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Smoking on the Playground

We learn more and more each year about the inherent dangers of smoking and the great costs to ourselves; however, there remains ‘controversy’ regarding the potential detrimental effects smoking has on those who do not smoke.

Today, the Raleigh City Council is slated to consider a ban on smoking in public parks. Critics of the ban contend that it would be yet another restriction on personal freedoms.  Maybe so, but there is a growing body of evidence showing the public health benefits of laws that restrict smoking in public places are very real for some of our most innocent and vulnerable citizens – children.

It is well established that exposure to environmental tobacco smoke (second hand smoke) increases the incidence and severity of asthma. In the U.S.A. 200,000 episodes of childhood asthma per year have been attributed to parental smoking.

Some entire countries have taken these risks to heart. In Scotland, the Smoking, Health and Social Care Act banned smoking in all enclosed public places and workplaces as of March 2006. This law was enacted based on previous studies that showed a decrease in respiratory symptoms among workers in bars where smoking was banned – even among workers who continue to smoke themselves.

A study in the New England Journal of Medicine in Sept 2010 showed a profound benefit to all citizenship in Scotland after implementation of the public smoking ban. Whereas hospitalizations from asthma were increasing 4.4% per year, they abruptly decreased 15.1% per year afterward!

Of note, similar benefits have been shown on a smaller scale in Arizona. Asthma remains the most common chronic illness in children and one of the most common reason children are hospitalized.

It might be worth considering restricting a few freedoms in order to benefit the adults themselves as well as those children with asthma.

Mike Cinoman, MD, is a pediatric intensvist with WakeMed Children’s.