Local Politics

Poll: N.C. residents back limits on smoking, cell phones

Posted March 2, 2009 11:56 a.m. EST
Updated March 2, 2009 12:20 p.m. EST

Bill would ban smoking in public spaces in N.C.

— A majority of North Carolina residents believe using a cell phone while driving should be illegal and that state or local laws should restrict smoking in restaurants, offices and other public places, according to a poll released Monday.

The wide-ranging Elon University Poll also found that a majority of residents back a government-funded universal health care system and exploring and drilling for oil and natural gas off the North Carolina coast, while opposing paying taxes on the number of miles driven each year.

For the poll, 758 adults were surveyed statewide between Feb. 22 and Feb. 26. The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.6 percentage points.

Nearly 80 percent of respondents said using a cell phone while driving decreases highway safety, yet more than half who own cell phones say they make or receive calls while behind the wheel – only a third of them said they regularly use hands-free devices. Two-thirds of those surveyed said using cell phones while driving should be illegal.

“Though they recognize that it is dangerous and confess to doing it, citizens apparently won't stop driving and talking unless a change in the law forces them to do so,” Hunter Bacot, director of the Elon University Poll, said in a statement.

More than two-thirds of those surveyed said they would support a state law prohibiting smoking in public places, and about seven out of 10 said they would support local smoking bans. Yet, 60 percent of respondents said any limits on smoking should be the decision of individual business owners.

"As the health implications of tobacco become more salient among citizens, support for anti-smoking policies continues to intensify,” Bacot said. “I suspect this may be the year that we see North Carolina go smokeless.”

In other issues, 66 percent of respondents said they support offshore oil drilling near the North Carolina coast, and 56 percent said they support nationalized health care insurance.

More than 75 percent said they don't like proposals to tax drivers based on their annual mileage. Several politicians and transportation consultants have suggested such a tax to replace state and federal gas taxes.

Three in four respondents said they support commuter rail systems in urban areas of the state, and 69 percent said they would like a regional rail operation in their area. Fifty-seven percent said they would support a local half-cent sales tax to fund such transit systems.