More than 70 percent of respondents to a poll conducted in Mobile County last summer and fall indicated support for policies eliminating all cigarettes store smoke cigarettes from indoor public places, including restaurants and bars, according to new data from the University of Alabama’s Institute for Social Science Research.

The poll, conducted between August and October, asked 845 Mobile County residents ages 19 and older about their attitudes toward smoke-free policies, tax increases on cigarettes, discount cigarette online use and exposure to secondhand smoke, among other things.

Among the key findings:

79.3 percent supported eliminating all cigarettes online smoke cigarettes from the workplace.
83.3 percent favored eliminating tobacco smoke cigarettes from restaurants.
64.9 percent would prefer to eat in a restaurant where smoking cigarettes isn’t allowed.
51.3 percent would recommend increasing the state cigarette tax.

Last year, Mobile City Councilman William Carroll proposed an update to the city’s smoking cigarettes policy, which hasn’t changed since a ban on smoking cigarettes inside government buildings in the early 1990s.

The latest proposal, backed by Mobile County Health Department leaders, would banish smoking cigarettes in eateries and other public places, but not bars.

In late January, the measure stalled. Councilman Reggie Copeland said that city leaders have been weighing concerns from the public.

Some believe that the ban should include bars, Copeland said, but some council members worry that the regulations will cause damage by going too far.

“The main concern, I think, has been, ‘Do we put the bars out of business by not allowing it? I think we should let the bartenders decide,” he said.

Copeland said the council also is waiting to see if an inclusive state bill banning smoking cigarettes, which is backed by Sen. Vivian Davis Figures, D-Mobile, will stick this year.

If that fails, Copeland said, he will bring up the matter himself at a council meeting.

“I’m ready to jump in and move with it,” Copeland said, adding that he would wait 60 days before taking action. “I’ve never smoked,” he said, “and I hate it when I go into a restaurant and there’s smoke.”

Deborah McCallum, director of the Institute for Social Science Research, said the numbers her group presented in the survey are an accurate representation of public opinion based on similar previous studies in Mobile County.

One interesting statistic that emerged, McCallum said, was that nearly 65 percent of respondents would prefer to eat in a restaurant that prohibited smoking cigarettes.

“I think it is helpful to know in terms of how it might affect business,” she said. “Based on these results, we don’t think it would have a detrimental effect (for business). There are people who would eat out more often if there was no smoking cigarettes in the restaurants.”

In 2010, the county Health Department received a $2.25 million grant from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention through the Alabama Department of Public Health. The grant is funding a two-year campaign to raise awareness about the risks and effects of secondhand smoke.

Another goal is to enact smoke-free ordinances in every municipality in Mobile County.

Last summer, Saraland’s City Council made it against the law for people to smoke cigarettes in enclosed public spaces there. The ordinance covers restaurants, bars and even areas near where children play outside in parks.

Bayou La Batre and Citronelle also have laws on the books that ban smoking cigarettes in public places, as do most incorporated areas of Baldwin County.

The new poll was a random sampling conducted by telephone between Aug. 8 and Oct. 1; the margin of error was plus or minus 3.4 percentage points. The survey was sponsored by the Alabama Department of Public Health.

There are plans to conduct a follow-up phone survey this summer to assess whether views change after the local Health Department’s secondhand smoke cigarettes campaign.

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