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Workplace Smoking Ban Improves Employees' Health
Prohibition in bars in Scotland showed almost immediate benefits, study found

By Steven Reinberg
HealthDay Reporter

TUESDAY, Oct. 10 (HealthDay News) -- A new Scottish study found that the health of people working in bars improved significantly within a short time after a smoking ban was imposed.

The finding is significant because laws banning smoking in public places are becoming more common but are still controversial.

The study results are in the Oct. 11 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Secondhand tobacco smoke is a worldwide public health concern, although its effects have been difficult to measure. There have been studies, however, that found an increased risk for heart disease, stroke and lung cancer and premature death from secondhand smoke. And secondhand smoke has been shown to make respiratory conditions, such as asthma, worse.

"Introduction of the [Scottish] smoking ban led to a dramatic and rapid improvement in the number of bar workers experiencing symptoms because of exposure to passive smoke," said lead researcher Dr. Daniel Menzies, a clinical research fellow in the Asthma & Allergy Research Group at Ninewells Hospital and Medical School, in Dundee, Scotland.

In addition, the amount of nicotine in the bloodstream of bar workers declined, and their lung capacity improved one month after the ban was introduced. And these improvements were sustained at two months after the ban took effect, Menzies said.

"Bar workers with asthma showed the greatest improvements and also showed an improved quality of life and a reduction in lung inflammation. All workers had reduced levels of detectible inflammation in the blood," he added.

Menzies' group examined the effect of the March 26, 2006, ban on the health of 77 nonsmoking bar workers. The researchers looked at respiratory symptoms, such as wheezing, shortness of breath, coughing, and phlegm, and "sensory symptoms," such as red or irritated eyes, painful throat and nasal itch, runny nose, and sneeze. They also performed pulmonary tests and blood tests before the ban and at one month and two months after the prohibition went into effect.

Before the ban, 79.2 percent of the bar workers had respiratory or sensory symptoms. But one month after the ban, only 53.2 percent had these symptoms. After two months, 46.8 percent exhibited any symptom, a total decrease in symptoms of 32.4 percent.

In addition, there were improvements in lung function and reductions in blood nicotine levels. Bar workers also had less airway inflammation and an increase in quality of life, the researchers reported.

"This shows that the introduction of smoke-free legislation can improve the health of those exposed to passive smoke as part of their occupation," Menzies said. "The converse of this is that workers not protected by similar legislation are experiencing ill-health as a result. There is now a strong argument for introduction of similar bans elsewhere, if they are not already in place."

One expert thinks the results of this study demonstrate the benefits of laws that ban smoking in public places.

"Smoke-free workplace laws lead to improvement in respiratory health over a very short time period," said Dr. Mark D. Eisner, an associate professor of medicine at the University of California, San Francisco, and author of an accompanying editorial in the journal.

Eisner also said that certain arguments against smoke-free environments, particularly restaurants and bars, are groundless. Studies have shown that most people support smoke-free bars and restaurants, and the establishments don't lose money after going smoke-free.

"You don't have to wait very long to see tangible benefits in people who work in those environments," he added.

More information

The U.S. National Cancer Institute can tell you more about secondhand smoke.

Copyright © 2002 ScoutNews, LLC. All rights reserved.

SOURCES: Daniel Menzies, M.B., Ch.B., clinical research fellow, Asthma & Allergy Research Group, Ninewells Hospital and Medical School, Dundee, Scotland; Mark D. Eisner, M.D., M.P.H., associate professor of medicine, University of California, San Francisco; Oct. 11, 2006, Journal of the American Medical Association

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