State and local tobacco control efforts have largely been regarded as a public health success. However, there has been concern that one particular policy, smoke-free laws applicable to non-residential indoor venues such as workplaces, restaurants and bars, could have unintended harmful effects on infant and child health. If these laws shift smoking from banned locations to the home where pregnant women and children are present, second-hand smoke exposure could increase among certain groups of children.
A new collaborative study published in the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) Working Paper series, “Impact of Comprehensive Smoking Bans on the Health of Infants and Children” addresses this question. Dr. Brandy Lipton, assistant professor of health management and policy at San Diego State University Graduate School of Public Health, co-authored the study alongside fellow researchers Dr. Kerry Anne McGeary (researcher and senior program officer, at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation), Dr. Dhaval Dave (professor of economics at Bentley University) and Mr. Timothy Roeper (PhD candidate in economics at New York University).
The research team examined the effects of state and local 100 percent smoke-free laws on the health of infants and children, as well as the likelihood of adults smoking at home. Findings suggested that the most stringent 100 percent smoke-free laws were associated with increased birth weight among infants and reductions in the likelihood of respiratory symptoms, ear infections, and emergency room visits among children. These results were concentrated among infants and children of low-educated mothers, which may be because these mothers are both more likely to be smokers and also more likely to live in areas where they are exposed to secondhand smoke. The study did not find any evidence that adult smokers were more likely to smoke at home in states and localities with the most stringent smoke-free laws. Since only about 58 percent of the U.S. population is currently covered by 100 percent smoke-free laws in all major indoor venues, these findings may inform the decision of whether to implement these policies.