Attitudes About Alcohol and Tobacco

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Most Americans Drink Alcohol

A July 2004 Gallup Poll found that 62% of Americans drink alcoholic beverages, such as liquor (distilled spirits), wine, or beer, down from 66% in 2002, yet up from 58% in 1996. (See Table 10.1.) Nearly four in ten (38%) were "teetotalers," or total abstainers. Since about 1990, the levels of those who drank alcoholic beverages remained below the 71% the Gallup Poll recorded in 1976, 1977, and 1978.

Beer, preferred by 39% of America's drinkers, was the most popular alcoholic beverage in 2004, followed by wine and "hard" liquor. (See Table 10.2.) In July 2004 the popularity of wine (preferred by 33% of respondents that year) was at its highest level since 1999 (34%), and was up from 31% in 2000. Preference for liquor (24%) was up from the 2001 level of 18%.

In 2004 one-third (33%) of drinkers had consumed an alcoholic beverage within the past twenty-four hours, and 38% had ingested alcohol within the past week. (See Table 10.3.) A smaller proportion of people had taken a drink in the past twenty-four hours in 2004 than in 1984 and 1987 (39% and 38%, respectively). Nonetheless, this figure was higher than in the early 1990s (29% in 1990 and 26% in 1992). Likewise, the 2004 past-week figure of 38% was greater than the figures reported in the early 1990s (23% in 1990 and 1994, 24% in 1992).

In July 2004 most respondents (86%) claimed that they had either abstained from drinking or had been light-to-moderate drinkers (one to seven drinks) during the past week. (See Table 10.4.) Thirty-one percent of the drinkers polled reported that they had not drunk an alcoholic beverage within the past week, and 55% had consumed one to seven drinks. Eight percent reported having between eight and nineteen drinks, and 5% reported drinking twenty or more drinks during the period. Most drinkers (75%) did not think they drank more than they should, although one-quarter (25%) reported that they sometimes drank more than they felt they should. (See Table 10.5.)

Family Problems Caused by Alcohol

According to the 2004 Gallup survey, drinking caused family problems for more than one-third of Americans (37%). (See Table 10.6.) This figure is up from the 28% who reported that alcohol had been a source of family troubles in 2002, and is at the highest level ever in the years covered by the survey. Is alcohol becoming more of a problem in families, or are we as a nation simply more willing to discuss issues that take place behind closed doors? It is interesting to note that the proportion of respondents in 2004 who thought drinking had sometimes created a problem in their families (37%) was considerably higher than the proportion of drinkers (25%) who thought that they sometimes drank too much. (See Table 10.5 and Table 10.6.)

Concern about Underage Drinking

According to the 2002 Youth Access to Alcohol Survey, commissioned by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (Princeton, New Jersey), the nation's largest philanthropic organization supporting health and health care, Americans view underage drinking as a significant problem and support a variety of measures to help reduce teen drinking. More than 90% said they were very or somewhat concerned about teen drinking.

Nancy Kaufman, vice president of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, maintains in the Survey that "under-age drinking is a vast problem with grave consequences. It is a factor in nearly half of all teen automobile crashes, the leading cause of death among teens. Beyond that, alcohol contributes to suicides, homicides, and fatal injuries and is a factor in sexual assaults and date rapes. Obviously, something needs to be done to avoid these serious problems."

