How has the smoking ban changed our health?

A man breaking a cigarette in half

This summer marks 10 years since UK citizens were banned from smoking in enclosed public spaces. Lucy Trevallion looks at how it’s changed our health.

Hazy pubs and cigarette-scented restaurants are now nothing more than a memory. Ten years ago – on 1 July 2007 – it became illegal to smoke in any pub, restaurant, nightclub, and most workplaces and work vehicles, anywhere in the UK.

The smoking ban had already been introduced in Scotland (in March 2006), Wales and Northern Ireland (April 2007). Breaching the law is punishable by a fine, and millions were set aside to help enforce it.

Toby Green, Tobacco Policy Lead at the Royal Society for Public Health (RSPH), says the ban was “one of the biggest public health interventions we’ve seen in the last 15 years”.

Before the ban there was a large body of research linking passive smoking to health problems. Studies showed breathing in second-hand smoke increased an adult non-smoker’s risk of lung cancer and heart disease by a quarter, and of stroke by 30 per cent.

Breathing in other people’s smoke is particularly harmful for children because their lungs are still developing, resulting in a higher risk of respiratory infections, asthma, bacterial meningitis and cot death. 

What effect did the smoking ban have?

“Directly after the legislation, more people were trying to quit smoking, and more people succeeded because it’s much easier to avoid those situations,” says Hazel Cheeseman, Director of Policy at ASH (Action on Smoking and Health).

Research in the British Medical Journal estimated there were 1,200 fewer hospital admissions for heart attacks in the year following the ban – improved air quality and fewer smokers will have contributed to this.

In 2006, 22 per cent of adults smoked, whereas in the latest statistics (2015) 18 per cent did. This is part of a gradual decline in UK smoking rates since 1974, when the government first began gathering this data.

In UK bars before the ban, air pollution from cigarette smoke was much higher than the ‘unhealthy’ threshold for outdoor air quality (set by the US Environmental Protection Agency), a University of Bath study found. Levels in Scottish and Welsh bars were often twice as high as in English bars. After the ban, air pollution in UK bars reduced by as much as 93 per cent.

After the ban, air pollution in UK bars reduced by as much as 93 per cent

“There was concern that if people can’t go to the pub and smoke they might stay home and smoke around their children, but the opposite has been true,” says Hazel. “We’ve seen a great shift to people smoking outside, so most children in the UK now live in smoke-free homes.”

A Glasgow University study showed that, before the smoking ban, the number of hospital admissions of children with asthma was increasing on average by five per cent each year in Scotland. In the three years after the ban, admissions decreased 18 per cent per year.

In the three months after the ban there was a 6.3 per cent drop in the volume of cigarettes sold in England.

As you can in our ten year timeline, the smoking ban is one of a series of moves to discourage smoking. “The ban is part of a trend towards policies that denormalise smoking,” Toby says. “It helped create a shift in culture.”

The BHF is proud to have campaigned to reduce the use and harm of tobacco, working closely with ASH. We’re active members of the Smokefree Action Coalition, and continue to fund research into the link between air pollution and premature death. Hazel says: “The value of the BHF’s continued support and funding cannot be overestimated.” 

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