Lots of chatter in the comments ( here, here, here, here, and here) about a new study, one of whose authors is Our Stan (aka Stantonitis Glands), claiming that there had been a sharp fall in the number of children admitted to hospital with severe asthma after the smoking ban was introduced in England. Both DP and Chris Snowdon are on the case.
The implication is that this is the result of reduced secondhand smoke exposure. Of course, the smoking ban mainly affected places where children don’t go, ie. workplaces, pubs and clubs, so the authors suggest that the smoking ban inspired people to make their own homes “smokefree” of their own volition.
The lead researcher, Prof Christopher Millett, said the legislation has prompted unexpected, but very welcome, changes in behaviour.
“We increasingly think it’s because people are adopting smoke-free homes when these smoke-free laws are introduced and this is because they see the benefits of smoke-free laws in public places such as restaurants and they increasingly want to adopt them in their home….”
I very much doubt that there’s a shred of truth in this. The ISIS study, whose data I’m currently examining, is almost certainly going to show that one effect of the UK smoking ban was that smokers spent more time at home, and less time at pubs and cafes and restaurants. If they did this, it was because they didn’t like pubs, cafes, and restaurants after the smoking ban (and so they did not see any benefits of smoke-free laws in public places such as restaurants), and stayed home and smoked there instead.
Of course, some homes have unilaterally banned smoking, but in my experience (as described in my previous post) it’s usually non-smokers or ex-smokers who ban smoking in their homes. Smokers don’t generally ban themselves from smoking. If they did, there would never have been any call for a law banning smoking in public places.
So while there may well be many more non-smoking households that are blessedly ‘smoke-free’, it’s most likely that smokers’ homes are much smokier than ever.
And herein lies one possible clue as to why there have been fewer cases of severe asthma. And it is that smoking may not be so much a way of causing asthma as a way of preventing asthma. This, after all, was a common medical view before smoking began to be demonised 60 years ago, as Dr William Whitby describes in his book, The Smoking Scare Debunked (the online version has gone missing), and most likely in Smoking Is Good for You too. I personally know someone who never had another asthma attack after taking up smoking. Also, in my childhood in the 1950s, asthma was almost unknown, and we children were wreathed in tobacco smoke more or less wherever we went. Asthma cases only started mounting as more and more and more smokers gave up smoking. Further evidence:
“In a multivariate analysis, children of mothers who smoked at least 15 cigarettes a day tended to have lower odds for suffering from allergic rhino-conjunctivitis, allergic asthma, atopic eczema and food allergy, compared to children of mothers who had never smoked (ORs 0.6-0.7). Children of fathers who had smoked at least 15 cigarettes a day had a similar tendency (ORs 0.7-0.9).”
“Our clean living ways perhaps might be leading to this global rise in asthma and allergies,” Liu said. Most people assume asthma results from air pollution or other dirt in the environment. But it may be caused by just the opposite. The latest research shows the cleaner the environment, the more cases of asthma. It has to do with our immune systems.
This report notes that rate asthma has increased 154 percent over the past 20 years. The number of smokers over the same 20 years has declined. It’s self-evident that the increased rate in asthma cannot be tied to exposure of secondhand smoke.
Just lately my asthma is worsening due to my stopping smoking (for five weeks now).
I have a constant wheeze which my inhalers will not get rid of, and I wake up nearly every night with a really violent attack which is beginning to frighten me…
Asthma Death Rates Are Lower in States With Higher Rates of Smoking. The states of Utah and California, which have the lowest rates of smoking at 13.0 and 17.1 percent of adults respectively, are also among the states with the highest death rates from asthma. (Asthma Deaths, 2000; and: Smoking Among Adolescents, 2001, and Smoking Among Adults, 2001. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2003 State Health Profiles, Atlanta, GA: US Deparment of Health and Human Services, 2003
So, now that smokers have been driven home from pubs and cafes, and continue to smoke at home, a great many asthma attacks may very well have been prevented.
In fact 6,802 of them.
And it really is a miracle, that as an unintended consequence of public smoking bans thousands of parents are quite likely to be inadvertantly doing the right thing for their children. The Latin Miraculum means, among other things:
A fortunate outcome that prevails despite overwhelming odds against it.