In the first comprehensive study to look at how anti-smoking laws are affecting the health of children, researchers from University of Edinburgh collaborated with researchers from Maastricht University, Hasselt University, Harvard Medical School and Brigham and Women's Hospital, to conduct a systematic review and meta-analysis examining the effect of smoke-free legislation on child health. They found that the introduction of new laws that ban smoking in public places in North America and Europe has been followed by a decrease in rates of premature births and hospital visits for asthma attacks in children. These findings are published on March 28, 2014 in The Lancet.
Researchers analyzed 11 studies conducted in North America and Europe that included more than 2.5 million births and approximately 250,000 asthma-related hospital visits. They report that while the impact of anti-smoking laws varies between countries, the overall impact on child health is very positive. Specifically, the data show that rates of both preterm birth and hospital admissions for asthma were reduced by 10 percent following the implementation of laws that prohibited smoking in public places.
"This research has demonstrated the very considerable potential that smoke-free legislation offers to reduce preterm births and childhood asthma attacks. The many countries that are yet to enforce smoke-free legislation should in the light of these findings reconsider their positions on this important health policy question," said Aziz Sheikh, senior author and a physician-researcher at Brigham and Women's Hospital, visiting professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School and Professor of Primary Care Research and Development at The University of Edinburgh.
According to information in the article, 16 percent of the world's population is covered by smoke-free laws, while 40 percent of children worldwide are regularly exposed to second-hand smoke. Laws that prohibit smoking in public places, such as bars, restaurants and work places, are already proven to protect adults from the health threats associated with passive smoking, but research to date has not systematically evaluated the impact of smoking bans on children.
Passive smoking can cause babies to be stillborn or born prematurely and is linked to certain birth defects, asthma and lung infections. Studies have also suggested that being exposed to second hand smoke during childhood may have long term health implications, contributing to the development of chronic diseases like heart disease and diabetes in later life.
Lead researcher, Dr Jasper Been of the University of Edinburgh's Centre for Population Health Sciences said, "Our research shows that smoking bans are an effective way to protect the health of our children.
These findings should help to accelerate the introduction of anti-smoking legislation in areas not currently protected."
Image: Smoking endangers the health of the child via Shutterstock.