When kids benefit from public smoking bans

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A study conducted by researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health finds that children and adolescents who don’t live with smokers experience substantial health benefits from no smoking laws. Yet, perhaps unsurprisingly, researchers also found that kids who live in counties with public smoking bans but are exposed to secondhand smoke at home experience no similar benefit.

The study, which will appear in the July issue of the journal Pediatrics, analyzed data on secondhand smoke exposure among more than 11,000 children between the ages of 3 to 19 who did not smoke themselves. Smoke exposure was measured by analyzing levels of cotinine — a byproduct of nicotine that is indicative of secondhand smoke exposure — in blood samples. This information was compared with regional smoking ban data from participants’ 117 home counties, as well as whether or not children lived with any smokers.

Researchers found that kids who didn’t live with smokers and resided in counties with anti-smoking laws had nearly 40% lower levels of cotinine in their blood compared with those whose counties didn’t have similar laws. Four out of five of children included in the study were not exposed to secondhand smoke at home, yet the 20% of children who did live with smokers experienced no benefits from anti-smoking policies, the authors found.

Researchers say the findings provide evidence that smoking bans are an effective public health strategy for reducing the risk of lung irritation, wheeze, exacerbation of asthma symptoms and other health complications associated with secondhand smoke exposure. Yet the findings also emphasize the importance of continued efforts to educate parents about the dangers of smoking around children, and to promote initiatives aimed at getting guardians to kick the habit.