Monday, April 14, 2014

Smoking ban shows quick results

Research shows smoke-free public places
improve children's health, even before birth.
The number of premature births and children’s hospital visits for asthma dropped significantly in parts of the United States, Canada, and Europe barely a year after they enacted smoking bans, researchers reported in The Lancet recently.

The new analysis combined the results of 11 studies encompassing more than 2.5 million births and nearly 250,000 asthma attacks.

Experts called it the best evidence to date that legislation creating smoke-free public places and workplaces improves children’s health, even in the womb.

The results are “very impressive,” said Dr. Brian Mercer, chairman of obstetrics and gynecology at MetroHealth Medical Center in Cleveland, who noted that half a million American babies are born prematurely each year.

“If you could prevent 10 percent, you’d prevent nearly 50,000 premature babies in the U.S. alone each year,” said Dr. Mercer, who was not involved in the study.

After an exhaustive review of relevant studies spanning 38 years, the researchers analyzed five that looked at perinatal and child health after local smoking bans in North America and six studies conducted after national bans in Europe.

Hospital visits for childhood asthma and premature births both declined about 10 percent in the year after smoking bans took effect, the researchers found.

The investigators also pooled data from two studies and found a 5 percent reduction in the number of children born very small for their gestational age after the introduction of smoke-free laws.

An earlier analysis of the impact of smoking bans on adult health demonstrated a 15 percent reduction in cardiovascular events.

The new report offers “another very good reason to institute smoking bans in public places,” said Dr. Muktar Aliyu, an associate professor of health policy and medicine at Vanderbilt University who has studied birth outcomes linked to maternal smoking.

Only 16 percent of the world’s population is covered by comprehensive smoke-free laws, and 40 percent of children worldwide are routinely exposed to secondhand smoke.

About half of Americans are protected by complete smoke-free policies in workplaces, restaurants and bars, according to the Americans Nonsmokers’ Rights Foundation, a nonprofit group.

The new analysis did not prove that smoke-free laws caused the improvements in children’s health. And the researchers didn’t evaluate other factors, like taxation of tobacco products and advertisement bans, which could have contributed.

The authors note that further studies are needed to estimate the effect of smoke-free laws on respiratory tract infections in children, a major problem of secondhand smoke. The authors also cite a “pressing need” for studies of tobacco control laws in low- to middle-income countries.

Source: NY Times. This article has been edited for length.

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