CDC: Southeastern states not protected by comprehensive smoke-free laws

by Brianna Crandall — July 6, 2016 — Ten years after the U.S. Surgeon General’s report concluding there is no risk-free level of secondhand exposure to tobacco smoke, no states in the southeastern United States have statewide comprehensive smoke-free laws, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) published in the most recent Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR).

Considerable progress has been made in the adoption of comprehensive smoke-free laws in indoor public places at the state and local level over the past two decades; however, statewide progress has stalled in recent years. Comprehensive smoke-free laws prohibit smoking in all indoor areas of worksites, restaurants, and bars. The CDC asserts that continued efforts to promote state and local comprehensive smoke-free laws are critical to protect nonsmokers from the harmful effects of secondhand smoke in the places they live, work, and gather.

CDC infographic on smoke-free laws

This CDC infographic shows progress and gaps in statewide comprehensive smoke-free laws.

Exposure to secondhand smoke causes heart disease and lung cancer, which together kill more than 41,000 American non-smokers every year, reminds the CDC. And even brief exposure to secondhand smoke harms health. Completely eliminating indoor smoking is the only way to protect people from involuntary exposure to secondhand smoke, says the CDC. Separating smokers from nonsmokers, cleaning the air, and ventilating buildings cannot eliminate secondhand smoke exposure.

Legislative progress

The number of states (including the District of Columbia) with comprehensive smoke-free laws increased from none in 2000 to 28 by June 9, 2016, according to CDC data.

Despite this progress, only two states (North Dakota and California) have achieved comprehensive smoke-free status since 2010. With California’s removal of exemptions in their smoke-free law on June 9, nearly 60 percent of Americans are now covered by comprehensive smoke-free laws at the state or local level, up from less than three percent in 2000.

In 14 of the 23 states with no comprehensive statewide smoke-free laws, local laws protect some residents, notes the CDC. However, nine states lack any local or state comprehensive smoke-free law, including eight that prevent localities from passing smoke-free laws, leaving many unprotected from this “completely preventable” health hazard.

According to the CDC, local protections vary widely. Local smoke-free laws protect 60 percent of West Virginians and more than 30 percent of Texans, South Carolinians, and Kentuckians. However, local laws protect only 2.4 percent of Georgians and less than 1 percent of people in Arkansas and Wyoming.

Smoke-free laws can be extended to other types of tobacco products, such as e-cigarettes. Including e-cigarettes in state and local smoke-free laws protects non-users from exposure to aerosolized nicotine and other harmful components of e-cigarette vapor. Currently, seven states (California, Delaware, Hawaii, New Jersey, North Dakota, Oregon, and Utah) include e-cigarettes in their statewide comprehensive smoke-free laws.

The “State and Local Comprehensive Smoke-Free Laws for Worksites, Restaurants, and Bars — United States, 2015” report is available from the MMWR Web site, and the infographic from this page is available from the CDC Web site.

Data on secondhand smoke exposure and smoke-free laws is available on the CDC’s State Tobacco Activities Tracking and Evaluation (STATE) System Web page. Smokers can call 1-800-QUIT-NOW (1-800-784-8669) or visit for help to quit, adds the CDC.