A new study shows that asthma attacks in children have fallen as smoking bans have come into effect. The researchers from the University of Edinburgh, Maastricht University in the Netherlands, Hasselt University in Belgium, Harvard Medical School and Brigham and Women’s Hospital studied more than 2.5 million births and 250,000 hospital visits for asthma attacks in children. The results of the study are revealing.
Both preterm births and hospital attendance for asthma has fallen by 10 percent, particularly in places where smoking bans have been enforced over the past years. Lead study author Jasper Been says, “The study proves that smoking bans have a positive impact on child health and it provides strong support for the World Health Organization (WHO) to create smoke-free public environments in more countries and states.”
Currently, 16 percent of the world’s population is covered by public smoking bans, including countries in Europe and several states in North America. Co-author Professor Aziz Sheikh of the Brigham and Women’s Hospital says, “There are so many countries that are yet to enforce smoking bans. With the findings of this study, they should consider their position on this important health matter. We have a chance to improve children’s health.”
Passive smoking has severe risks for children. Arteries can thicken, increasing the risk of a stroke or heart attacks in their adult life, and previous studies have shown that second-hand smoke can cause respiratory disease in children. As more smoking bans are coming into effect, these rates may fall even further.
Although the study shows positive results, some critics say that smoking bans have mainly been enforced in workplaces, restaurants and bars and that some of these places may not have an impact on children’s health at all. “If the report is claiming that environmental smoke is the only cause of asthma attacks in children, it is ridiculous,” says Simon Clark, director of the smoker’s group Forest. According to Been, the smoking bans in public places have changed the way the world perceives smoking and that smoking is becoming less socially acceptable. “The societal norms have changed and it is more likely for people to stop smoking in their home. This has major benefits for children’s health.”
Alun Blum of the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa says, “These findings are very useful for countries and states where there is an ongoing debate about the enforcement of stricter smoking laws. What might be the most important thing to know is the fact that it can reduce healthcare costs, as it improves health for both adults and children. This is the eye candy.”
According to Been, 40 percent of children worldwide are still regularly exposed to second-hand smoke, mainly in countries and states where smoking bans have not yet been enforced.
Previous studies have researched the effects of smoking bans, but these mostly looked at improved health in adults. Never before has a team of researchers shown that children’s health may be improved as smoking bans are coming into effect and that asthma attacks are likely to fall thanks to stricter smoking laws.
By Diana Herst