Yes drink %No, total abstainer %
2004 Jul 8-116238
2003 Jul 7-96238
2002 Jul 9-116634
2001 Jul 19-226238
2000 Nov 13-156436
1999 Sep 23-266436
1997 Jun 26-296139
1996 Jun 27-305842
1994 Jun 3-66535
1992 Jan 16-196435
1990 Dec 6-95743
1989 Sep 12-155644
1989 Apr 4-96238
1988 Jul 1-76337
1988 Mar 8-126238
1987 Jul 10-136535
1987 Apr 10-136337
1987 Mar 14-186535
1985 Feb 15-186733
1984 Sep 6-96436
1984 Jul 6-96436
1983 Mar 11-146535
1982 Aug 13-166535
1981 Jan 9-127030
1979 May 4-76931
1978 Nov 10-136634
1978 Apr 21-247129
1977 Jan 14-177129
1974 May 10-136832
1969 Jan 1-66436
1969 Feb 22-276337
1966 Jan 21-266535
1960 Mar 30-Apr 46238
1959 Dec 10-156139
1958 Jan 24-295545
1957 Mar 15-205842
1956 Jan 6-116040
1952 Dec 11-166040
1951 Aug 26-315941
1950 Jun 4-96040
1949 Dec 1-65842
1947 Oct 3-86337
1946 Jul 26-316733
1945 Nov 23-286733

Table 10.7 ranks twenty-six suggested policies to reduce teenage drinking, from most to least supported among all respondents. The table also lists the subgroups found to be the most and least supportive of each policy item. The highest percentages of support were for policies that deal with restrictions on drinking alcoholic beverages in various public locations. For example, 93% of respondents would favor restrictions on drinking on city streets, and 88% supported restrictions on drinking on college campuses.

At the bottom of the list, with 50% or less support, are policies banning certain types of alcohol sales. Almost 40% of the survey respondents would ban happy hours; 31% would support a ban on beer keg sales to individuals. (See Table 10.7.)

Support for alcohol tax increases depended on the use for the revenues gained. If the taxes were used for prevention purposes, 81% would favor such a tax. Fewer (69%) supported a tax increase if it were used to lower other taxes, such as income taxes. Only 34% favored a tax increase if the revenues were used for "any government purpose." (See Table 10.7.)

Several questions concerned alcohol advertising, on which more than half of the respondents favored restrictions. Seventy percent opposed the use of youth-oriented materials (such as cartoons) on alcoholic beverage packaging. Two-thirds (67%) supported a ban on liquor ads on TV, while 59% favored a ban on beer or wine TV ads. Sixty-one percent would outlaw alcohol billboard ads, and six out of ten (62%) favored banning the use of sports teams and athletes as symbols in alcohol marketing. (See Table 10.7.)

Women appeared to be most supportive of restrictive alcohol policies. Male respondents and those ages eighteen to twenty-four were more likely to indicate lower levels of support for restrictive alcohol policies. The policy that revealed the largest difference of opinion was the banning of teenagers in bars. There was a difference of twenty-three points between the responses of women and conservatives and those ages eighteen to twenty-four. (See Table 10.7.)

Nearly three-quarters (72%) of respondents supported a "zero-tolerance" policy for young drivers, in which teenagers would be punished if they tested positive for any amount of alcohol in their blood. Women were the most supportive, with those ages eighteen to twenty-four less supportive. (See Table 10.7.)

Seven out of ten respondents believed that stiffer punishments for teenagers caught drinking would discourage them from obtaining alcohol. (See Figure 10.1.) The most popular punishment for youth offenders was to make them ineligible for school loans (28.9%), followed by a $500 fine (26%) and then community service (23.2%). (See Figure 10.2.) Suspending a teenager's license was the least popular form of punishment (21.9%).

These figures are strikingly different from when the survey asked this question in 1998. In that year, 51.7% favored a one-year license suspension, while 34.5% supported a penalty of twenty hours of community service. Only 10.5% advocated a $500 fine, while just 3.3% supported making these young offenders ineligible for future state college scholarships and loans.

