A funny thing happened with Scotlands’ smokefree law, which banned smoking in public places such as restaurants, bars, shops, cinemas, offices, hospitals, work vehicles and sports centers.
Research published in the New England Journal of Medicine showed that this law has reduced the rate of children going to the hospital because of severe asthma attacks by 18 percent a year since the the law was passed in 2006.
But why? Kids don’t spend a lot of time in restaurants, bars, shops, cinemas, offices, work vehicles, etc. The overwhelming number of people who go to these places are adults. And critics of the law said that when smoking was banned in these public places, more adults would be smoking in their homes, and that would be worse for kids.
Those critics were exactly wrong, as are most special interests who argue about tobacco, alcohol and drug laws from their own special interest – and without any evidence to back up their opinions.
Smoke-free laws have another – perhaps more important – impact beyond immediately protecting people from second-hand smoke: They change the cultural norm about tobacco. This from the WHO Report on the Global Tobacco Epidemic 2009 says:
Smoke-free environments not only protect non-smokers, they reduce tobacco use in continuing smokers by 2–4 cigarettes a day and help smokers who want to quit, as well as former smokers who have already stopped, to quit successfully over the long term. Per capita cigarette consumption in the United States is between 5% and 20% lower in states with comprehensive smoke-free laws than in states without such laws. Complete workplace smoking bans implemented in several industrialized nations are estimated to have reduced smoking prevalence among workers by an average of 3.8%, reduced average tobacco consumption by 3.1 cigarettes per day among workers who continue to smoke, and reduced total tobacco consumption among workers by an average of 29%. People who work in environments with smoke-free policies are nearly twice as likely to quit smoking as those in worksites without such policies, and people who continue to smoke decrease their average daily consumption by nearly four cigarettes per day.
Smoke-free laws make more people want to quit. They make smokers cut back on their smoking. They make more people cognizant of the impact of smoking on children and others.
This shouldn’t be surprising. Most people who smoke want to quit. Smokers are normal, caring people who happen to be addicted to nicotine. They need help and support, which cessation treatment and smokefree laws provide. Smokers are not sociopaths who don’t care whether they hurt others, especially children, as critics of smoke-free laws (namely the tobacco industry and its minions) apparently think.
The findings in the NEJM show that smoke-free laws should be expanded to endow a global norm against tobacco use. Next stop needs to be smoke-free multifamilty housing – apartment and condo complexes.
A resident who smokes in a single unit within a multiunit residential building puts the residents of the other units at risk. Tobacco smoke can move along air ducts, through cracks in the walls and floors, through elevator shafts, and along plumbing and electrical lines to affect units on other floors. High levels of tobacco toxins can persist in the indoor environment long after the period of active smoking — a phenomenon known as third-hand smoke.
Not only does cigarettes smoke from one unit infect all other nearby units, but apartments are where so many children live. Smoke-free housing will help even more people quit as they recognize their personal responsibility to protect others – and especially children.