Smoking Bans Pay Off

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A study published by the BMJ Group shows that stepwise smoking bans correlate with a reduction in preterm births.

The study, using data from Belgium, took advantage of a gradual ban of smoking to look for an impact on public health. The trend in preterm births was tracked over nine years, covering a period before the laws went into effect and afterward.

The smoke-free laws prohibit smoking in public places and are similar to ordinances enacted in the United States. What’s different is the nationwide application of the laws and the careful tracking of data to demonstrate an effect.

The laws were enacted in a stepwise fashion:

  • 2006 – smoking banned in workplaces
  • 2007 – smoking banned in restaurants
  • 2010 – smoking banned in bars that serve food

The reduction in preterm births was 3 percent after the first step and totaled almost 6 percent after the last. Further, there was no trend toward falling numbers before the first ban took effect. These findings add to data gathered in England, where similar bans showed a dramatic drop in heart attacks and admissions for childhood asthma attacks.

Smoking Bans Positively Impact Public Health

The take-home message is that smoking bans really do impact public health and have an immediate and positive effect. This should make it easier for legislators to act, despite pressures from tobacco sellers and current smokers.

This study is significant because preterm births are not a standalone health factor. It is well known that preterm delivery is associated with lifelong increases in health risks for a variety of conditions. Every reduction then has an impact that is far-reaching and a continuing benefit.

Smoking rates continue to fall in developed countries (with some glaring exceptions, like Greece), but in less developed nations, smoking is still rampant and could be a real target for public health agencies. In the United States, rates have fallen to about 20 percent.

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