Delaware recently became the second state to ban smoking in the workplace, following California's landmark legislation in 1994, and Florida is expected to follow suit soon. The passage of Delaware's ban surprised opponents, who thought the issue wouldn't resonate beyond the West Coast.
"People looked at California but never thought it would come to the east coast. Delaware was a tough state to fall because it's basically a conservative, East Coast state. I think we'll see other states following Delaware's lead," said Carrie Leishman, president of the Delaware Restaurant Association, a group that opposed the smoking ban.
Indoor smoking bans are becoming a battleground in the fight against tobacco.
Although they've yet to go statewide beyond California, Florida and Delaware, they're popping up in more and more municipalities. In recent weeks, leaders in Boston and New York City announced plans to enact sweeping workplace smoking bans that include bars and restaurants.
Those two cities will join 231 other municipalities nationwide with workplace smoking bans, 63 of which include restaurants and bars. Chicago and Dallas are considering similar bans.
Policy analysts suspect the growing number of municipal ordinances will pave the way for further state action.
"The ground that Boston, New York City and Delaware are breaking will pave the way for other cities and states to follow suit," said Tim Filler, associate director of the American Nonsmokers' Rights Foundation, a national lobbying organization based in Berkeley, Calif.
California's 1994 ban was incrementally implemented from 1995 to 1998. But before the policy went statewide, similar bans were already in place in many localities. Filler says they helped lay the groundwork for state legislation. Delaware's Gov. Ruth Ann Minner signed the most stringent statewide smoking ban in the country into effect November 27. Restaurants, bars and casinos are all included. The law was motivated by the state's tobacco-related cancer death rate, the third highest in the country.
Unlike California, Delaware had been subject to preemption laws, under which municipal governments couldn't implement their own non-smoking policies. Eighteen other states are also subject to such laws and must rely on statewide policies, according to Filler.
Another victory for non-smokers' rights came at the November elections, when more than 70 percent of Florida voters approved a state constitutional amendment to protect people from second hand smoke. The enacting legislation has yet to be drafted, but the ballot measure exempts stand-alone bars.
Analysts say the issue was driven more by the public than by Florida policymakers.
"Florida was trying for years to get it done at the legislative level, but they had to get it done at the ballot level instead," said Chris Bostic, manager of policy analysis at the American Lung Association. Bostic said lawmakers at all levels, all across the country will be closely watching the Sunshine State during the next legislative session.
Every state except Alabama has some form of clean indoor air law. A few states strengthened these laws in 2002, but no changes were as drastic as those in Delaware, Leslie Robbins, a policy specialist at the National Conference of State Legislatures, said.