Smokefree legislation linked to drop in asthma admissions

In collaboration with the Press Association

There were 1,900 fewer emergency hospital admissions for asthma in England in each year after the country went smokefree, researchers have found.

The figure equates to an annual five per cent drop in adult admissions each year, smaller than the drop in childhood admissions reported in January.

Smokefree legislation was introduced in July 2007 in England as part of a UK-wise roll-out. England's asthma rates are among the highest in the world, affecting almost 5.9 per cent of the population.

Researchers from the University of Bath looked at 502,000 emergency admissions in England between April 1997 and December 2010 among adults aged 16 and over

After taking account of seasonal temperatures, variations in population size, and long-term trends in the prevalence of asthma, the figures showed that emergency admissions for the condition fell by 4.9 per cent among adults for each of the first three years after the ban.

The decrease was consistent across the country.

Smoking laws introduced in other countries have been linked with up to 40 per cent reductions in the number of emergency asthma admissions.

The authors said that although the 5 per cent drop is lower than decreases noted elsewhere, this might be because many workplaces in England had already adopted smoke-free policies before the nationwide ban took effect.

Writing in the journal Thorax, they said their study "provides further support to a growing body of national and international evidence of the positive effects that introducing smoke free policies has on public health".

But they cautioned that while the association they found was significant, it does not prove that the legislation was responsible for the fall in emergency admissions for asthma.

Alison Cox, Cancer Research UK's tobacco control lead, welcomed the news.

"This should serve as a reminder of the wide range of diseases and conditions caused by tobacco use, and the 100,000 smoking-related deaths each year in the UK. The UK was among the global pioneers of smokefree legislation, and we hope that this demonstration of its impact encourages other governments to follow suit," she said.

Smokefree legislation was a "landmark achievement" that came during a decade of tobacco control policies, said Cox. These included the advertising and promotion ban in 2002, and the removal of unmanned cigarette vending machines and of tobacco displays from large shops in 2012. Smoking rates have continued to fall over this period.

"Despite this, 207,000 children still start smoking every year in the UK, and further action is needed to stop tobacco companies from targeting under-age 'replacement smokers'. We want to see the colourful glitzy cigarette packs replaced by plain, standardised packs, which will give children one less reason to start smoking and which should be introduced as swiftly as possible," she added.

Emily Humphreys, head of policy and public affairs at charity Asthma UK, pointed to statistics showing that eight out of 10 people with asthma say that people's smoke makes their asthma worse.

"That's why we campaigned for the smoke-free laws and are delighted to see evidence of the benefits these are having on the millions of people with asthma in England. By taking action to reduce asthma triggers, we can prevent asthma attacks that can lead to hospitalisation and even death," she added.

"However, more still needs to be done to prevent attacks, which kill three people each day in the UK."

Dr Penny Woods, chief executive of the British Lung Foundation, said: "Nearly a third of a million GP appointments each year are caused by children who are the victims of passive smoking. These horrendous figures show the scale of the problem we are still facing.

"That is why the Government, if they are serious about saving lives, must now introduce legislation in the Queen's Speech on 8 May to bring in plain packaging."

Copyright Press Association 2013

References

  • Sims M., Maxwell R. & Gilmore A. Short-term impact of the smokefree legislation in England on emergency hospital admissions for asthma among adults: a population-based study, Thorax, DOI: