National Association of Counties
Washington, D.C.

Smoking in the Hot Seat

On Jan. 1, St. Louis County, Mo. put its new smoking ban into effect. It was voted on by the residents of the county and approved in a recent election. The new law joins the long list of states and local jurisdictions that have implemented smoking bans in various locations. Some laws ban smoking in government buildings and others ban smoking nearly everywhere. So far, no state has enacted a ban that covers all public outdoor areas.

The latest data from the American Nonsmokers’ Rights Foundation shows that nearly 80 percent of the nation’s residents live in an area with some limitations on smoking in workplaces, restaurants or bars. Not quite 50 percent live in areas where smoking is banned in workplaces, restaurants and bars. In January 2011, 29 states have smoking bans in place that include all enclosed public places, bars and restaurants. Two of the most common places exempted from statewide smoking bans are casinos and places that sell tobacco.

Florida, Pennsylvania and Tennessee by law prohibit local governments from enacting local bans that are stricter than the state laws. Oklahoma, which has no statewide laws affecting smoking, also prohibits local governments from passing laws that are stricter than the state. As a result there are no smoking bans in the state.

Alabama does not have a statewide smoking ban but the Alabama Clean Indoor Air Act prohibits smoking in public places and at public meetings.  Numerous local governments in the state have enacted their own bans.

Indiana, another state with no statewide smoking ban, also uses a clean indoor air law to prohibit smoking in its state government buildings, schools, health care facilities and numerous other venues.

Kentucky, with no statewide smoking ban, recently saw legislation introduced that would mandate smoking bans in many places. Many politicians believe this bill is going nowhere, so Ellen Hahn, a University of Kentucky professor who directs the Tobacco Policy Research Program, believes local governments must continue their efforts to curb smoking in their jurisdictions. “Local laws are really the backbone of good state laws,” she said.

Advocates for smoke-free environments also believe that taxing tobacco, in addition to raising revenue as one of the “sin taxes,” is another way of decreasing smoking.  Several states have passed significant cigarette taxes and allow their local governments to tax cigarettes also.

The federal cigarette tax currently stands at $1.01 per pack. According to the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, 47 states and several territories have increased their cigarette taxes since 2002. Only California, Missouri and North Dakota have not increased their taxes in the last 12 years. Currently New York State has the highest cigarette tax, charging more than $4 per pack. After adding the local rate, state and local tax on a pack of cigarettes is $5.83 in New York City. Currently, 19 states, Washington, D.C. and Guam have cigarette tax rates of more than $2 per pack.

Among the local governments with local cigarette taxes, Cook County is one of the highest at $2 per pack, followed by New York City at $1.50 per pack, Anchorage, Alaska at $1.45 per pack and a tie between four boroughs in Alaska at $1 per pack. Cuyahoga County, Ohio has a tax of $0.35 per pack.

The lowest cigarette taxes are found in the so-called “cigarette states,” some of which have economies that depend heavily on tobacco.

Several lawsuits have been filed against jurisdictions, but a recent suit filed in Harrison County, Miss. challenging a ban’s applicability to private clubs, was thrown out by a county judge. Other lawsuits have challenged the scope of both state and local bans on smoking.

Top Ten Cigarette Tax Rates by State
 State  State Tax per Pack
 New York $4.35 
 Rhode Island $3.46
 Washington $3.25
Connecticut; Hawaii $3.00
New Jersey $2.70
Wisconsin $2.52
Massachusetts $2.51
District of Columbia $2.50
Vermont $2.24

States with the Lowest Cigarette Tax Rates

 State  State Tax per Pack
 North Carolina $0.45
 North Dakota $0.44
 Alabama $0.43
Georgia $0.37
Louisiana $0.36
Virginia $0.30