ATLANTA Nov 15 (Reuters) - Thirty of the 50 largest U.S. cities are now covered by state or local laws banning smoking in workplaces, restaurants and bars - a dramatic increase over the last dozen years, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said on Thursday.
In 2000, only one of the nation's 50 largest cities, San Jose, California, had comprehensive smoking restrictions, the federal health agency said.
The large number of additional smoking prohibitions is "unexpectedly good news, said Tim McAfee, director of the CDC's Office on Smoking and Health.
Smoking restrictions reduce exposure to second-hand smoke, a cause of heart attacks and lung cancer in non-smokers, the CDC said. Each year, about 50,000 non-smokers die from second-hand smoke exposure, the agency said.
The study is proof that the American culture is rapidly changing on smoking bans, McAfee said.
"It's certainly going to lower deaths related to second-hand smoke exposure," he told Reuters. "You don't want to have to worry no matter where you are that you're going to be exposed to second-hand smoke."
Smoking bans are expanding outside the nation's largest cities as well, the CDC found. The number of states with laws banning smoking in workplaces, restaurants and bars increased from zero in 2000 to 26 in 2010, the CDC said.
North Dakota became the 27th state to join the list when it approved a new law this month, the CDC said.
If the current rate continues, the entire country could be covered by comprehensive anti-smoking laws by 2020, McAfee said.
Half of the 20 largest U.S. cities that aren't covered by state or local comprehensive smoke-free laws are located in the South, including Nashville, Miami and Atlanta, the CDC study found.
"However, it's not like the South hasn't made any progress," McAfee said. "It just started further behind."
North Carolina, for instance, leads the nation in growing tobacco, but in 2009 passed legislation banning smoking in bars and restaurants, McAfee said.