To say I am a passionate non-smoker is an understatement. Anyone that knows me personally can vouch there is nothing in this world I dislike more than cigarette smoke. Travelling to different countries, especially developing ones, can certainly be difficult for someone like myself, who is extremely sensitive to smoke.
At this moment in time, I’m spending 3 months in Vietnam and the smoking here is driving me nuts. At every turn there is someone lighting up and ruining my meal, coffee, or just my fresh air. I feel like I’m playing a never ending game of musical chairs just to avoid people lighting up around me.
I know I sound intense and melodramatic, but I’m serious. Who enjoys having KNOWN cancer causing chemicals invading their airspace. I’m a non-smoker for a reason, so when people force me to inhale it, I’m going to make a stink about it.
Imagine I came into a restaurant and opened a can of paint thinner and just let it waft around the room. People would be like “Hey you crazy lady! I’m eating here! Don’t you know thats dangerous?”
Second hand cigarette smoke contains 4000 chemicals, 250 of which are harmful and 50 of those that are proven to cause cancer.
So yeah, I’m a little anal when it comes to having people smoke around me.
When it comes to travelling, some countries are much easier for non-smokers than others. I’ve made it my quest to find the most smoke free countries, and I hope it’s a list I have to constantly update as more places change their laws for the better!
As a whole, smoking is on the decline. Worldwide, smoking rates have fallen around 30 million since the year 2000, but we still have a long way to go.
Why Going Smoke-Free Matters…
The Cost of Smoking
Smoking costs a lot. We know smoking causes cancer and a myriad of other health issues, but it also costs economies billions of dollars a year in healthcare and loss of productivity.
In the US, smoking costs the country around $300 billion dollars a year.
In Canada, my small country of only 37 million people, smoking causes 1 in 5 of all deaths and costs $16.2 billion dollars a year in health care and loss of productivity.
Imagine what the data is on developing countries, or on the global economy as a whole.
The Health Effects of Smoking
Facts About Smoking (by the World Health Organization)
- Tobacco kills more than 7 million people each year
- Around 80% of the world's smokers live in low- and middle-income countries.
And why I am so anal about my second hand smoke exposure:
- There is no safe level of exposure to second-hand tobacco smoke.
- In adults, second-hand smoke causes serious cardiovascular and respiratory diseases, including coronary heart disease and lung cancer.
- In 2004, children accounted for 28% of the deaths attributable to second-hand smoke.
So where can non-smokers travel for some fresh air? There really isn't a truly ‘smoke FREE' country out there, but here the top ones that can almost seem totally smoke free during your visit.
Countries With Smoking Bans & Smoke Free Areas
I never realized how spoiled I was in my home country of Canada until I started travelling abroad. Canada really does have some amazing laws around smoking that other countries have started to adopt.
Basically everywhere is smoke free, with the exception of your own personal residence, and that is if there is not a bi-law restricting even that. There is no smoking in indoor spaces of any kind (even nightclubs and bars) and no smoking in outdoor public places (like parks and bus stations). Outdoor patios at restaurants are gloriously smoke free, so it's a great country for non-smoking foodies to visit.
I have to admit that when I am home, I never smell cigarette smoke. Canada's current smoker rate is around 15%, with a goal to hit 9% by 2025.
Similar to Canada, Australia has some serious public smoking bans in effect. You won't notice second hand smoke on restaurant patios, platforms at train stations, or even in public parks. It's even illegal to smoke in your own vehicle when there is a minor present.
Australia's current smoker rate is around 14%, but it's suspected to drop even more. One of the main reasons is the insane cost to buy a pack of smokes. At almost $40 per pack, being a smoker in Australia is a terribly expensive habit.
In 2004, Bhutan became the first country to outlaw the sale and production of cigarettes. A few years later the government imposed the worlds harshest smoking laws, stating even possession of tobacco could mean steep fines or jail time.
When I heard about this I thought, “WOW finally a truly smoke-free country!”, but that's not the full story. At one point in time, Bhutan's smoking rate fell to just 1%, but now the black market is making the smoking rate creep higher than before.
Even so, the country still has policies about lighting up in public places, making it a relatively smoke-free place to visit.
Singapore's current smoking rate is around 12% with a lofty goal of reducing it to 10% by 2020. Singapore is already known for it's gleaming streets and spotless public transit, so it's no wonder their making clean air a priority as well.
As of Jan 1 2019 they have made pedestrian sidewalks throughout downtown smoke-free, as well as removing smoking sections from outdoor patios. To ensure cooperation they've even set out some hefty fines for repeat offenders as high as $1000.
In 2012 Costa Rica made no-smoking laws that included indoor areas, restaurants, bars and even outdoor parks. This bold move brought Costa Rica's smoking rate down to 9.1% as of 2015. Keeping the cities smoke free is just the beginning. This Latin American nation is also vying to be plastic and carbon free by 2021!
In 2018 the US just announced it's smoking rates have fallen to the lowest level in recorded history, down to just 14%. 46 states have put smoking bans into place, with some states being more strict than others. Non-smokers love places like California that have some of the toughest smoking laws in the world.
In fact, on June 5th 2019 the city of Beverly Hills announced in 2021 they will ban the sale of all tobacco products, making it one of the first cities in the US to put such strict laws in place.
