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Public Health
Best Cities For Smokers
Tom Van Riper and Robert Malone 11.01.07, 12:30 PM ET

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 now have complete bans on smoking in indoor public places, including private sector establishments. Local ordinances effectively keep other whole states smoke-free.

In Pictures: Best Cities For Smokers

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 cafés--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.

In Pictures: Best Cities For Smokers

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