Tobacco use is declining steadily in the United States. It is banned in public places and many restaurants and bars across the nation. Now a new Zogby International poll finds that 45 percent of Americans would support a law to make cigarettes illegal in the next five to 10 years.
The strongest support for making cigarettes illegal is among 19-29 year-olds, with 57 percent of them in favor of criminalizing tobacco use.
The Drug Policy Alliance commissioned the report. Executive Director Ethan Nadelmann says his group entered the debate because it is concerned that increasingly restrictive tobacco measures could lead to prohibition of cigarettes. He says making smoking illegal would lead to unintended consequences. "If we move to the point of criminal prohibition, we may reduce the number of people smoking and the cancer deaths somewhat, but we will generate vast black markets and all sorts of crime."
Nadelmann says the survey suggests potentially dangerous political trends. "When the numbers of consumers diminish and when the consumers become disproportionately people who are young and poor and people of color, that is when criminal prohibitions become acceptable." Nadelmann thinks it is only a matter of a few years before this happens. He says even if poll results are interpreted as favoring criminalization of cigarettes, the survey was released to begin a national dialogue on the topic. Our thought was that we are at a real slippery slope right now, and if we were to do this poll in two or three or four years from now when you actually begin to hear legislators and others start proposing this stuff, that the numbers would be even higher."
The Drug Policy Alliance wants to raise awareness while a majority of Americans still oppose criminal action against smoking. The group says the logical end to a successful public health campaign against tobacco is not prohibition.