Forest - Voice and Friend of the Smoker
Child asthma attacks and the smoking ban:
the truth behind today's headlines


The Scottish media is today reporting a new study by the Centre for Population Health Studies at the University of Glasgow that claims that child asthma admissions have dropped 18 per cent per year in Scotland since the introduction of the smoking ban.

According to the University of Glasgow:

"The rate of hospitalisations for children with asthma in Scotland has dropped by more than 18 per cent year-on-year since the introduction of the ban on smoking in public places in 2006, according to scientists.

"Before the smoking ban came into force, admissions for asthma were increasing at a mean rate of 5.2 per cent a year. After the ban, admissions decreased by 18.2 per cent per year, relative to the rate on March 26, 2006.

Professor Jill Pell, who led the research, 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."

But wait. Professor Pell has history. It was her study in 2007 that suggested that the smoking ban was responsible for a big cut in heart attack admissions in Scotland. Not everyone agreed - see Has the smoking ban reduced heart attacks by Tessa Mayes in The Spectator (October 2007) and Health fears go up in smoke by Chris Snowdon, published by Spiked (December 2008).

Meanwhile, let's take a closer look at Jill Pell's latest study. On page 36 there's a graph and it shows the daily hospital admissions for asthma among children between January 2000 and October 2009:

2000 ..... 2391
2001 ..... 2142
2002 ..... 2034
2003 ..... 1803
2004 ..... 2621
2005 ..... 2103
2006 ..... 2633
2007 ..... 2056
2008 ..... 2235
2009 ..... 1397

Let's re-jig that list with the smallest number of hospital admissions at the top and the largest number at the bottom:

2009 ..... 1397
2003 ..... 1803
2002 ..... 2034
2007 ..... 2056
2005 ..... 2103
2001 ..... 2142
2008 ..... 2235
2000 ..... 2391
2004 ..... 2621
2006 ..... 2633

If Professor Pell is correct in her assertion that "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" you would expect the years 2006-2009 to be at the top of the table because the smoking ban was introduced in Scotland in March 2006.

But they're not. They are spread evenly over the period. In fact, some of the years with the lowest hospital admissions for child asthma were before the smoking ban!!

According to Jill Pell's own study there is only one year in which hospital admissions for child asthma fell substantially and that is 2009, a full three years after the smoking ban was introduced. A single blip in the figures is hardly enough to warrant the sort of headlines seen today ("Scottish smoking ban cuts childhood asthma attacks" - Reuters).

PS. Although the story has been picked up by an unquestioning media, one journalist did tell Forest that he was "sceptical" about the study but his paper felt "obliged" to run the story.

Fancy that!

Comment on this story on Forest director Simon Clark's blog Taking Liberties
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