How GF feels about smoking

Sorry, sorry, sorry. The City Beat plumb ran out of time last week and there were way too many things to blog about. Since I’ve gone on at length about the Alerus Center, I’m gonna give it a rest until the next blog post.

Let’s talk instead about the interesting information found in the survey on secondhand smoke that came out of the Grand Forks Tobacco Free Coalition last week.

This survey is much more ambitious than the last one in 2005, so we have not only a picture of what people feel about secondhand smoke — The revelations weren’t entirely unpredictable, so were not so interesting. — but who they are.

First, a bit about the two studies.

The 2005 study involved random phone surveys of 403 adults in Grand Forks and East Grand Forks. It had a margin of error of 5 percent.

The 2010 study involved random phone surveys of 779 adults in Grand Forks only. It had a margin of error of 3.7 percent.

So the two studies are not perfect matches, but I think they’re close enough for a comparison.

City of quitters

A big part of my story last week focused on what we know about Grand Forks adults’ drinking and smoking habits. It was interesting to note 19 percent of area adults smoked in 2005 compared to 15 percent in 2010. That seems like a pretty big drop!

Cordell Fontaine from UND’s Social Science Research Institute said to take these numbers with a grain of salt because some people won’t admit, even to themselves, that they’re smokers. You know that phenomenon where people say I’m not a smoker; I just smoke when I drink.

Still, all things being equal, there would’ve have been a significant drop in the smoking population in Grand Forks. This offers hope to those trying to quit. I know of several smokers that have tried many times and failed and they always seemed so defeated. It’s nice to know that so many other have found success.

For comparison, 20.6 percent of Americans smoked in 2008, according to the CDC. So, either way, Grand Forks looks pretty good even if many say we’re behind the times because we allow smoking in bars. If smoking foes are right, we can expect a further drop once they do manage to ban smoking in bars.

There ought to be a law…

And that ban could be coming soon because if the latest survey provides the Tobacco Free Coalition with a lot of the political ammunition it needs to lobby City Council members to, if nothing, put the issue on the ballot.

They’re telling me they want the council to pass it without a public vote because so many are for a total ban on smoking in public places.

Consider these stats on people’s perceptions, notice how the "serious hazard" category changes and how, in two cases, a huge majority of the population feel that way (I’ll talk more about this "serious hazard" perception in another post as this one is long enough.):

In general how much of a health hazard do you feel exposure to secondhand smoke is to those who breathe it?

  • Serious hazard 68%
  • Moderate hazard 23%
  • Minor hazard 5%
  • Not a health a hazard 2%
  • Not sure 2%

Impact do you feel secondhand smoke will have on the health of a nonsmoker if the nonsmoker occasionally breathes secondhand smoke?

  • Serious hazard 43%
  • Moderate hazard 39%
  • Minor hazard 12%
  • Not a health hazard 4%
  • Not sure 2%

Impact do you feel secondhand smoke will have on the health of a nonsmoker if the nonsmoker works in a bar or lounge where smoking is allowed?

  • Serious hazard 80%
  • Moderate hazard 13%
  • Minor hazard 3%
  • Noth a health hazard 2%
  • Not sure 2%

Now consider the stats on people’s desire for more government regulations, the last astounds me:

How important is it to you to have a smoke-free environment in all workplaces?

  • Very important 79%
  • Somewhat important 11%
  • Not too important 4%
  • Not at all important 4%
  • Not sure 2%

Bars and lounges: smoking should be allowed in…

  • All areas in the building 19%
  • Not allowed at all in the building 57%
  • Not allowed at all in building or grounds 18%
  • Not sure 6%

Which statement is the closest to your own view on smoking?

Statement 1: Business owners have a right to decide whether people smoke or not in their place of business, so we should not have laws that prohibit smoking in public places.

Statement 2: Non-smokers have a right to breathe clean air in public places, so we should have laws that prohibit smoking in public places.

  • Statement 1 16%
  • Statement 2 79%
  • Not sure 5%

In 2005, when the survey asked similar questions, it went like this:

First, I’m going to read a list of different types of places that are open to the public. After I read each, please tell me whether you feel smoking should be allowed in all areas in the building, allowed in some areas in the building, not allowed at all in the building, or not allowed at all either in the building or on the surrounding grounds….

Bars and cocktail lounges:

  • All areas 25%
  • Some areas 37%
  • Not allowed at all 28%
  • Not allowed in/out 10%

Now please tell me which of the next two statements is the closest to your own view on

Statement 1: Business owners have a right to decide whether people smoke or not in their places of business, so we should not have laws that prohibit smoking in public places like restaurants.

