Glasgow University experts analysed data in the nine years from 2000 in an attempt to discover whether the rate of respiratory disease had been reduced among groups not affected by the ban. It found that seven children under the age of 15 were on average admitted to hospitals every day for the condition before the ban, but it fell to about four-and-a-half after the laws were introduced on March 26, 2006.
In the 12 months up to January 1, 2005, there were 2621 admissions, but in the year to January 1, 2009, there were just 2235.
Prior to the ban, fears were raised that smokers would light up more in the home, leading to greater exposure to tobacco smoke among young children.
But Professor Jill Pell of the university’s Centre for Population Health Studies, who led the study, found that while hospital admissions rose at a mean rate of 5.2% a year before the ban, the figure fell by 18.2% each year compared to the rate on March 26, 2006.
The research published in The New England Journal of Medicine, follows previous work by Ms Pell in 2007 that showed a reduction in respiratory problems among bar workers following the introduction of the ban on smoking, as well as a 17% year-on-year drop in hospital admissions for heart attacks.
She found there were 551 fewer heart attacks in the post-ban period and 324 fewer among non-smokers.
However, the study accepts that other factors may have contributed to the lower rates.
The researchers said that they did not have access to the patients’ exposure to environmental tobacco smoke and could not determine to what extent the observed reduction was due to secondary smoking in the home, public places or reduced levels of smoking among school- children.
It concluded that the study showed that there was a reduction in the rate of hospitalisation for childhood asthma after the introduction of legislation to make public places smoke- free, suggesting that the bene- fits of such legislation can extend to populations other than those with occupational exposure to environmental tobacco smoke.
Ms Pell, who holds the Henry Mechan chair in Public Health at the university and is an honorary consultant in public health for Greater Glasgow and Clyde Health Board, said: “The aim of the study was to determine whether the smoking ban produced benefits for people who do not have occupational exposure to tobacco smoke.
“We found a reduction in asthma admissions among both preschool and school-age children.
“It is clear that smoke-free legislation has resulted in a reduction in the rate of respiratory disease in populations other than those with occupational exposure to environmental tobacco smoke.
“Before implementation of the smoking ban, there was concern that it might result in the transfer of smoking activity to homes, leading paradoxically to an increase in exposure to environmental smoke among children.
“Other studies have shown that this is not the case, rather the smoking legislation has resulted in an increase in voluntary bans within homes.”
During the study period there were 21,415 admissions for asthma; 11,796 in pre-school children and 9619 in school-age children.
There were no significant differences in the impact of the ban according to factors such as age, sex, urban or rural residence, region or socioeconomic status.
In 2007, research found that exposure to passive smoking among final-year primary school children dropped by almost 40% after the introduction of the laws.