The proportion of the population that believes secondhand smoke is very harmful increased dramatically from 36% in 1994 to 56% in 2002. However, the Gallup data show that this proportion has plateaued, remaining steady throughout the past decade and remaining at 56% in the latest poll taken this year.
The poll also shows that the proportion of both smokers and nonsmokers who believe secondhand smoke is very harmful has remained steady since 2002.
The analysis of the results by Gallup concludes: "Americans are significantly more likely to say smoking is harmful than they are to say the same for exposure to secondhand smoke. This gap has remained steady over the past decade, despite a growing number of studies demonstrating the harmful effects of secondhand smoke."
"The CDC released several graphic anti-smoking public service announcements over a 12-week period starting March 2012 that showed the harmful effects of smoking to encourage current smokers to quit. Overall, U.S. smokers were no more likely to say in July 2012 that smoking is very harmful, although the prevalence of smokers tied an all-time low, the percentage of heavy smokers dropped to an all-time low, and 78% of smokers say they would like to quit."
The Rest of the Story
What changed around 2002, the turning point that ended a decade of progress in educating the public about the serious hazards of secondhand smoke?
What changed was that the anti-smoking movement began to exaggerate the health effects of secondhand smoke, telling the public that just 30 minutes of secondhand smoke could cause heart attacks in otherwise healthy people, asserting that secondhand smoke exposure is as harmful as smoking, and starting to scare the public about undocumented hazards of thirdhand smoke.
Clearly, this exaggeration strategy has backfired, as progress in educating the public about the serious hazards of secondhand smoke has come to a complete halt, both among smokers and nonsmokers.
Why? Because by exaggerating and distorting the science, the anti-smoking movement has begun to lose its credibility and the public is no longer believing everything it hears from anti-smoking groups.
Smokers, in particular, seem to be discounting messages from anti-smoking groups. Only 28% of smokers in 2012 believe that secondhand smoke is very harmful. Perhaps even worse, there has been no progress in educating smokers about the harmful effects of active smoking. Only 60% of smokers believe that smoking is very harmful, a percentage that is exactly the same as what it was in 2002.
By lying to the public and trying to convince them that secondhand smoke is as hazardous as smoking, anti-smoking groups have accomplished the unfortunate result of having downplayed the very real hazards of active smoking, resulting in a situation where two out of every five smokers today do not believe that smoking is very hazardous.
The rest of the story is that with its gross exaggeration and distortion of the science on secondhand and thirdhand smoke, the anti-smoking movement has succeeded in halting progress in the education of the public about the severe hazards associated with both secondhand smoke and active smoking. This is a result of the damaged credibility of the anti-smoking movement due to its willingness to sacrifice its scientific integrity in favor of exaggerating and distorting the science in order to try to produce more dramatic sound bites.