If you are a woman with a college degree and you make a lot of money, chances are you’re at the forefront of a movement to create smoke-free zones in public places. In fact, an SRI Gallup poll conducted exclusively for Hospitals shows that the vast majority of the public wants smoking restricted in public areas. The survey, which was conducted in May, also suggests that legislation on smoking lags far behind public sentiment.
The real issue in the smoking debate is not that smoking should be banned completely, but rather that both nonsmokers and smokers have a right to their own “space.” Even smokers agree that nonsmokers have a right to breathe smoke-free air. However, the support by smokers for everyone’s right to breathe clean air wasn’t as vigorous as among nonsmokers.
Fully 84 percent of all respondents felt that there should be smoke-free zones in commercial buildings, restaurants, and other public areas. Women preferred such arrangements more often than men (87 percent to 82 percent, respectively). Approximately 80 percent of the smokers surveyed felt that there should be smoke-free areas. And ex-smokers favored smoke-free areas more than did their smoking counterparts.
Support for smoke-free zones was also higher among respondents in the highest income brackets and among those who were more highly educated. Those with college degrees and beyond outvoted their less-educated counterparts 41 percent to 36 percent.
The workplace ban battle. The majority of those surveyed frowned on banning smoking completely from the workplace. Only 38 percent of the women and 34 percent of the men approved of such stringent measures. The opposition was more intense among smokers. Although 37 percent of the general public supported such a ban, only 21 percent of all smokers did so.
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Older workers (55 years and older) frowned on smoking in the workplace more than younger workers. The difference in response between these age groups–43 percent of older respondents supported a ban versus 34 percent of those between 18 and 34 years old–suggests that older people are responding negatively after many years of being exposed to smoke.
The debate appears to be shifting from simply setting aside smoke-free areas. Businesses may soon have to decide (if they have not already) how to accommodate the growing sentiment to ban smoking in the workplace. Moreover, the American Cancer Society estimates that smoking costs business about $65 billion a year in lost productivity and health care expenses. Dollars as much as workers’ sentiments will become a strong incentive to institute bans.
An opportunity for hospitals? The SRI Gallup poll results point to an opportunity for hospitals to embark on smoking-cessation programs, particularly since early indications show stronger support to curtail smoking in hospitals than in the public at large.
Hospitals will find a significant market opportunity in the smoking-cessation business, as 69 percent of all smokers have tried unsuccessfully to quit smoking. Of those smokers who have tried to quit and failed, only 5 percent sought outside help, the survey shows.
But a note of caution to hospital executives is also in order. The survey findings back up the conclusions of other studies, which show that the main impetus for quitting smoking is peer pressure applied over the long haul.