Smokers’ views on smoking changingCigarettes and booze for the smoker is like mac and cheese, mashed potatoes and gravy, milk and cookies, lox and bagels and all the many things that go so well together that they make each other better. It’s no wonder that a vast majority of Grand Forks’ population of smokers also hit the bars.
By: By Tu-Uyen Tran, Forum Communications Co., The Jamestown Sun
GRAND FORKS — Cigarettes and booze for the smoker is like mac and cheese, mashed potatoes and gravy, milk and cookies, lox and bagels and all the many things that go so well together that they make each other better.
It’s no wonder that a vast majority of Grand Forks’ population of smokers also hit the bars.
But those days may soon be gone, thanks in part to changing attitudes among smokers themselves. A new survey released by the Grand Forks Tobacco Free Coalition, a local anti-smoking group, says a majority of smokers now agree that nonsmokers have a right to breathe clean air in indoor places, free from secondhand smoke.
That right, a slight majority said, exceeds the rights of business owners to run their businesses as they please.
“I think it has a lot to do with the social norms changing,” said Haley Thorson, a Public Health Department official and the coalition’s leader. “Smokers know the health risk. Maybe they’re smoking and they’re trying to quit. So they still consider themselves smokers, but their mindset is on the other side.”
Indeed, the survey indicates that more city residents have kicked the habit in the past several years.
Still, a majority of smokers oppose laws that would end smoking in bars. A majority of the general population feels the opposite.
Thorson’s group will be using the survey to persuade City Council members to ban smoking in all public places, ending the exemption for bars, casinos and truck stops. The coalition used proceeds from the 1998 settlement tobacco companies made with states to pay for the survey.
The survey itself, which has a margin of error of 3.7 percent, provides a fascinating snapshot of the city’s adult population.
Though the city has a reputation for binge drinking — it was ranked No. 2 among American cities in 2004, the last time a city-by-city ranking came out — the number of adults that hit the bars more than once a week is just 4 percent. (But with the margin of error, it could actually be 0.3 percent or 7.7 percent.)
Another 11 percent hit the bars once a week.
Smokers remain a significant minority in the city, making up 15 percent of the population, but it appears their numbers are dwindling. A similar survey in 2005 found that 19 percent of the adult population smoked. That’s a decrease of about 21 percent.
It appears smokers also like a drink with their cigarettes — 92 percent of smokers say they also frequent bars.
Cordell Fontaine, director of UND’s Social Science Research Institute, which conducted the survey, said the number of smokers is probably a little higher than reported. Even in random phone surveys, some people will hide their true habits, he said.
Public health officials say it’s a matter of self-identity. Some smokers will say that they’re not really smokers because they only smoke when they drink.
But all things being equal, could it be that one-fifth of the smoking population has managed to quit?
A lot has changed since 2005.
The city banned smoking in most public places in 2006, which made it harder for many smokers to smoke at work. In the same year, the U.S. Surgeon General reported that there is no risk-free level of exposure for secondhand smoke. Last year, federal taxes on cigarettes went up by 62 cents a pack.
Every time something like that happens, Public Health Department official Teresa Knox said she notices more smokers signing up for her how-to-quit classes. Though the legislative changes may not be a huge disruption for smokers, she said, many just need that nudge to quit.
A good portion of the smoking population does seem to yearn to join the ranks of nonsmokers.
When asked how they felt about their work environment after the city smoking ban went into effect, 20 percent of smokers actually said it was more enjoyable. Another 43 percent said they didn’t notice a difference. Only 13 percent thought it was less enjoyable. Another 24 percent said they didn’t know.
Anthony Ryan, the operations manager of The Hub bar in Fargo, said when the city banned smoking in bars along with all public places in 2008, a lot of his workers, even the smokers, were glad.
Smokers also now accept the view that nonsmokers have certain rights.
When asked whether smokers should have a right to enjoy their habit indoors since smoking is legal or whether nonsmokers have a right to clean air, 80 percent of smokers sided with the nonsmokers. As might be expected, that’s lower than the adult population as a whole, 91 percent of whom sided with nonsmokers.
When asked whose rights were greater, business owners’ rights to allow smoking if they choose or nonsmokers’ rights to clean air, 45 percent of smokers sided with nonsmokers, 41 percent with business owners and 14 percent didn’t know how they felt, a high incidence of ambivalence. In the general population, 79 percent sided with nonsmokers, 16 percent with business owners and 5 percent didn’t know.
There remains some special exception felt toward bars where smoking seems so natural. Among smokers, 58 percent said smoking should be allowed, 33 percent said it shouldn’t be and 9 percent said they didn’t know. Among the general population, 19 percent said it should be allowed, 75 percent said it shouldn’t be and 6 percent didn’t know.
Impact on bars
Let’s say smoking is banned in bars. What would happen?
Public health officials have always said that bar traffic would actually increase because people who have avoided bars because of the smoke would go to them again.
Survey results show that might not be entirely the case.
The majority of the people who don’t hit the bars much now aren’t going to change their habits. For instance, among those who go to bars less than once a month — they make up a little more than a third of the adult population — 61 percent said they’ll go about as often, 7 percent said they’ll go less and 28 percent said they’ll go more.
It’s not much different for those who go a bit more. Only those barflies who go more than once a week are likely to go even more. Forty-seven percent of people who already have plenty to drink said they’ll be at the bars more, 46 percent said they’ll be out about the same and 7 percent said less.
That almost suggests that binge drinking will increase under a smoking ban, though the survey didn’t ask if frequent bar goers also binge drank, so that conclusion isn’t supported by data.
Among smokers, 50 percent said they’d go to bars less, 5 percent said they’d go more and 44 percent said they wouldn’t change.
Ryan, the manager at The Hub bar, said he did notice a drop in bar traffic for a while after the smoking ban passed in Fargo, but it since has stabilized. It helped that Moorhead bars had to go smoke free first, he said, so they’d already bore the brunt of the impact. Traffic isn’t quite at pre-ban levels, he said, but a lot of that is probably the dampening effect of the economy.
“After a couple of months, people got used to it,” he said.
Tu-Uyen Tran is a reporter for the Grand Forks Herald,
which is owned by
Forum Communications Co.