Importance of Cigarette Smoking Policies at Your Restaurant & Bar

Updated July 2, 2020

In recent years, there have been an increased number of states that have enacted laws for prohibiting or restricting smoking at worksites, restaurants and bars.  Before 2004, there were only two states with complete smoking bans at worksites, restaurants and bars. With these restrictions in place, proper disposal of spent smoking materials, the correct location of designated smoking areas and effective housekeeping controls become very important because it limits ignition sources and reduces the ability of a fire to spread.

Regardless of whether or not your establishment allows smoking, the following measures should be taken to decrease the likelihood of a fire and/or in the event of a fire, reduce the possibility of it spreading.

Why Smoking Bans Matter to Establishments

Shockingly, a worldwide study of smoking-related fire and disaster data, UC Davis epidemiologists show smoking as a leading cause of fires and death from fires, resulting in an estimated cost of nearly $7 billion in the United States and $27.2 billion globally  in 1998. Smoking materials, including cigarettes, pipes, and cigars, started an estimated 17,200 home structure fires reported to U.S. fire departments in 2014. These fires caused 570 deaths, 1,140 injuries and $426 million in direct property damage. Smoking materials caused 5% of reported home fires, 21% of home fire deaths, 10% of home fire injuries, and 6% of the direct property damage. These statistics show that if there are live-in units or apartments inside of your bar or restaurant the fire risk can increase, and smoke detection systems are critical for property and life safety. 

Meanwhile, an estimated two-thirds of all U.S. reductions in fire fatalities related to smoking from 1984 to 1995 were attributed to reductions in cigarette consumption. Reducing smoking would lower its impact on fire injury, fire control costs and the 4 million deaths each year that occur from non-fire-related smoking disease.  If you or someone you know is interested in quitting smoking there are resources like NCI’s site that offers science-driven tools, information, and support that has helped smokers quit

How Can Businesses Be Accommodating to Smokers?

Despite being extremely unhealthy and potentially dangerous, people still have the right to smoke. In fact, around 13% of the adult population today still does. So, how can businesses still be accommodating to smokers while reducing the risk of secondhand smoke and accidental fire? 

The following steps will help mitigate these risks: 

  • Designate smoking areas at least 25 feet away from buildings, combustible materials, vegetation or refuse collection areas.
  • Areas that allow smoking and areas that prohibit smoking should be clearly marked with appropriate signage.
  • All smoking materials should be disposed of in acceptable receptacles and kept away from ignition sources.
  • Disposal devices should be appropriately marked, be constructed of non-combustible materials, and have steep sides to keep materials inside the device.
  • If smoking is allowed inside the building, then properly designed ashtrays should be provided in smoking areas to prevent cigarette butts or ashes from falling or rolling onto combustible materials.
  • Ashtrays should only be dumped into designated disposal containers with a lid and filled with a medium that can safely extinguish a fire, such as sand or water.
  • If smoking materials are going to be placed into a dumpster they should be thoroughly wetted down with water. Smoking materials may still be smoldering, so it is best to wet these down prior to placement in a garbage dumpster.
  • Make sure your dumpster is located at a minimum of 10 feet away from the building, but further away is preferred.
  • A fire extinguisher should be placed in the area with a maximum travel distance of 75 feet away from the smoking area. 

By following the advice above, restaurant and bar owners can help protect their business from accidental fire while also abiding by smoking bans. Promoting a smoke-free workplace has many benefits including limiting secondhand smoke exposure and reducing the chance of an accidental fire. 

Get all the details on how Society can help keep your business healthy by contacting your local independent Society agent or visit the Society Risk Control Library for more fire protection resources. 

Additional Resources:


Adam obtained his bachelor's degree from the University of Wisconsin - Whitewater in Occupational, Environmental Health & Safety. He has experience in fire science, emergency medicine and risk control. Prior to joining Society as a risk control representative, Adam worked as a firefighter, emergency medical technician and safety coordinator.

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