59% of Americans Think Public Smoking Should Be Illegal
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59% of Americans Think Public Smoking Should Be Illegal

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When I was 14, I couldn’t wait to start smoking. It was the perfect public habit to pick up that would showcase the kind of person I thought I was: a complete and total bad ass. But things have changed since I was a young, budding alcoholic in the 1990s. A recent study by Gallup showed that the attitudes towards smoking in the United States have altered drastically over the last 14 years. With 28 states currently holding bans on smoking in enclosed public places, and more and more individual cities prohibiting lighting up in public parks, beaches and other outdoor venues, a shift in how people look at cigarette smoking is expected. But somewhere between 2008-2010, Americans let out a big exhale around their feelings about smoking laws.

The Evolution of Puffing in Public

Just seven years ago, in 2007, 40% of people polled felt that smoking should be made illegal in public places but in 2011, that number shot up to 59%, with 38% of people against banning it. There are a few theories as to why this is, proving perhaps that people of different ages have had different experiences with smoking which could affect their feelings about laws against it. But my theory is that people are, more than anything, conformists and make their decisions based on the status quo. That is not necessarily a bad thing, as applicable in this case, because there is little question that smoking is extremely harmful to the smoker and, at the very least, unpleasant for the people around them. Even during my 22 years as a smoker I never enjoyed smelling other people’s cigarettes—and now that I am a non-smoker, I can’t bare it. Of course, I am lucky that it’s 2014 because if it were 1964, I’d have no choice.

But even with shows like Mad Men in the forefront of American culture—so much so that I was invited to a wedding with this theme—it’s still easy to forget how acceptable smoking used to be. Fifty years ago, it was perfectly normal to light up at your desk, whether you had a private office or not. I wasn’t alive in the 1960s but the impression I get from old photos, films and television shows is that everyone smoked. And I suppose why wouldn’t you? The general public was yet to understand the health risks involved. It was the social equivalent to the Brazilian Blowout.

Cigarettes Are so 2oth Century

While the dangers of smoking began to get media attention in the 1970s, with Congress passing a ban on cigarette advertising on radio and TV, it wasn’t until the last 15 years that being a smoker really began to fall out of public favor. Statewide bans on smoking started as early as 1995, but didn’t start gaining momentum until the turn of the 21st century. When I left Boston in 1999, you could still smoke in bars—and in Atlanta, Miami and Pittsburgh, you still can. That is, if you can afford to. When I started smoking at 14, you could get a pack of GPC’s for $1.00. When I quit smoking in 2013, a pack cost $6.25 (although that was for Marlboros). It’s hard to feel good about doing anything you have seen take a 625% inflation.

The Grand Scheme of Social Change

Smoker or not, if you live in America you are well aware that cigarettes cause cancer, heart disease, and pissed off liberals. But these kinds of reports, like this one from Gallup, are important and informative on what is needed for social change. Sure, it might have taken 50 years to fully flip people’s attitudes about smoking, but in the big scheme of things, that is merely a blip on the radar of time. Charts like this should give us hope that with enough effort (and a shitload of money) we can actually make big changes in the world.

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About Author

Danielle Stewart is a Los Angeles-based writer and recovering comedian. She has written for Showtime, E!, and MTV, as well as print publications such as Us Weekly and Life & Style Magazine. She returned to school and is currently working her way towards a master’s degree in Marriage and Family Therapy. She loves coffee, Law & Order SVU, and her emotional support dog, Benson.