Pub workers in Scotland breathed easier and showed better respiratory health shortly after a nationwide ban on smoking inside public places went into effect earlier this year, scientists report.
Other research had suggested that worker health improves after a smoking ban, but this is the most comprehensive study to date, says pulmonologist Daniel Menzies of the University of Dundee.
He and his colleagues identified 90 nonsmoking workers at 41 randomly chosen bars in Dundee and Perth. The researchers met each participant 1 month before the ban on smoking began in late March. The volunteers submitted to breathing tests, blood sampling, and health interviews. The researchers repeated the exams 1 month and 2 months after the ban took effect.
Before the ban, 61 of the 90 bar workers reported wheezing, shortness of breath, eye irritation, a running nose, or more than one of these symptoms. One month after the ban took effect, only 41 had such symptoms, and that number decreased slightly more in the next month, the researchers report in the Oct. 11 Journal of the American Medical Association.
In a standard lung-function test in which a person forcibly blows into a tube, the bar workers could exhale more air by 1 month after the smoking ban than they could beforehand. The quick turnaround is notable because these people had worked at the pubs for 9 years on average, Menzies says.
Two other tests measured inflammation in the workers’ bodies. One analysis showed that the workers had, on average, fewer white blood cells in their bloodstreams 2 months after the ban took effect than they did before—a sign of reduced inflammation. Another test measured the workers’ breath for nitric oxide, a gas produced by inflammation in the lungs and airways. Workers in good health showed no change after the smoking ban. But bar workers with asthma showed a 20 percent drop in expelled nitric oxide by 1 month afterward.
Previous research had established that exposure to second-hand smoke increases certain health risks (SN: 4/5/03, p. 222: Available to subscribers at Passive smoking may foster kids’ cavities). “There’s really no doubt that public policies aimed at limiting passive smoke indoors can lead to improved health,” says Mark D. Eisner, a pulmonologist at the University of California, San Francisco. The new report shows that people with chronic airway diseases might benefit the most, he says.
Although some bar and restaurant owners oppose smoking restrictions, research shows that bans don’t cut into their profits, says health economist Matthew C. Farrelly of the nonprofit research group RTI International in Research Triangle Park, N.C. “There’s a trend [against smoking] in some states, and my guess is that trend will continue,” Farrelly says.
Eisner notes that Ireland, Sweden, Norway, Italy, and New Zealand, as well as Scotland, have banned smoking in workplaces, as have nine Canadian provinces, parts of Australia, and 11 U.S. states.