Liquor %Wine %Beer %All/same (vol.) %Other (vol.) %No opinion %
2004 Jul 8-112433394**
2003 Jul 7-92233423**
2002 Jul 9-1122304431*
2001 Jul 19-221831464*1
2000 Nov 13-15223143301
1999 Sep 23-261934424*1
1997 Jun 26-291832454*1
1996 Jul 25-28202746601
1994 Jun 3-6182947312
1992 Jan 16-19212747311
24 hours %Over 1 day to week ago %Over 1 week ago %Don't know %
2004 Jul 8-11333829*
2003 Jul 7-9314029*
2002 Jul 9-11283834*
2001 Jul 19-22303238*
200 Nov 13-15263242*
1999 Sep 23-263525391
1997 Jun 26-29332542*
1996 Jun 27-302826451
1994 Jun 3-63423421
1992 Jan 16-192624491
1990 Dec 6-92923471
1989 Sep 12-153235321
1988 Jul 1-73925342
1987 Jul 10-133830311
1984 Jul 6-93929311

More survey respondents favored fines and community service in 2001 than in 1998. Support for license suspension fell from 51.7% to 21.9%. A significant shift took place in the category of loans. Nearly 29% felt withholding school loans was the best form of punishment for teens in 2001, up from 3.3% in 1998. Considering that many young people need scholarships and loans to afford the skyrocketing costs of higher education, this might be a punishment that will really teach a lesson.

The Youth Access to Alcohol Survey also indicated that respondents believe adults providing alcohol to teens, as well as the teens themselves, are responsible for problems associated with teen drinking. Nearly nine out of ten (87%) either strongly or somewhat supported penalties for adults who provide alcohol to underage drinkers. (See Figure 10.3.)


How Many Smoke?

While most Americans do not smoke, about one-quarter of them do. A November 2004 Gallup survey on smoking reported that 25% of the adults interviewed said they had smoked cigarettes during the past week, down from 40% in 1969 and 45% in 1954. (See Figure 5.7 in Chapter 5.) Most smokers consumed one pack (33%) or less (52%) a day, while 14% smoked more than one pack per day, down from a high of 30% in 1978.

As Table 10.8 reveals, most smokers who responded to a 2002 Gallup survey (66%) began their habit prior to or at age eighteen. This table returns to a central theme in this book: people tend to start smoking while they are young. Those who smoke tend to do so for many years, if not a lifetime.

How Many Want to Quit?

Eight out of ten (82%) of the smokers polled in July 2004 reported that they would like to give up smoking, up from 74% in 1990. (See Table 10.9.) More than three-quarters (78%) believed they were addicted to cigarettes, up significantly from 61% in 1990. (See Table 10.10.)

Should Smoking Be Limited?

The proportion of those who consider secondhand smoke harmful increased between 1994 and 2003. In

0 %1-7 %8-19 %20+ %Don't know %MeanMedian
2004 Jul 8-1131558514.92
2003 Jul 7-9305012625.12
2002 Jul 9-1134509524.42
2001 Jul 19-22394894*3.41
2000 Nov 13-15434683*3.31
1999 Sep 23-26404784*3.72
1997 Jun 26-2941458513.61
1996 Jun 27-3047427222.81
1994 Jun 3-644421031
1992 Jan 16-1951361021
1990 Dec 6-95040631
1989 Sep 12-1533471352
1988 Jul 1-732491063
1987 Jul 10-1329501164
Yes %No %No opinion %
2004 Jul 8-112575*
2003 Jul 7-92476*
2002 Jul 9-112179*
2001 Jul 19-222080*
2000 Nov 13-152674*
1999 Sep 23-262476*
1997 Jun 26-292278*
1996 Jul 25-282575*
1994 Jun 3-629710
1992 Jan 16-192971
1990 Dec 6-923761
1989 Sep 12-153565
1987 Jul 1-72971
1985 Feb 15-183268
1978 Nov 10-132377

1994 the Gallup Poll reported that 36% of respondents thought secondhand smoke was very harmful. (See Figure 5.9 in Chapter 5.) In 2003 this number had grown to 51%, an increase of 15%.

In its 2003 survey on tobacco and smoking, the Gallup Organization found that most Americans supported some restrictions on smoking. Most of them were

Yes %No %No answer %
2004 Jul 8-113763
2003 Jul 7-93169*
2002 Jul 9-112872*
2001 Jul 19-223664*
2000 Nov 13-153664*
1999 Sep 23-263664*
1997 Jun 26-293070*
1996 Jun 27-302377*
1994 Jun 3-627721
1992 Jan 16-192476
1990 Dec 6-923761
1989 Sep 12-151981
1987 Mar 14-182476
1985 Feb 15-182179
1984 Jul 6-91882

in favor of limiting smoking to designated areas. For example, 68% believed smoking should be limited to designated areas in hotels and motels, although a significant percentage thought smoking should be banned in these areas (25%). (See Table 10.11.)

