New Drug Policy Alliance/Zogby Poll Finds 45 Percent Support Making Cigarettes Illegal

Press Release October 25, 2006
Media Contact

Tony Newman at 646-335-5384

A new Zogby Poll commissioned by the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA) found that 45 percent of Americans polled would support a federal ban on cigarettes within the next five to ten years. Surprisingly, the strongest support for making cigarettes illegal is among 18 to 29-year-olds, with 57 percent in favor of criminalizing cigarette smokers.

“We were shocked to discover that close to half of those polled support making cigarettes illegal within five to ten years,” said Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance. “While it is clearly imperative to reduce the number of people who die prematurely from cigarettes – and we certainly are not pro-tobacco – history has taught us that criminalizing people who use drugs through prohibition has disastrous consequences.”

DPA supports laws and policies designed to reduce the number of smokers including: cigarette taxes, public education campaigns and bans on indoor smoking at restaurants and bars. However, DPA is convinced that making cigarettes illegal would prove no more effective than our current disastrous war on drugs.

“I am surprised by the numbers of people supportive of making cigarettes illegal and am totally supportive of the statements of the Drug Policy Alliance,” said Allan Rosenfield, dean of the Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University. “From a public health perspective the focus should be on prevention through expanded public education campaigns, such as the very effective campaigns run by the American Legacy Foundation, taxes on cigarettes, banning sales to teenagers and bans on indoor smoking at restaurants and bars.

“But making cigarettes illegal would be a huge mistake.”

“If cigarettes were illegal, we would risk the prohibition-style shoot-outs and violence that characterized the Al Capone era,” Nadelmann said. “Millions of our fellow Americans–our friends and families–would be considered criminals. We already have too many people with addiction problems serving long prison sentences. The last thing we need is to ruin many more lives with another ineffective prohibition strategy.”

The Drug Policy Alliance is preparing to launch an educational campaign for politicians and the public about the unintended consequences that could result from a new prohibition on cigarettes.

“Public health officials, law enforcement and treatment providers should speak out loudly and clearly against cigarette prohibition,” Nadelmann added. “We can’t allow hysteria to overwhelm rational responses to the legitimate concerns about the harms of cigarettes. We can’t afford to repeat the same mistakes we have made with other harmful substances.”

Cigarette prohibition would result in an enforcement nightmare for police and other first-responders who would bear the responsibility of implementing a new law that would criminalize millions of smokers.

“Outlaw cigarettes? Tobacco smokers run huge health risks, and the costs to taxpayers are substantial. But, as a non-smoker, and a 34-year veteran of law enforcement, I can’t imagine a more dangerous, short-sighted law,” said Norm Stamper, a former Seattle police chief. “We’ve cut cigarette smoking in half, the result of education, taxation, and regulation–without putting a single cigarette smoker in jail. We’re on the right track, let’s not get derailed.”

A young woman holds a sign that says "End the Drug War."

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