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Backgrounder: State Laws on Tobacco Control

June 25, 1999

Contact: Llelwyn Grant
CDC, Office on Smoking and Health
(770) 488-5493

State Laws on Tobacco Control -- United States 1998 covers new tobacco legislation relating to smoke-free indoor air, minors' access to tobacco, tobacco advertising, and tobacco taxes effective through December 31, 1998. The report also provides a complete update to a previous surveillance summary on state tobacco laws published in November 1995. The report shows that progress has been made in implementing laws that protect youth from the dangers of tobacco use (minors' access, vending machine laws, and excise taxes), but that little progress has been made in protecting citizens from secondhand smoke and in repealing preemptive tobacco control laws that limit communities' ability to prevent and reduce tobacco use and exposure as recommended in the Healthy People 2000 Objectives. Other key study findings include:

  • WORK SITES. Twenty states and the District of Columbia limit smoking in private work sites. Of these states, only California meets the nation's Healthy People 2000 objective to eliminate exposure to environmental tobacco smoke by either banning indoor smoking or limiting it to separately ventilated areas. Forty-one states and the District of Columbia have laws restricting smoking in state government worksites, but only 13 of these states meet the Healthy People 2000 objective. Currently, 28 states and D.C. limit smoking in commercial day care centers, and 22 meet the Healthy People 2000 objective. Five states (Hawaii, Massachusetts, Vermont, New Jersey, and Tennessee) have strengthened smoke-free indoor air laws since the 1995 report.
  • MINORS' ACCESS. All states prohibit the sale of tobacco products to minors. Twenty-three states and D.C. may suspend or revoke a retail tobacco products license for violation of youth access laws. Since the 1995 report, 11 states have added license suspension and/or revocation penalties for sales to minors; however, one state removed license suspension and revocation as possible penalties. Forty-one states and D.C. have restrictions on cigarette vending machines. Nineteen states and D.C. meet the Healthy People 2000 objective to ban cigarette vending machines in areas accessible to minors, an increase of eight states since the 1995 report.
  • EXCISE TAXES. All states have an excise tax on cigarettes. As of December 31, 1998, the average tax was 38.9 cents per pack and ranged from 2.5 cents per pack in Virginia to $1.00 per pack in Alaska and Hawaii. Only 42 states have an excise tax on smokeless tobacco products and many tax these products at a per-pack rate much lower than that for cigarettes. Thirteen states increased their cigarette tax since the 1995 report; increases ranged from 12 cents in New Hampshire to 71 cents in Alaska.
  • PREEMPTIVE LAWS. Over half of all states (30 states) have preemption provisions in their tobacco control laws. Six states have passed preemptive laws since the 1995 report. Of these, Indiana and Maine did not have previous preemptive laws in any area tracked in the report. However, Maine repealed its preemptive law as of June 1997. Preemptive legislation is defined as legislation that prevents a local jurisdiction from enacting laws more stringent than, or at a variance with, what the state law mandates.

To obtain a copy of the surveillance summary on state tobacco-control laws, contact the CDC, Office on Smoking and Health at (770) 488-5493. The full-report is available on-line at this CDC website Information on state laws is updated quarterly and can be accessed through a new CDC online information database, the State Tobacco Activities Tracking and Evaluation (STATE) system, which summarizes information on tobacco use in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. A link to the new system is located at

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