Majority of Workplaces in Largest U.S. Cities Now Smoke-Free

By Roy Maurer Dec 17, 2012

In ​2000, San Jose, Calif., stood alone.

Now, 30 of the 50 largest U.S. cities are covered by state or local laws prohibiting smoking in all indoor areas of private workplaces, restaurants and bars, according to a recent report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The study, Comprehensive Smoke-Free Laws—50 Largest U.S. Cities, 2000 and 2012, published in the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, reported that 10 of the 20 cities without comprehensive smoke-free laws are located in the South, where tobacco traditionally is grown and sold. Additionally, 10 of the 20 cities without such laws are located in states that prohibit local smoking restrictions from being stronger than or different from state law.

The figures show that the number of Americans covered by local or state smoke-free laws has grown from less than 3 percent in 2000, to almost 50 percent today. The CDC stated that its research has shown that smoke-free laws have reduced exposure to secondhand smoke, reduced smoking, and improved public health, including reducing heart attacks.

“Communities have made tremendous progress eliminating smoking from worksites and public places in 60 percent of big cities in the United States,” said CDC Director Thomas R. Frieden, M.D., in a press statement. “If we can protect workers and the public in the remaining 20 largest cities, 16 million people would be better protected from cancer and heart disease caused by secondhand smoke.”

The Dangers of Secondhand Smoke

The 2006 Surgeon General’s Report concluded that there is no risk-free level of exposure to secondhand smoke. Secondhand smoke is a serious health hazard causing close to 50,000 deaths per year, according to the American Lung Association (ALA). The ALA has found that nonsmokers exposed to secondhand smoke at work are at increased risk for adverse health effects.

National Policy Director Thomas Carr told SHRM Online that the ALA is pleased with the progress made over the past decade with the passage of comprehensive smoke-free laws across the country, but troubled by the lack of progress at the state level in the past few years.

“Developments at the city level have been more positive recently,” Carr said, pointing to Indianapolis and Birmingham—the largest city in Alabama—that each passed comprehensive smoke-free laws in 2012.

Started at the Local Level

In the United States, the strongest smoking restrictions traditionally have originated at the local level, CDC researchers found. Local jurisdictions began to adopt smoke-free laws in the 1990s, beginning with Shasta County, Calif., in 1993. The first state smoke-free law was enacted by Delaware in 2002. As the 2000s progressed, more states enacted smoke-free laws, often after a number of local jurisdictions in the state had implemented such laws, the CDC found.

The remaining 20 cities not covered by either local or state smoke-free laws are home to approximately 16 million residents, or 5 percent of the U.S. population. Surprisingly, six of the 20 large cities lacking smoke-free laws are in California, which adopted statewide smoking restrictions as early as 1994; however, those laws now fall short of current U.S. standards for comprehensive smoke-free laws, according to the CDC.

In November 2012, North Dakota became the 27th state to enact a state smoke-free law, and the first state to do so since 2010.

“The progress in extending comprehensive secondhand smoke protections to the majority of the 50 largest U.S. cities reported in this study is a major public health achievement,” the CDC said in the report. This shift reflects a broad extension of these protections across much of the United States. However, many workers still are not protected by smoke-free policies. “In particular, a number of cities in the southern United States have ineffective smoking restrictions or none at all. This gap in policy coverage creates disparities in public health protections that are likely to both reflect and contribute to broader tobacco-related population disparities,” the report authors wrote.

Roy Maurer is an online editor/manager for SHRM.

Follow him on Twitter @SHRMRoy.

Related Resource:

State and Local Statutes and Regulations—Smoking, SHRM Online Legal Issues, September 2012

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