When the UK smoking ban for enclosed public spaces came into effect a decade ago, it was hailed as a monumental step forward for public health. After progressive legislative restrictions over the years – from banning TV cigarette ads in 1965 to requiring health warnings on cigarette packs in 1971 – the ban was seen as the necessary next step to reduce the societal health impact of smoking.
New research suggests that these bans done exactly that. They have had a positive public health impact by reducing smoking rates in teenage girls and smoking-related illnesses.
A systematic review carried out by The Cochrane not-for-profit organisation has shown an association between smoking bans and lower rates of smoking-related illnesses. The researchers analysed data from 77 studies spanning 21 countries and found that positive public health benefits correlated with smoking bans.
National rates of smoking-related diseases, including heart disease, decreased with the introduction of smoking bans, and there was a general reduction in smoking-related deaths. Some of the research cited includes a study showing that heart attack hospital admissions in Liverpool fell by 42% in the first five years after the ban. Another study showed reduced hospital admissions for acute coronary symptoms in the first year the Scottish ban. A US study showed a 14% reduction in stroke in counties which had a smoking ban, versus those that didn't.
The evidence provides stronger support for the hypothesis that smoking legislation does lead to better health outcomes, specifically by reducing exposure to second-hand smoke.
In another new study, Scottish and Welsh researchers examined the rates of smoking among teenage boys and girls aged 13 to 15, from across the UK. The teenagers completed questionnaires assessing their levels of smoking over several years. When analysed, the researchers saw a statistically significant reduction in smoking prevalence for 15 year old girls. In England, for example, the smoking rates of 15 year old girls fell from 24% to 19% after the ban's introduction. These results hint at potential additional benefits of smoking bans in the long term – not only protecting non-smokers from passive smoke, but also actually reducing the number of smokers overall.
Since the nature of the research for both studies included data from observational studies, rather than randomised controlled trials, the evidence cannot conclusively say that smoking bans improve smoking-related outcomes. Other variables may come into play, such as higher tobacco prices, wider health awareness, or improved healthcare around heart disease. However, the research does suggest that there is some relationship between smoking bans and improved smoking-related outcomes.
While these studies reflect positive changes in smoking culture, the fight against the dangers of smoking continues. Smoking rates in the UK have dramatically decreased within a single generation, with figures much lower than they were in the 70s and 80s. However, roughly 200,000 young people still take up smoking every year. Smoking continues to be the main cause of preventable deaths in the UK, annually causing more than 100,000 deaths. One in two smokers will die from smoking-related diseases; most of those deaths will be about 10 years premature.
Advances in e-cigarettes and stop smoking aids such as Champix, have helped to reduce these statistics and prevent the devastating effects of smoking. A recent new ban on smoking in cars carrying children came into effect in England and Wales last year. As more people quit the habit and fewer public places are open to smoking, the future of smoking in the UK looks less bright than before – which is exactly what we want.