Supportive group:
Overall support (percent)Policy typeMostLeastRange*
93Restrict drinking on city streetsWomen18-249
91Restrict drinking at parksDemocrats & women18-246
90Require server trainingLiberals & womenRepublicans5
89Require bar owner training18-24 & womenMen5
88Restrict drinking on college campusesWomen18-2414
88Tip lines to report illegal sales/useWomen & conservatives18-2412
87Punish adult providers25+18-2421
84Restrict drinking at concertsWomenRepublicans14
84Restrict drinking at street festivals/fairsWomen18-2418
81Tax increase for prevention purposesWomenMen12
80Checking everyone's ID18-24 & WomenMen11
79Restrict drinking at beachesWomen18-2417
78Restrict legal age for alcohol serversDemocrats & Women18-2422
74Require drinking at sports stadiumsWomen18-2422
72Ban internet salesRepublicans & WomenLiberals & Democrats9
72Zero tolerance for youth (BAC 0.00)Women18-2414
70Ban youth-oriented packagingWomenMen14
70Compliance checks at liquor storesConservatives & Republicans18-24 & liberals5
69Tax increase for tax relief18-24Men11
67Ban liquor ads on TVWomenMen16
64Ban home delivery of alcoholWomenMen8
64Ban teens in barsWomen & conservatives18-2423
63Allow local controls on alcoholConservatives18-248
62Ban alcohol marketing with athletesWomenMen16
62Require beer keg registrationWomenMen10
61Ban alcohol billboard adsWomenMen & 18-2419
59Ban beer/wine ads on TVWomenMen & 18-2416
55Target providers versus youthLiberalsWomen6
52Be lenient on youth offendersLiberals & 18-24Conservatives11
48State control of liquor sales18-24Republicans10
38Ban happy hoursWomen & DemocratsLiberals9
34Tax increase for any government purpose18-24Republicans12
31Ban beer keg sales to individualsWomenMen12
*Range is calculated by subtracting the lowest from the highest percent to indicate the spread or distance between most and least suportive groups.

Regarding smoking in the workplace, 61% of those polled in 2003 believed smoking should be permitted only in designated areas, while 36% thought smoking should be banned altogether. More than half (52%) wanted smoking limited to designated areas in restaurants, but most of the other half (45%) wanted it banned. Very few (3%) thought there should be no restrictions at all on smoking. Looking at Gallup's figures between 1994 and 2003, the proportion of respondents wanting no restrictions has decreased, while the percentage wanting a total ban has increased. (See Table 10.11.)

In July 2003 the percentage of survey respondents in support of various bans on smoking was somewhat lower than in 2000. Restaurants were still the places in which those surveyed were most likely to favor a total ban (45%), followed by workplaces (36%), and then hotels (25%). People were most willing to set aside areas for smokers in hotels (68%). Bars were the area people were most likely to think should have no smoking restrictions (31%). (See Figure 10.4.)

Responsibility for Health Damages

In 1998 the major tobacco companies settled with state attorneys general to reimburse states for the Medicaid costs of treating smokers. Public health organizations and others have long claimed that the cigarette industry should be held legally and financially responsible for the health problems of those who use its products. In the past, the tobacco industry had defended itself by denying that health hazards had been proved by scientific testing and by asserting that using tobacco is a matter of choice.