Statement 2: Non-smokers have a right to breathe clean air in restaurants and other public places, so we should have laws that prohibit smoking in public places, such as restaurants.

  • Statement 1 32%
  • Statement 2 68%

Compare the last two questions for the 2010 survey and the 2005 survey. You can see how much public opinion has turned around. The bottom line is when asked if they’d allow smoking in bar at all, 62 percent said "yes" in 2005, but 19 percent said "yes" in 2010. The questions were a bit different, but still…

Change of heart

Part of the change may have to do with the number of people who have kicked the habit, but that alone can’t account for the big shift. There were never that many smokers to start with.

Haley Thorson, the Public Health Department official who heads up the Tobacco Free Coalition, said it probably has a lot to do with more people aspiring to quit so they’re already seeing things from the point of view of nonsmokers.

Teresa Knox, another Public Health official who teaches quitting classes, said she’s seen more interest in quitting whenever the city or state or federal government puts new restrictions on tobacco. That doesn’t seem like much, I said, especially when she mentioned the 62-cents-a-pack tax added last year. She said it probably would be enough if someone were already thinking hard about quitting.

In the 2010 survey, there’s a breakdown of respondents into smokers, former smokers and non-smokers. It’s interesting to see that even smokers recognize there is some problem with smoking in public places. Unfortunately, there’s no easy breakdown for the 2005 survey so we can’t do a comparison.

Overall, how would you describe your reaction to the current smoke-free ordinances?

  Total Current smoker Former smoker Never smoked
Strongly favor 75% 27% 70% 89%
Somewhat favor 14% 34% 16% 8%
Somewhat oppose 4% 18% 5%
Strongly oppose 4% 14% 6% 1%
No reaction 3% 7% 3% 2%

In general, how much of a health hazard do you feel exposure to secondhand smoke is to those who breathe it?

  Total Current smoker Former smoker Never smoked
Serious hazard 68% 42% 64% 76%
Moderate hazard 23% 32% 26% 20%
Minor hazard 5% 16% 4% 3
Not a health hazard 2% 9% 3%
Not sure 2% 1% 3% 1%

Bars and lounges: Smoking should be allowed in:

  Total Current smoker Former smoker Never smoked
All areas in the building 19% 58% 16% 10%
Not allowed at all in the building 57% 33% 62% 62%
Not allowed at all in the building or grounds 18% 14% 24%
Not sure 6% 9% 8% 4%

What’s significant between 2005 and now is the city passed in 2006 a ban on smoking in all workplaces, with the notable exemption of bars, casinos and truck stops (in the last, smoking is allowed only in special smoking rooms).

People have had a chance to see what that’s like and they like it. Here’s the 2010 survey:

Before this law went into effect were you employed in a business (or workplace) that allowed smoking?

  • Yes 17%
  • No 83%

In general, do you feel that the passage of this law (that prohibits smoking) has changed your attitude towards your employment atmosphere?

  • Much more enjoyable 35%
  • Somewhat more enjoyable 8%
  • No difference 37%
  • Somewhat less enjoyable 5%
  • Much less enjoyable 1%
  • Don’t know 14%

This is actually kind of a weird statistic because it appears that even though only 17 percent of the population worked in at a place that allowed smoking, 43 percent of the population thought the passage of the law made their work more enjoyable in some way. The way the stats read, it appears survey workers asked everyone the second question, not just the ones that worked at places that allowed smoking.

Perhaps there is something like "sympathy enjoyment" that’s similar to sympathy pain or the people responding to the survey are a bunch of hypochondriacs.

Imaginary benefits or not, the tide of public opinion has definitely shifted the other way. Even a good chunk of smokers agree a total ban is needed.

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11 Responses to How GF feels about smoking

  1. Matt Burton-Kelly says:

    “It was interesting to note 19 percent of area adults smoked in 2005 compared to 15 percent in 2010. That seems like a pretty big drop!”

    Not if you want to take your (well-reported) margins of error into account. Your error bars will overlap with 5% and 3.7% error rates, respectively. Not that I’m against a smoking ban, but we need to be honest with the numbers.

  2. Anonamouse says:

    Out of the maybe 30 bars (now designated as such by the council because they sell more booze than food) I would bet that many don’t have smoking anyway, or only after 9 p.m. Out of the thousands of places of business or public places in GF, these are the few remaining. Leave them alone. There are many options for customers and also wait staff.
    Further, it is well known that in telephone surveys, whatever is the second question is the one the majority of people choose as their stronger answer. This survey has been set up in that way.
    Also, they have smoothed the way for the survey by the several months of tv ads touting the lethal qualities of second hand smoke, which, if researched, are shown to be overblown. And these commercials have been funded by big pharma, who stand to gain most $ub$tantially from sale of tobacco cessation products.

