NEW YORK (Reuters) - Most Americans want smoking banned in all public places but only 19 percent believe that cigarette smoking should be illegal in the United States, a Gallup poll published on Friday said.
The Princeton, New Jersey-based pollster found in its July 7-10 telephone survey that for the first time since it initially asked the question in 2001, a majority of Americans, 59 percent, support a public ban on smoking.
Ten years ago, 39 percent were in favor, a percentage that was about the same when Gallup did a similar poll on the subject in 2007, according to the survey published on the website www.gallup.com.
The 19 percent of respondents who want a law against smoking is close to the 14 percent who told Gallup in 1990 they wanted smoking to be illegal.
"A majority of Americans now support the concept of a full smoking ban in all public places, marking a significant change from four years ago, when Gallup last measured this attitude," the pollster said.
"Relatively few Americans support the idea of making all smoking illegal across the country, perhaps partly in recognition of the practical difficulties involved in enforcing such a ban."
Anti-smoking sentiment has risen in the United States in recent years.
New York, the country's most populous city of 8 million, bans smoking cigarettes in almost all public places, including outdoor plazas and beaches. The District of Columbia and 27 states have passed smoke-free laws.
Gallup said its July poll also questioned Americans about their cigarette smoking habits.
"Twenty-two percent of adult Americans reported having smoked cigarettes within the last week, a percentage that is essentially unchanged over the last five years," Gallup said.
The results of the poll are based on a random sample of 1,016 people aged 18 and older living in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia. Gallup said the maximum margin of sampling error is plus or minus 4 percentage points.
Reporting by Grant McCool; Editing by Eric Beech