indoor smoking

Katie Hiler / KBIA

On a Thursday morning in late February, a group of 100 middle and high school students gathered in the rotunda of the state capitol building in Jefferson City for a capitol day event organized by the Tobacco Free Missouri Youth Advisory Board. Their goal was to speak with their legislators about making the building smoke-free. Unlike every other public building in Jefferson City, the capitol building doesn’t entirely comply with the city’s smoking ban - lawmakers are unofficially allowed to smoke in their offices.

“They absolutely have the right to smoke and we’re not telling anyone they don’t,” said Youth Advisory board member Alex Higginbotham, age 17. “They can still smoke in their home, but we’re asking them in public not to affect us.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Missouri is ranked 48th in the nation for number of adult smokers - roughly 1 in 4 Missourians over the age of 18 smoke. And the state ranks 50th for workplace exposure to second-hand smoke.  The state’s Clean Indoor Air law gives business owners the option to declare a public space smoke-free, or to set up a designated smoking area. If communities want to be truly smoke-free, it’s up to local governments to make that happen. In the fall of 2010, Jefferson City banned indoor smoking in public spaces, including the capitol building. But state legislators continue to not-so-secretly smoke in their offices.

Challiyan / Flickr

You’ve probably heard it before: rates of smoking and tobacco use in Missouri are some of the highest in the nation. Roughly 1 in 4 Missourians over the age of 18 smoke tobacco and the state ranks 50th for workplace exposure to second-hand smoke.  But what isn’t clear is why Missouri has consistently ranked so low compared with other states. I spoke with Traci Kennedy, Executive Director of Tobacco Free Missouri, who says it’s because lawmakers have made it particularly easy to be a tobacco user in the state.

Harum Helmy / KBIA News

At only 17 cents per cigarette pack, Missouri has the lowest tax for tobacco in the U.S. In 2012, Missouri voters said no to increasing that tax to 90 cents per pack. Missouri is also one of 14 states that don't have some sort of a statewide ban on smoking in non-hospitality workplaces, and/or restaurants, and/or bars. All of this adds up to the Show-Me State's top spot as the freest state in the nation when it comes to tobacco. 

But since 2007, about two dozen municipalities in Missouri have enacted a comprehensive smoking ban in all workplaces, including restaurants and bars. This Monday, rural Washington, Mo., joins that list. The City Council voted to pass the ordinance to ban smoking back in January. 

Fried Dough / Cigarette

Missouri House Republicans are considering a policy to let lawmakers continue smoking in their offices while encouraging them to be "conscientious" and "respectful."

Smoking is barred in the House chamber and public galleries. House rules require the Republican and Democratic caucuses to establish smoking policies for legislators' private offices.

House Democrats have decided to bar smoking in their own private offices.