Many people in the U.S. and Canada support smoke-free laws for outdoor venues, especially where children congregate or at building entrances.
Based on 89 surveys in both countries between 1993 and 2014, researchers say the growth of support for smoking restrictions, even among smokers, shows that outdoor smoking bans can achieve majority support.
"This and other studies have found that it looks like people may become more favorable towards these regulations once they're put in place and they get used to them," said Deborah Ossip, president-elect of the Society for Research on Nicotine and Tobacco, who was not involved in the study.
In 1993, roughly three quarters of people surveyed supported smoke-free laws for school grounds, but the numbers jumped as high as 94 percent in some areas by 2014, according to the study in Tobacco Control.
From 2001, all but one of 17 surveys found support above 54 percent for smoking bans outside building entrances, and favorable responses ranged as high as 89 percent in a 2012 Ontario survey.
The lowest support was for laws covering smoke-free sidewalks and smoke-free outdoor workplaces like restaurant and patio bars. Even so, support seemed to grow over time for smoke-free outdoor restaurant and bar patios, ranging from 41 percent in Nevada in 2001 and 56 percent in California in 2008 to 82 percent in Ontario in 2011 and 70 percent in Saskatchewan in 2013.
"Smoke-free outdoor laws help smokers quit ... they increase hospitality business profits (by keeping customers healthy and earning and spending more money) and they improve population productivity," said George Thomson, lead author of the study, University of Otago in Wellington, New Zealand.
Women were more supportive of the laws than men in all 23 surveys in the U.S. And Ontario that included gender, with 20 percent more women than men supporting the laws in some cases.
Support for the laws tended also to be higher among African-Americans (and other ethnicities) than Caucasians, and among those 65 and older, those with at least a high-school education and those earning less than $20,000 yearly.
Support was generally higher in Canada than in the U.S., except for California. Smokers tended to give much lower support to the laws than non-smokers, except where school grounds and outdoor events were concerned. Survey design appeared to make a difference, with more people supporting the laws when a range of options was offered than when the choice was yes or no.
Ossip, who directs the smoking research program in the Public Health Sciences department at the University of Rochester Medical Center in New York, said indoor bans might have helped pave the way for wider support and also pushed more smokers outside into areas that non-smokers frequent.
"People are maybe finding their voice in questioning whether it should still be allowed (outdoors). For non-smokers who want to sit outside in the nice weather, their exposure may have increased (leading to) heightened awareness for people who are concerned about their exposure," said Ossip.
"It helps if there is wide public support, as there is less likely to be wide negative public response during the passage of laws and politicians like to see high survey support," he said.