Who is responsible for the health problems of smokers and those exposed to secondhand smoke? In 1991, when the Gallup Organization first polled Americans on the topic of liability, only 13% of respondents believed that tobacco companies should be held legally responsible for health damages related to smoking. Sixty-six percent thought that the government-required warnings on tobacco packaging absolved the companies from responsibility. As shown in Table 10.12, by the late 1990s those surveyed were more inclined to think tobacco firms should be held responsible. Between 22 and 30% of Americans thought tobacco companies were completely or mostly to blame for smokers' health problems between 1997 and 2004. The percentage of those who thought blame should be shared between smokers and companies grew from 10% to 14% from 1997 to July of 2000, but then dropped.

It is important to remember that the mid- and late-1990s were years when tremendous attention was paid to the dangers of cigarette smoking and the deceptive marketing practices of tobacco firms. Indeed, the "Tobacco Wars" period hit a high point in 1998 with the Master Settlement Agreement (discussed in Chapter 8).

But despite this increased awareness of the tobacco industry's role in getting—and keeping—people addicted, the public did not absolve smokers of all blame. Sixty-four percent said smokers were mostly or completely to blame in 1997. The figure dropped in 1999 to 55% but increased to 67% in 2003, holding at 66% in 2004. (See Table 10.12.)

In the week following the 1998 tobacco settlement, the Gallup Organization asked Americans their opinions of the settlement. At the time, only about half of the respondents said they had heard much about it. When asked if they favored or opposed the agreement, more than one-third (35%) of the respondents either said they had not heard about it or had no opinion on the tobacco agreement. More of the respondents who had heard about the agreement and had an opinion favored (40%) rather than opposed (25%) the agreement. One-third of the smokers felt the settlement was too tough on the tobacco companies, while one-quarter felt it was not tough enough. Thirty-nine percent of nonsmokers thought it was not tough enough.

Under 16 %16-18 %Over 18 %No opinion %Mean %
2002 Jul 9-11372933118
2000 Nov 13-15373921317
1999 Sep 23-26363529*18
1994 Mar 11-133237292
1991 Nov 7-103436291
Yes %No %No opinion %
2004 Jul 8-1182171
2003 Jul 7-982171
2002 Jul 9-1179183
2000 Nov 13-1582162
1999 Sep 23-2676231
1997 Jun 26-2974242
1997 Jun 23-2464342
1996 May 9-1273261
1994 Mar 11-1370282
1991 Nov 7-1076222
1990 Jul 6-874242
1989 May 15-1863334
1988 Jul 1-768275
1987 Mar 14-1877203
1986 Jun 9-1675223
1981 Jun 26-2966304
1977 Aug 19-2266295
Yes, addicted %No, not %No opinion %
2004 Jul 8-1178211
2003 Jul 7-97228*
2000 Nov 13-1574260
1999 Sep 23-267228*
1997 Jun 26-297327*
1997 Jun 23-2468311
set aside areas %Totally ban %No restrictions %No opinion %
Hotels & motels2003 Jul 7-9682561
2001 Jul 19-22662761
2000 Nov 13-1565287*
1999 Sep 23-2670246*
1994 Mar 11-136820102
1991 Oct 24-277017121
1990 Jul 6-8731881
1987 Jun6710203
Workplaces2003 Jul 7-961363*
2001 Jul 19-22583831
2000 Nov 13-1557376*
1999 Sep 23-26613441
1994 Mar 11-13633241
1991 Oct 24-27672481
1990 Jul 6-8692551
1987 Jun7017112
Restaurants2003 Jul 7-952453*
2001 Jul 19-2252444*
2000 Nov 13-1548475*
1999 Sep 23-2656404*
1994 Mar 11-13573841
1991 Oct 24-27662851
1990 Jul 6-866304
1987 Jun741781
Bars2003 Jul 7-94423312
Tobacco companiesSmokers
Completely to blame %Mostly to blame %Equally to blame (vol.) %Mostly to blame %Completely to blame %No opinion %
2004 Jul 8-114181135311
2003 Jul 7-9619737301
2002 Jul 9-118181131302
2001 Jul 19-226191233282
2000 Nov 13-15623835271
2000 Jul 14-166201429301
1999 Sep 23-269211331242
1997 May 6-75201038261