However there are still states like Nevada that are a true non-smokers nightmare. If you are looking to avoid smoke, check out this list of smoking bans by state.
Iceland claims to have the lowest smoking rate of any developed country in the world, falling 40% in the last 5 years. Which is kind of surprising because they don't have strict laws like Canada and Australia. Outdoor smoking on patios and public spaces is still permitted ‘as long as a non-smoker has his right to clean fresh air'.
With smoking rates plummeting, Iceland is quickly becoming one of the best places for non-smokers to visit.
Countries Making Smoke Free Changes & Smoking Bans:
Okay… many of the countries below have a long way to go when it comes to reducing smoking rates, but they are all making some amazing progress with recent no-smoking legislations.
On Jan 1 2019 Malaysia came down with hard smoking bans, specifically in restaurants. All eateries and cafes as well as open-air food stalls and hawker centres are now smoke-free under law. Smoking areas are only allowed as close as three metres away from the restaurant. Anyone who lights up anyway could face disabling fines of $2300.
The smoking rate is still 22%, or almost 1/4th of the country, but is expected to fall under these new legislations.
Back in 2006, Uruguay became the first Latin American country to ban smoking in enclosed spaces. Since that ban, the country has seen it's rates fall by 15% and has goals of reducing it another 10% over the next few years. While there is no law in effect for public outdoor spaces, at least you won't be stuck inside a smokey restaurant or office building.
Thailand took a stance on public smoking in order to protect it's beautiful beaches from pollution. As of 2018, there are 24 beaches where smoking (and/or littering butts) is 100% illegal. Smokers can face fines of up to 100,000 baht ($3000 USD) or a one year jail sentence.
With Thailand's smoking rate being quite high (22%), it's still a tough place for non-smokers, but new laws have the country heading in the right direction.
In 2018, South Africa made some bold new changes to their smoking laws. The new policies include removal of indoor smoking areas in restaurants, an outdoor ban in public places, and a 10-metre rule for smoking near public entrances.
Smoking rates have fallen to 18% and are projected to drop even further.
Kenya recently put a public smoking ban into place, and removed all tobacco advertising from the country. It's too soon to see how these new laws will contribute to cleaner air, but the fact they've taken these progressive steps is a great start!
Ghana made smoking in indoor spaces and certain outdoor places illegal back in 2012, but it's only in recent years they started enforcing it. In addition to the new enforcements, they've also added another culprit to their radar, shisha. Smoking hookah has become popular in Africa, but studies show it to be just as toxic as cigarettes. New shisha bans have just started coming into effect in order to keep the air clean in Ghana.
By the way, Ghana has one of the lowest smoking rates in the world, hovering around 8%.
Finland has a HUGE goal of eradicating smoking by 2030. Their original goal date was 2040, but new smoking laws and bans made them reassess their timeline. Higher taxes, new outdoor and residential smoking bans and heavy fees for retailers skirting the laws are changing the smoking rates in Finland for the better.
Recently, they even imposed rules about candy resembling tobacco products, either restricting the sale to minors or exempting them from stores loyalty programs.
Sweden must have been watching Finland's ‘smoke free country' goal, because they made their own for 2025, 5 years ahead of their Scandinavian neighbour.
In Dec 2018, the government voted in a new ban that will apply to outdoor spaces, restaurant patios and train station platforms. This new smoking ban is set to come into effect July 2019.
Currently Sweden has the lowest smoking rate in Europe and wants to completely eradicate it over the next 6 years.
In 2017 the vocal leader of the Philippines, Rodrigo Duterte, put a country wide smoking ban into place. The new law prohibits smoking in enclosed public spaces like elevators, schools, buses, stairwells, restaurants, offices and malls. It seems crazy that smoking was acceptable in enclosed spaces prior to this new law, but better late than never!
Currently Barbados only has a no-smoking law that includes indoor public spaces, but the legislation is currently under review for expansion. Their mission is to protect vulnerable individuals and groups from the harmful effects of second-hand tobacco smoke, so further outdoor public spaces might soon come into effect.
Current smoking rate is 13% which is quite low compared to other countries.
In 2016 Turkmenistan actually banned the sale of all tobacco products. The strict law created a huge black market for cigarettes and has since been lifted, but a low smoking rate of only 8% of citizens remains. There are still very strict smoking bans in public places in effect, which helps to support their goal of being totally smoke free by 2030.
Other Countries With Declining Smoking Rates
- New Zealand
- Sri Lanka
Countries To Avoid As A Non-Smoker
Before you get your knickers in a knot, I'm not saying non-smokers shouldn't travel to these countries. I am simply stating facts of who has the highest rates of smoking, and therefore the highest concentration of dangerous second hand smoke. I personally LOVE travelling to Indonesia, despite it being almost unbearable in regards to cigarette polluted air.
Here are some countries with super high smoking rates and/or no smoking laws in effect:
- Indonesia 40%
- Greece 43%
- Croatia 36%
- Kiribati 52%
- Russia 40%
- Laos 32%
- Serbia 42%
- Nauru 47%
- Chile 38%
- Lebanon 38%
- Germany 30%
- Albania 30%
- China 25%
- France 28%
- Jordan 41%
- Czech Republic 33%
- Bulgaria 35%
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