Smoking bans have been increasingly common in the last three decades. These bans have cleared the air and a recent study from the Netherlands indicates they’ve improved the health of newborns and children, too. These youngest members of society, who have no say about their exposure to the smoke of others, are seeing fewer hospitalizations for asthma and fewer of them are being born prematurely.
Dr. Jasper Been, of the Netherlands' Maastricht University Medical Center, says the study he led "provides clear evidence that smoking bans have considerable public health benefits for perinatal and child health and provides strong support for WHO (World Health Organization) recommendations to create smoke-free public environments."
The Been study involved analysis of data combined from five studies conducted in North America and six from Europe. The US studies involved local smoking bans and the European studies involved national bans.
The study data identified health outcomes for children 12 years old and younger and spanned 38 years, from 1975 to 2013. Before this study, similar studies of the health effects of smoking bans only involved adults, but 25% of all smoking-related deaths are those of children. More than half the statistical years of healthy life lost to secondhand smoke exposure are those of children.
By the numbers, the Dutch study:
- Involved more than 2.5 million births
- 250,000 asthma hospitalizations
- 10% fewer preterm births occurred in just the first year after ban implementation
- 10% fewer hospital admissions due to childhood asthma occurred in the first year
- 5% fewer babies were born small for their gestational age
On a global scale, 40% of all children are exposed regularly to second- and third-hand smoke and only 16% of the global population is covered under smoking bans. Professor Aziz Sheikh, the co-author of the study who is affiliated with both the Brigham and Women's Hospital in the US and Scotland's University of Edinburgh, says the team's research demonstrates "the very considerable potential that smoke-free legislation offers to reduce preterm births and childhood asthma attacks." He urges the governments of the world to consider smoking bans as important aspects of national health policies.
Stanton Glantz and Sara Kalkhoran, of the University of California, San Francisco, were not a part of the study but co-wrote a commentary published alongside the study report. They write that asthma-related medical expenses cost the US more than $50 billion in 2007 and $20 billion in Europe in 2006. If smoking bans could eliminate only 10% of childhood asthma attacks that require emergency department visits or hospitalization, as much as $7 billion in medical expenses could be saved in the US and Europe each year.
Source: Been, Jasper V, Ph.D., et al. "Effect of smoke-free legislation on perinatal and child health: a systematic review and meta-analysis (summary)." The Lancet. Elsevier Limited. Mar 28, 2014. Web. Apr 6, 2014.