California is no stranger to progress. In 1995, the state became the first in the U.S. to ban smoking in all indoor work spaces, including bars and restaurants. There were very few exceptions to the law. Fast forward to 2012 - on November 6th of the year, North Dakota became the 28th state to enact a ban on all enclosed work spaces (most of these states exempt some combination of tobacconists, casinos, or private clubs).
Many states, though they have not enacted statewide bans on all enclosed work spaces, have some form of smoking ban. Only 10 states remain without any form of ban at all - Alabama, Alaska, Kentucky, Mississippi, Missouri, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Texas, West Virginia, and Wyoming.
To many of us, a public smoking ban is a no-brainer, but the proof is in the pudding - large portions of the country remain either unwilling or unable to force a ban on tobacco use despite the fact that it puts non-users in harms' way.
A recent study conducted by the Roswell Park Cancer Institute, headquartered in Buffalo, NY, determined that Huntsville, Alabama's smoking establishments were among the nation's worst when it came to indoor air quality. The air quality, tested in eight bars and restaurants around Huntsville, was in fact so bad that, "the only comparable occupational exposure we can find in the United States to this level of particular pollution is for wildland firefighters during frontline firefighting" (AL.com).
Some quick numbers - the researchers spent at least 30 minutes in eight establishments around Huntsville, finding an average of 18.8 cigarettes within these windows and a "level of particle air pollution 224 times higher than outdoor air in Huntsville" (AL.com).
Now, many will say, "Sure - but visiting a bar or restaurant that allows smoking is up to you." And yes, outside of the 10 states that haven't enacted a smoking ban, that's true. The issue at hand, though, is whether the lack of a ban is ethical when you consider the workers who must face these conditions for hundreds of hours every month, year in and year out. Again, there is choice involved in employment, but the reality is that many workers, if even aware of the dangers presented by working in such conditions, may not have other employment options.
We are trending towards a healthier America - as the percentage of smokers goes down in the United States, the percentage of bars with a ban on smoking rises. There is hope that one day there will be very few establishments that allow actions posing a risk to others. In the meantime, we must continue to educate and look after each other.
List of Smoking Bans in the United States