Eliminating Secondhand Smoke: Proof That It Helps


Hospitalization rates for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease were found to be lower in communities that have smoke-free policies.

Hospitalization rates for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease were found to be lower in communities that have smoke-free policies.

Secondhand smoke became a burning issue in the early 1970s, and in the few years after initial concerns were raised, accumulating evidence began to confirm its detrimental health effects. Studies have shown that secondhand smoke contributes to acute coronary events and asthma (among other conditions) in those exposed. As a result, many communities and states have passed laws prohibiting smoking in public places.

Now, evidence that smoke-free policies have a positive impact on nonsmokers is confirming that these decisions are sound and effective. A study published in the June 2014 American Journal of Public Health looks at the link between smoke-free municipal public policies and hospitalizations for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Of note, the study was conducted in 1 of the nation’s leading tobacco-producing states—Kentucky—where smoking rates remain quite high. Kentucky’s laws requiring smoke-free public places vary among its 120 small counties, creating a patchwork of exposure for state residents.

Researchers from several of Kentucky’s state-funded colleges and universities determined the impact of smoke-free municipal public policies on hospitalizations for COPD using records of hospital discharges in Kentucky between July 1, 2003, and June 30, 2011. They compared hospitalization rates between regions with and without smoke-free laws.

People who resided in communities with comprehensive smoke-free laws or regulations were 22% less likely to be hospitalized for COPD than those living in communities with a weak-to-moderate law or no law. They found that hospitalizations and health care costs decreased after the laws were in place for at least 1 year.

Researchers have seen similar trends in Texas and Ireland for COPD, and decreases in hospitalizations for all respiratory diseases across the United States in places that forbid smoking in public.

This study validates other findings that sending smokers outside to light up seems to reduce COPD hospitalizations, especially if the law preventing indoor smoking is strong and has been in place for longer than a year.

Ms. Wick is a visiting professor at the University of Connecticut School of Pharmacy and a freelance writer from Virginia.

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