  3. Avatar of Tu-Uyen says:

    Matt: You’re right about the margin of error. I did say “all things being equal.” That’s a weasel phrase I learned in economics 201.

    It is, of course, possible that we’re talking about 20% smokers in 2010 and 15.3% smokers in 2005. It is also possible that there are 10% smokers in 2010 and 22.7% smokers in 2005. But anecdotal evidence, albeit from Public Health people who aren’t shy that they have an anti-smoking agenda, would seem to suggest it’s gone down and not up.

    Anonamous: I personally agree with some of what you say. However, regarding the second question, I guess there could be some effect from that second question, but overall, if you look at all the numbers, it does seem people have become more intolerant of smoking in bars.

  4. Anonamouse says:

    I miswrote…I meant the second option in any given question is usually the one people choose.

  5. Sarah says:

    So, out of 60,000+ residents of GF, they surveyed 779 and this is supposed to be accurate? I’m no economist…but doesn’t that seem a little off?

  6. ec99 says:

    “this is supposed to be accurate?”

    Probably as accurate as the economic impact attributed to the Alerus.

  7. Toby says:

    I was recently taking part in the Fargo nightlife and I can’t tell you how much I enjoyed the fact that there was no smoking in the bars. It was great.

  8. Anonamouse says:

    Ok, another GF/Fargo comparison. Let’s quit that. Fargo is humongous and we are small. Our so-called nightlife is smaller in scale. Our businesses are fewer in number. Those few who allow smoking probably rely heavily on that part of their clientele to keep going, let alone prosper (who is prospering during these economic times?).
    I would like to know who of the crowd against smoking–in GF, who would seem to be literate, have discretionary income, internet access, etc., actually go to the Charlie Browns, the Hubs, the Broken Drums, the Kellys, the Diamonds, the Judys, the Johnnys and the quasi-dives/quasi-neighborhood bars for their “nightlife”. No, they go to the more upscale places. These most often don’t allow smoking anyway. So don’t tell us how your clothes don’t smell of smoke. They still smell, of perfumes & colognes, of carpet cleaning solvents, of the food there. Everyday your nostrils (and clothes) take in particulants from fried food, grilled food, fireplace smoke, auto exhaust, cleaning products, spray products, and even your drier sheets. These also have been cited by the experts as having no known safe level of toxic exposure. Thing is, the anti-smoking brigade focused on smoking. The doctor, Dr. Siegel, who can be found on many websites, who was the initial and most vigorous pusher for smoke bans, says that the way people are using the statistics and information nowdays is turning it into junk science for scare tactics. He says this is wrong and we have gone too far. And when you consider the funding for their rallys, buttons, ads, commercials, pamphlets, etc., you realize it’s corporate interest that’s pushing this under the guise of a public health issue.
    So slow down, take it easy, and leave our city ordinances the way they are. Everyone has plenty of choices as to where to go out for their “nightlife”; they should feel fortunate they have money to spend on such activities!

  9. Toby says:

    Ok, I went to a smoke free bar in East Grand Forks, and I thought that was great, too.

    I love live music and would definately go see more if it wasn’t so smokey.

    I’m not comparing Fargo to little GF. I’m just saying it was super nice to out to a bar without coming home and smelling like a wet cigar.

    Face it, Smokers. Your time is almost up. Pretty soon you won’t be able to smoke in your car. That’s fine with me. I’d ban tobacco in a heartbeat.

  10. Anonamouse says:

    Toby, would you submit to a ban on alcohol? Though we know that isn’t going to happen. Too much money and power involved. A ban on fireplaces, outdoor grills, drier sheets, aerosol cans, lawn fertilizer, gas-powered lawnmowers, etc., etc.?
    When you said “Face it, Smokers. Your time is almost up” that put the hair on the back of my head up. Let he who is without sin cast the first stone! I bet you love your beer (or whatever your tipple is) and wouldn’t consider giving that up, since it goes so well with the live music you enjoy so much. What do you think when you get in your car having drink taken? Do you think about being over the limit, or maybe causing an accident, or getting home and finding subsequent problems with your family, your job, or your commitments for the next day?
    Don’t be so quick to judge others for legal adult activities, just because they may not jive with what suits you. Everybody’s got one or more things that irritate the heck outa them, but ya can’t ban everything. Everything has the potential for harm, but again, you can’t ban everything.

  11. Toby says:

    Annamouse: The writing is on the wall, dude! No more cigs!!! Ha ha ha hah hahaha ahahhahah LOL!