Creating smoke-free environments is a vital tobacco control intervention and serves important purposes. First and foremost, these laws protect non-smokers from the harmful effects of secondhand and even thirdhand smoke. Secondhand smoke has been associated with most of the same harmful health effects as direct smoking. Conversely, one study of bartenders documented prompt improvements in lung function after indoor smoking bans were enacted. Second, limiting smoking in public places helps to create the sense that smoking is socially unacceptable behavior, and reinforces the idea of non-smoking as a societal norm. Smokers who cannot smoke in public are also more likely to try to quit.
At present, despite some progress, most of the world’s population is currently left unprotected by strong smoke-free laws and regulations. National-level bans exist in some countries, such as Turkey, which passed a ban in 2008 prohibiting tobacco use in all indoor spaces including bars, cafés and restaurants, sports stadia, and the gardens of mosques and hospitals. Sometimes, laws that are in place have been enacted locally. In New York City, for example, smoking is not allowed in bars, restaurants, clubs, public parks, city beaches, or even apartments in public housing projects. Although approximately 1.5 billion people around the world are now protected to some extent by smoking bans in public places, more than 80% of the world’s population is still vulnerable to secondhand smoke.
In many countries and cities, smoking in many public places (e.g., airports) is only allowed in specially designated smoking rooms. Such partial bans are often ineffective. Ventilation for such smoking rooms does not remove all the smoke, so leakage occurs around doors and windows. Additionally, smoking is still preserved as a social norm, removing a major motivating factor for smokers to quit.
Governments must be comprehensive and forceful in their smoke-free policies. For example, some jurisdictions have begun to include water pipes in their ban, or have at least implemented partial bans (e.g., the United Arab Emirates). E-cigarette public bans (including New York City) – not without controversy – have also become more common around the globe.