Because secondhand smoke kills nearly a million people annually, comprehensive protection from tobacco smoke should be a pillar of all countries’ tobacco control programs. Such policies also make the sight of smoking rare, driving down youth initiation.

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.

Smoke-free Environments

Countries with all public places completely smoke-free (or at least 90% of the population covered by complete subnational smoke-free legislation

Bad Practice

Designated smoking areas leak smoke and make public smoking acceptable.


Photo by Neil W. Schluger

Good Practice

Smoking outlawed in tram stations in Turkey.


Photo Credit: Designated Smoking Areas and Tram Station courtesy Neil Schluger / Vital Strategies.

Best Practices

  • Prohibit smoking in all indoor public places, indoor workplaces, and public transport, without exception (which include the elimination of designated smoking areas).
  • Policies should be comprehensive to include products such as water pipes and cigars that sometimes receive special treatment.
  • Monitor compliance and strengthen enforcement.
  • Consider including administrative sanctions for establishments not in compliance (such as revocation of licenses). Expand the list of outdoor (e.g., stadia) and semi-outdoor places (e.g., covered patios) where smoking is prohibited.

City-level Smoke-free Policies


Jones AM, Laporte A, Rice N, Zucchelli E. Do public smoking bans have an impact on active smoking? Evidence from the UK. Health Econ. 2015 Feb;24(2):175-92.

Lykke M, Helbech B, Glümer C. Temporal changes in the attitude towards smoking bans in public arenas among adults in the Capital Region of Denmark from 2007 to 2010. Scand J Public Health. 2014 Jul;42(5):401-8.

Zablocki RW, Edland SD, Myers MG, Strong DR, Hofstetter CR, Al-Delaimy WK. Smoking ban policies and their influence on smoking behaviors among current California smokers: a population-based study. Prev Med. 2014 Feb;59:73-8

Savage M. Smoking outside: the effect of the Irish workplace smoking ban on smoking prevalence among the employed. Health Econ Policy Law. 2014 Oct;9(4):407-24.

Humair JP, Garin N, Gerstel E, Carballo S, Carballo D, Keller PF, Guessous I. Acute respiratory and cardiovascular admissions after a public smoking ban in Geneva, Switzerland. PLoS One. 2014 Mar 5;9(3):e90417

Pieroni L, Muzi G, Quercia A, Lanari D, Rundo C, Minelli L, Salmasi L, dell'Omo M. Estimating the Smoking Ban Effects on Smoking Prevalence, Quitting and Cigarette Consumption in a Population Study of Apprentices in Italy. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2015 Aug 13;12(8):9523-35