Travel: A Welcome Mat for Smokers

The World Travel Update

Best Cities For Smokers

Nov. 1, 2007
By Tom Van Riper and Robert Malone
There are still a few places where the ostracized smoking population can go to light up and still fit in with the crowd. Here are the “Dirty Dozen” American cities deemed most friendly to smokers, based on few if any anti-smoking ordinances, low tobacco taxes and a relatively high number of fellow smokers. The survey covered all U.S. cities with populations of 200,000 or more. Note: Most cities ban or curtail smoking in municipal properties like airports and government buildings.
Sources: Federation of Tax Administrators, Census Bureau,, various city mayor’s offices.
?1. St. Louis, Missouri
?2. Winston-Salem, North Carolina
?3. Greensboro, North Carolina
?4. Charlotte, North Carolina
?5. Gulfport-Biloxi, Mississippi
?6. Wilmington, North Carolina
?7. Des Moines, Iowa
?8. Myrtle Beach, South Carolina
?9. Fayetteville, North Carolina
10. Milwaukee, Wisconsin
11. Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
12. Mobile, Alabama
Wanna smoke? Good luck.
It may be terrible for you, yet 21% of U.S. adults smoke, according to Center for Disease Control. That rate is just a tad below that of 2001, though it’s down from about 40% in the 1970s. The decline is good for health, but bad for the remaining smokers. Being in this kind of minority means minimal political sway, and that means smoking bans.
Twenty-three states [*sic* (See Note)] now have complete bans on smoking in indoor public places, including private sector establishments. Local ordinances effectively keep other whole states smoke-free. [*Correction Note: Only 17 states currently prohibit smoking in both bars and restaurants; 4 additional states will implement mandatory smoking bans in both bars and restaurants, with initiation dates scheduled through October 1, 2009. The District of Columbia also prohibits smoking in both bars and restaurants.]
The smoking ban is more than an American phenomenon. Paris, though its image is practically synonymous with smoking, has snuffed it out in some indoor public places (though not bars or caf?s — yet). England this year passed an even tougher law, one that prohibits smoking in all public places, including pubs, ending a three-year battle between anti-smoking forces and the bar and restaurant lobby. Even Italy got into the act two years ago, outlawing smoking in bars and restaurants along with offices and other indoor public spaces.
But there are still some places for those who want to light up without being subject to scorn and ridicule, not to mention the rain and harsh temperatures that come with being forced out onto the street on bad weather days. Cities like St. Louis, Pittsburgh, Des Moines and Myrtle Beach, S.C., are havens for the smoking crowd.
Politicians in those towns view the issue as a question of property rights, allowing owners of restaurants, bars and other private businesses to permit the market to determine smoking policy. No clusters of cigarette butts on sidewalks in these towns, no masses of huddled smokers booted outside the local bar.
To determine America’s most smoker-friendly cities, we checked those metros with populations of 200,000 or more for local smoking ordinances, tobacco taxes and smokers per capita, according to a study by the Center for Disease Control. Those cities that mostly leave indoor smoking policies to property owners are in states that charge low taxes (Missouri’s 17 cents per pack is the nation’s lowest) and have high concentrations of smokers rated a place on the list.
Well represented, predictably, is most of the state of North Carolina, which relies on the tobacco industry for about one in every five jobs, thanks to the presence of companies such as Reynold’s America, Philip Morris USA and Lorillard Tobacco Co. Much of Tobacco Road would take to a smoking ban about as enthusiastically as Detroit a bump in mileage standards. Hence, the Tar Heel State cities of Charlotte, Wilmington, Winston-Salem, Fayetteville and Greensboro all make our Dirty Dozen list of smoker-friendly cities.
It is entirely possible, though, that the good times for North Carolina smokers may not last forever. A 2006 vote by the state’s General Assembly to impose stricter regulations on indoor smoking failed by just a 61-55 margin. The influx of outsiders moving in from the north, especially to the growing city of Charlotte, could well dilute the pro-tobacco sentiment at some point.
Meantime, want to smoke if you got ’em, and grin at the same time? Meet me in St. Louis.

A Welcome Mat for Smokers

By Scott Vogel
Washington Post Staff Writer
October 14, 2007

Q. Is there any place left on the planet that is welcoming smokers? Where can I go and not be treated like a second-class tourist?
Kathy Hornick, Harrisonburg, Va.

A. True, fewer and fewer places worldwide are welcoming smokers, but is that any reason to think of yourself as second-class? Not according to John Banzhaf, executive director of Action on Smoking and Health (ASH), a national nonsmoker rights organization. He notes that nudists, people who ride trail motorcycles (Banzhaf is one), fireworks enthusiasts and others are also not allowed to indulge their passions when traveling to various destinations, but they hardly think of themselves as second-class citizens. It’s just that like cigarettes, he says, these activities “create noise and smoke and annoyance.” (Well, not nudists, but you get the idea.) Nevertheless, smokers are still at least tolerated in many locales around the world, including Japan, China and most South American countries. (For ASH’s up-to-date list, see

Samantha Phillipe, meanwhile, president of the Smoker’s Club, a smokers advocacy group, writes via e-mail, “You have hit on a question that we get at the newsletter all the time.” She likes to direct tourists to her online publication (at, where you can click on dozens of destinations for news and information that may be of interest to tobacco users. But remember, Phillipe says: “No matter where you go, call ahead to be sure there is smoking. . . . Call the convention center, restaurant, amusement park. Just because there is no state ban doesn’t mean you won’t run into a local one, and no one wants surprises on their vacation.”

Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.