Background: Tobacco use remains the most preventable cause of death and disability in the United States. Public opinion regarding tobacco use is not only an important barometer of the likelihood of effective tobacco-control legislation, but also identifies ongoing public health educational needs. Because > 63,000 children become new smokers annually in Pennsylvania, we chose to evaluate the statewide public health tobacco perspective in order to help tailor future public policy interventions.
Study design and setting: Registered voters were randomly contacted in a statewide telephone survey. To reduce response bias, an independent polling firm conducted the 643 structured interviews.
Results: Most respondents were ≥ 45 years old (55%), female (54%), and had at least some college education (62%). Twenty-eight percent (95% confidence interval [CI], 25 to 32%) were current tobacco users, and 38% (95% CI, 34 to 42%) had lost family members or friends to smoking-related disease. Ninety-two percent (95% CI, 90 to 94%) expressed “concern” about adolescent tobacco use, but only 46% (95% CI, 42 to 50%) believed that government needed to do more. Of respondents opposed to government involvement, 65% (95% CI, 61 to 68%) believed it was an improper role for government, or that there are more important non-health government priorities. When framed more personally, 80% (95% CI, 77 to 83%) indicated that elected officials have a responsibility to “dedicate a significant portion of tobacco settlement” to prevention. Still, 28% (95% CI, 25 to 32%) would oppose laws restricting smoking in establishments frequented by youth.
Conclusions: Prior public health education initiatives have been effective in shaping the tobacco-related health concerns of Pennsylvania voters. As expected, the overwhelming majority of respondents are concerned about youth tobacco use and agree that money should be spent on tobacco-control initiatives. In contrast, many are reluctant to support “government” involvement in what is still seen as a personal issue. Future public health initiatives should focus on this dichotomy and should highlight the utility of an integrated policy approach to tobacco control.