As soon as the smoke-free laws came into force in England, there was a significant drop in asthma hospital admissions among children, researchers from Imperial College London reported in the journal Pediatrics.

According to National Health Service (NHS) statistics, within twelve months of the law banning smoking in enclosed places and workplaces, the number of children being admitted to hospital with asthma symptoms fell 12.3%.

The authors added that hospital admission rates due to asthma in pediatric patients continued to drop in subsequent years, demonstrating that the smoke-free legislation had and still has long-term benefits.

During the first 36 months, there were 6,802 fewer hospitalizations compared to the period before the new law came into force.

Approximately 1 in every 11 children in the United Kingdom has asthma, the researchers explained. Before the new legislation, the number of hospitalizations among children with severe asthma attacks had been growing by 2.2% annually. In the year 2006/2007, numbers peaked at 26,969.

As soon as the new law came into effect, the upward trend immediately reversed, for both boys and girls. The fall in figures was observed equally among children in well-off and poor neighborhoods, as well as in cities and in the country.

According to previous studies, smoke-free legislation in Scotland and North America produced similar benefits for children with respiratory problems.

Researchers from Glasgow University reported that the smoke-free law introduced in Scotland in 2006 resulted in a drop in childhood asthma cases of 18% (average) annually. According to an article published in the NEJM (New England Journal of Medicine), asthma hospitalization rates had been increasing by 5.2% annually among children for over a decade and a half.

There was also a significant drop in the number of heart attacks in England after the new law came into effect.

Cigarette smoke
Doctors say they have known for years that environmental tobacco smoke harms children’s health

Study leader, Dr. Christopher Millett, said:

“There is already evidence that eliminating smoking from public places has resulted in substantial population health benefits in England, and this study shows that those benefits extend to reducing hospital admissions for childhood asthma. Previous studies have also suggested that the smoke-free law changed people’s attitudes about exposing others to second-hand smoke and led more people to abstain from smoking voluntarily at home and in cars. We think that exposing children to less second-hand smoke in these settings probably played in important role in reducing asthma attacks.

The findings are good news for England, and they should encourage countries where public smoking is permitted to consider introducing similar legislation.”

Dr Iolo Doull, on behalf of the RCPCH (Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health) said that today’s figures confirm what health care professionals have known for a long time – that environmental tobacco smoke can have a significantly damaging effect on children’s health, and that reducing children’s exposure has real health benefits.

(Spelling: UK, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand – paediatrics. North America – pediatrics)

Dr. Doull said “Data from Scotland, where a ban on smoking in public was introduced earlier than in England, shows similarly positive results. But we know that children are still exposed to second hand smoke in a range of settings, one of the worst being in the close confines of a car.

So whilst we’re moving in the right direction, these statistics give further weight to the call for legislation which bans smoking in cars when children are present. Reducing children’s exposure in this way would undoubtedly have a significant impact on children’s health. “

Written by Christian Nordqvist