see a steady decline of smokers, from 40% in 1944 to around 22% in 2002. The peak on the graph was recorded in 1954, when 45% of the poll participants said they smoked, and the lowest point was in 2002 at 22%.

In addition to the decline of smokers, we see a decline in the quantity smoked. Between 1999 and 2001 only 9-11% of smokers said they were smoking more than a pack of cigarettes a day. The lower graph shows evidence of the decline from 1977 to 2001. As you can see, in 1977, when the poll began, 27% of smokers stated smoking over a pack a day. Through 24 years the amount of smokers who smoked over a pack of day drops by 10%, this trend adds to the attitudes that changed toward smoking-the decline of the "chain-smoker".

In January of 1954 Gallup first asked the question, "Have you heard or read anything recently that cigarette smoking may be a cause of cancer of the lung?", 60% of the pool said they neither heard or read anything. The trend line below shows evidence of an increase of awareness linking smoking with lung cancer from 1954 to 1999. As shown, over a span of 40 years the American public's knowledge of lung cancer increased by 50%. Between 1960 and 1969 we see the most drastic change in public attitudes. This was the time when the U.S. Surgeon General issued his first public report on smoking in 1964 and when Congress required the first warning labels on cigarette packages .

According to the Centers for Disease Control, "smoking can cause chronic lung disease, coronary heart disease, and stroke, as well as cancer of the lung, larynx, esophagus, mouth, and bladder," and that "smoking is known to contribute to cancer of the cervix, pancreas, and kidney." The CDC also says "Women who use tobacco during pregnancy are more likely to have adverse birth outcomes, including babies with low birth weight (a syndrome they report to be the leading cause of death among infants)".

In the last few decades a new aspect of smoking came to light- second-hand smoke. In 1994, less than 40% of the poll pool viewed second hand smoke as "very harmful", while roughly 20% viewed second hand smoke has "Not too harmful". However, in 1997 we see a change in opinion; the "very harmful" figure rises to 55%. This correlates with the release of a draft report by the Environmental Protection Agency that classified secondhand smoke as a "Class A carcinogen, meaning it is a cancer-causing agent for which there is no safe level of exposure." The EPA linked passive smoke to thousands of deaths from lung cancer and heart disease as well as new cases of respiratory infection and asthma.

Science has played a momentous role in advising citizens of the United States on the hazards of smoking and today we hold those scientific facts to be true, however, in the 1960s the public was reluctant to take the scientific ideas to be fact. In a Harris poll conducted in 1965-1966 a question regarding the link to smoking and lung cancer was asked and we see below that only 61% and 67% respectively believed that smoking is somewhat of a cause to lung cancer while 39% and 33% respectively believed that "Science has



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