Cigarette Smoking In America: 16 States That Still Allow Widespread Smoking

Somewhere in America, there’s a fool sucking his last cigarette down to the filter. That’s 4,000 chemicals, 43 known cancer-causing carcinogenic compounds and all the arsenic, carbon monoxide, tar, ammonia and formaldehyde his stinky, yellow-stained fingers could hope for. In some parts of the country, this is hard-won freedom — the American dream. In others, it’s stereotypical archaic outlaw. Either way, it still smells awful, yet it’s still very much a thing for 40-plus million Americans.

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With all the progressive happenings of late, it kind of makes you wonder how we still have so many states — coincidentally a majority in the South — lagging behind in the eradication of public smoking. Ironically, none of these 16 states are on the list of legalized marijuana territories for recreational use, save for Alaska. In fact, most of them don’t even have medical dispensaries available at all. But considering the expansion of e-cigarettes and public vaporizing, it made us curious what these states have going on that keeps the cancer stick in business, certainly not its health benefits to the smoker or their surroundings. Here are 16 states without statewide bans and what they have going on in terms of smoking laws, along with four more that still allow it to a large degree, albeit not in restaurants.


Our northwestern-most pride and joy, Alaska, is the one state in America that legalizes both marijuana and public cigarette smoking on a statewide level. Smoking is only prohibited at schools during school hours, but schools with designated areas prior to 1990 can get away with it so long as they stay in their specially-marked territory, and since many schools have been around awhile, it’s fair to say that’s commonplace. Otherwise, it’s only prohibited in government bodies, healthcare facilities and elevators. What is this, the ’60s? In all other public bodies where smoking tends to be banned, such as grocery stores and daycare facilities, smoking is allowed in a designated area. Less than a couple handfuls of cities in Alaska are making any real headway locally on anti-smoking, banning bars and restaurants since 2011. The rest is up to puff.

Oh, Missouri, one of my least favorite places. Redbirds and Rams fans who like to puff the cancer dust get to enjoy one of the loosest sets of smoking laws in designated enclosed spots, including gyms, theaters, bowling alleys and — get this — buses! Missouri has failed to pass nonsmoking laws for years on end. The 1992 law that kept smoking out of indoor public places is about all that’s in effect, and the fact the state has the lowest tax on cigarettes only encourages people to light up more. With less than four percent of non-government public facilities banning smoking (that’s 38 out of 961 cities), it’s like there’s a giant cancer cloud hovering over the state. However, 23 of those cities do ban cigs in both bars and restaurants on a local level. So they’ve got that bit of momentum going for them.

The Silver State, which runs 24-hour entertainment attractions in its major cities, bans smoking in public and work places, but bars, brothels, casinos, smoke shops, strip clubs and restaurants that card people to be at least 21 are exempt from this law. So basically, almost anywhere fun in Nevada is okay to smoke. Can you think of one public place people in Nevada go outside of those places?

Although there isn’t a statewide ban, Alabama does have a Clean Indoor Air act, dating back to 2003, which prohibits public smoking outside of designated, ventilated and enclosed smoking spaces. However, several exempt spaces include bars, private limos, lounges and psychiatric facilities. Local government has the right to enforce more bans on top of the state, as the state bans have failed to pass every which way for nearly a decade. Just one more reason to stay out of Birmingham.

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Between bans on children’s care centers, cars with kids and playgrounds, Texas seems to focus most of its smoking laws on the well-being of its youth, as well as political offices, although those folks are too far gone to save. There is also a ban on airplanes and buses. Bars, private offices and restaurants are still free to ramp up the arsenic aroma and suck those ciggies down like Coca-Cola, though. More than 40 cities have bans on a local level in bars and restaurants, which isn’t a lot for such a big state, but it’s something.

One of the pre-exempt smoking states with no statewide ban, Oklahoma makes it unlawful for local law to enforce smoke-free establishments, making it the only place in America with no smoking laws as far as when and where outside of designated areas. Correctional facilities, government buildings and —hey, good looking out — zoos are the few places with no-smoking signs strictly in place. At least the local hippos won’t be getting any secondhand from the zany zookeepers. You know, like Kevin James.

(Editor’s update: It appears that Oklahoma recently DID pass a statewide ban on smoking in public places and indoor workplaces.)

Slick Willie’s home state got a tune-up in 2006 with the Arkansas Clean Indoor Air Act, putting bans on enclosed smoking. That same year, the state passed a law banning smoking in cars with small children. But, the state still allows 21-and-over bars and restaurants, as well as small business and designated smoking areas, to thrive on nicotine fumes.

