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May 18, 2011

Breathing Emergencies Decline After Irish Smoking Ban

by Art Chimes

Fewer asthma, pneumonia hospital admissions, study finds

A national smoking ban in Ireland has led to reduced hospital emergency admissions for respiratory ailments. It's the latest evidence of the health benefits of tobacco control.

Seven years ago, Ireland introduced a nationwide ban on smoking at work. Previous studies looked at the impact on other medical issues and found, for example, fewer hospitalizations for heart attacks and other coronary emergencies. But Imran Sulaiman of the Galway University Hospitals found a gap in the existing research.

"There's a lot of data that's already been [collected] regarding smoking bans and coronary artery disease, but there's been nothing reported on its effect on pulmonary disease," he says.

So Sulaiman and his colleagues dug into nationwide records of emergency hospital admissions in 2002 and 2003 - before the smoking ban went into effect - and compared those numbers with admissions in 2005 and 2006.

The researchers found that emergency, lung-related hospitalizations went down significantly, "particularly in patients with asthma, and particularly in patients with pneumonia, mainly in the younger age group, and mainly in men," typically in their 20s.

The researchers controlled for other factors - such as weather and influenza outbreaks - that might have affected the number of breathing emergencies.

Sulaiman says smoking rates went down slightly in Ireland after the ban went into effect in 2004, but this study more closely tracks the three-quarters of Irish adults who do not smoke. In many cases, their tobacco exposure went down dramatically after smoking was banned from the workplace.