A 15-year study finds indoor smoking bans really do make kids with asthma healthier

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Marcelo del Pozo/Reuters

Prohibiting people from smoking indoors does more than just keep bars from smelling like cigarettes, new research suggests. It’s actually doing kids a favor.

A new long-term study finds that on average, kids with asthma visited the emergency room 17% less often during the three years after indoor smoking bans were enacted than they did in the three years before.

The data overwhelmingly shows that kids really do get healthier when their lungs aren’t exposed to secondhand smoke, the researchers say.

“This study shows that even those short exposures to secondhand smoke in public spaces like restaurants can have a significant impact on asthma exacerbations,” University of Chicago immunologist Dr. Christina Ciaccio said in a statement.

Anyone born before the early 1990s likely remembers an era when smoking wasn’t relegated to the outdoors. For decades (centuries, perhaps) people lit up at work, in restaurants, and even in hospital rooms. Little attention was paid to the direct health consequences, let alone the secondhand effects.

The new study quantifies those impacts, however. Ciaccio and two colleagues – one from Brown University and the other from the University of Kansas – gathered data on asthmatic kids’ emergency room visits between 2000 and 2014.

In total, the team logged 335,558 visits across 20 hospitals in 14 states. To single out the effects of the smoking bans, they controlled for a variety of factors: age, gender, race, and Medicare enrollment as a stand-in for socioeconomic status.

Rates varied depending on the specific area, but the overall trend clearly showed kids making fewer ER visits as time went on. After one year, the average decline was 8%. After two years, it was 13%. And after three, it was 17%.

While the researchers can’t prove that the bans single-handedly caused the decline in asthma-related ER visits, they suggest that is the most plausible interpretation of the data.

As of October 1, 2016, 26 US states had banned smoking indoors at restaurants, bars, and non-hospitality workplaces (meaning hotels are still fair game). The latest research suggests the remaining 24 states could save young lives by adopting those policies, too.