Smoking is mostly prohibited in athletic and educational facilities involving children under the age of 18. Outside of that, there’s no ban on smoking in childcare facilities, bars, restaurants, healthcare and private work spots, as of 2011. So they’ll ban it in children’s schools but not in children’s special care facilities? Makes absolute sense. More than 80 cities now have bans in bars and restaurants, though, which is nice.

This peach of a state has assigned, separate rooms for smokers, limiting the age to 18 for restaurant patrons. Stricter laws are available and in use on a local level, but not entirely throughout the state. Only 10 cities in Georgia actually take full advantage of that privilege. Atlanta started enforcing nonsmoking laws in its bars and restaurants but still allows it at their parks. Any enclosed space bans smoking, yet it’s allowed to have a designated spot for smoking, which is essentially a huge loophole smokers can attempt to jump through if their lung capacity will allow it.

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Basically, bars get the green light for the red ember, and everything else seems to be enforced. Drinking establishments with less than 20 percent revenue from food (10 percent in Philly) — meaning standalone, shitty dive bars, as well as full service truck stops, smoke shops and nursing homes — are of the few exempt. Apparently it’s not always smoky in Philadelphia.

West Virginia
There’s no statewide ban, but the folks of West Virginia are very strict about their bingo halls and nursing homes. You keep your smoke out of there! Many smaller county governments have laws in place to ban smoking in enclosed public forum, especially bingo halls and retirement homes. So far, 25 cities ban smoking in bars and restaurants, and as many as 50 have some bans in place. But God help you if you take a drag while you read aloud your bingo card.

The state bans smoking in schools and state offices, but Virginia is welcome to get her “slim” on everywhere else for the most part, as long as it’s done in a designated area. But if you’re in a tobacco shop, light up wherever you please. Local government has no power over the state with their laws. And prisons are exempt, too, so if you’re desperate you could steal your cigs, then smoke them comfortably in jail. Maybe “comfortably” is a “stretch.”

Kentucky has a state bill that hasn’t been enacted yet, but for now it’s banned in government buildings and schools. Although, it’s still allowed in healthcare and childcare facilities, as well as private offices and restaurants. Seems a little backwards, but alright.

It pays to enjoy adult entertainment. In Tennessee, it’s all good to joke and smoke — maybe even a little midnight toke — in bars and restaurants that card folks under 21, but all other enclosed Tennessee joints are off limits. It’s the little things that make dining out a total waste of money.

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South Carolina
The enclosed areas of libraries, elevators and auditoriums are limited to smokers, but other than that, it’s free reign for bars, private offices and restaurants. Who would want to hot box an elevator is beyond our grasp, but just in case, a ban is in place. More than 50 cities have bans in place for bars and restaurants to some degree. North Carolina, in contrast, has their shit together on the statewide ban.

Pretty much any place that could cause an explosion is off limits. Land mines are something to look out for here, too. Wyoming’s big ban is in a building controlled by Capitol Building Commission, but even they have their own smoking area. Since only five cities have bans, it’s safe to say people in Wyoming could really give a damn but don’t.

These additional four states have bans in restaurants, which is a big step in smoking bans, but they still allow public smoking to a large degree in bars and other public places.

Those potato-loving sons of bitches have their bans, but bars are 100 percent welcoming to smoking, and small workplaces — home offices and workplaces with three or fewer employees — allow it in designated areas. Local governments can regulate, but only three cities in the whole state actually have full bans in both bars and restaurants.

The “retirement state” as we like to call it, or hell’s waiting room, passed laws banning restaurant smoking for the sake of the early bird special lovers, but small bars with low food revenues, along with a number of other private facilities are exempt. And since Florida won’t allow local law to overrule, old people have one more reason to get to bed before sundown.

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Their chief tourist trap is New Orleans, which has its own city ordinance to ban smoking in public places, but the ordinance had yet to be enacted up until recently. There is an impressive forbidding of e-cigarettes in New Orleans as of 2015, along with the rest of the enclosed public places. As for the rest of Louisiana, it finally got its ban on smoking in school, offices and restaurants. But bars, cars, private areas and designated spots still continue to pack in the chain smokers, save for about a half dozen towns.

Since 1993, Indiana has had its Clean Air Act, but in 2012 it was repealed and changed to Prohibition on Smoking, banning smoking at least eight feet from public entrances. Bars (21+) and casinos get the free pass, however, as well as riverboats, horse racing tracks and licensed gaming facilities. Indiana truly is one of the worst Midwestern states, getting smoking banned everywhere except in all the places Indiana folks go. The constant rejection of proposed bans might have something to do with nursing homes being pitched as an exemption. Although, as many as 19 cities have bans on a local level in both bars and restaurants, and obvious signs have to be posted where smoking is allowed. That ought to do it. Who says America isn’t progressive?