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Smoking bans are having positive impact on child health

Large study finds child health boon from public smoking bans

Adrian O'Dowd

Tuesday, 05 September 2017

Child health has improved significantly since the introduction of public smoking bans in many countries, concludes a large-scale global study* published today in The Lancet Public Health journal. 

Researchers led by the University of Edinburgh and the Erasmus University Medical Centre (Erasmus MC) in the Netherlands combined data from 41 studies from North America, Europe and China where tobacco control policies have been introduced.

Experts said the latest study – which includes data from more than 57 million births and 2.7 million hospital admissions – offers the most complete analysis so far of the positive impact that tobacco control policies are having on children’s health worldwide.

About half of all children globally are regularly exposed to tobacco smoke.

Children who breathe second hand smoke are more prone to serious chest infections such as pneumonia and bronchitis, and are more likely to develop asthma attacks that require hospital care, while babies of mothers who smoke during pregnancy have a higher chance of being born prematurely.

Analysis of the data showed that figures suggested rates of children needing hospital care for severe chest infections have fallen by more than 18% since anti-smoking laws were introduced.

In line with earlier research, the study authors estimated that severe asthma attacks had fallen by almost 10% while the number of babies born prematurely had dropped by around 4% overall.

The time periods for these changes varied from country to country, but were measured from the point that the legislation came into effect there.

Raising taxes on tobacco products may also have improved child health, the researchers said, but the findings were less conclusive.

Professor Aziz Sheikh, director of the University of Edinburgh’s Usher Institute and the Asthma UK Centre for Applied Research, said: “Our evaluation provides compelling evidence of the considerable impact of tobacco control policies on child health.

“This work should spur governments to take action to implement tried and tested policies – strongly advocated by the World Health Organization – to reduce second-hand smoke exposure and improve a range of important health outcomes in infants and children.”

Dr Jasper Been, from the Erasmus Medical Centre, said: “Our study demonstrates that children’s health benefits substantially from smoke-free laws and raising tobacco prices. To protect the health of some of the most vulnerable members of society, implementation of such tobacco control policies should be accelerated across the globe. The effectiveness of additional strategies also needs to be evaluated.”

Deborah Arnott, chief executive of health charity ASH (Action on Smoking and Health), said: “This is excellent news and demonstrates that tobacco control policies which reduce smoking prevalence don’t just benefit smokers but also those around them, particularly children.

“It also refutes the claims that smoking bans have led to more smoking in the home, which are just not borne out by the evidence.”

* Faber T, Kumar A, Mackenbach JP, et al. Effect of tobacco control policies on perinatal and child health: a systematic review and meta-analysis. The Lancet Public Health. DOI: 10.1016/S2468-2667(17)30144-5

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