A study of four European countries with smoke free legislation, published online in Tobacco Control, revealed that smoking bans do not encourage smokers to smoke more at home. According to the researchers, who base their findings on two waves of the International Tobacco Control Policy Evaluation Project (ITC Project) Europe Surveys, smoking bans may actually encourage smokers to smoke less at home.

The first survey was conducted in 2003-2004, before the smoking ban in public places was enforced in the UK, Ireland, France, Germany and the Netherlands, excluding Scotland, before legislation was enacted. The second survey was conducted after legislation was enacted in 2008-2009.

Around 4,634 smokers (depending on when bans were enacted) in the four countries with smoke-free legislation participated in the surveys, as well as 1,080 smokers in the UK. The UK acted as a comparison country before the smoking ban had come into force.

Before a ban was enacted, the majority of smokers had at least partial restrictions on smoking at home, even though the proportions differed considerably among the four countries. France and Germany had the highest levels of restrictions.

Two of the leading factors linked to choosing to restrict smoking at home was the presence of a young child in the household and supporting a smoking ban in bars.

The researchers found that after the ban came into place, the number of smokers who quit smoking at home increased considerably among all countries by the time of the second survey:

  • 38% in Germany
  • 28% in the Netherlands
  • 25% in Ireland
  • 17% in France

The team found that the increase was irrespective of whether the ban allowed for some exceptions or was comprehensive.

Smokers were more likely to ban smoking at home if they supported smoking bans in bars, planned to quit the habit, or when there was a birth of a child.

In the UK, the number of smokers who banned smoking at home also increased by 22% between the two surveys. The second survey was conducted only a few months before the smoking ban came into force.

After the researchers took into account several demographic and smoking history variables, they found that the number of current smokers banning smoking at home rose considerably in Germany, France, the Netherlands and Ireland, but did not considerably rise in the UK.

According to the current theory, public smoking bans either increase the amount of smoking at home as individuals try to compensate “the displacement hypothesis” or encourage smokers to adopt the same ban at home – the social diffusion hypothesis.

The researchers explain:

“Opponents of the workplace or public smoking bans have argued that smoke-free policies – albeit intended to protect non-smokers from tobacco smoke – could lead to displacement of smoking into the home and hence even increase the second hand smoke exposure of non-smoking family members and, most importantly, children.”

Findings from the study support the theory that banning smoking in public places may encourage smokers to ban smoking at home.

Written by Grace Rattue