Evaluation of the New York Smoking Ban
> 7/24/2007 1:55:27 PM

The 2003 ban on smoking inside public places in New York City was met with intense opposition. Business owners claimed that they would lose all of their patrons. The Citizens Lobbying Against Smoker Harassment (CLASH) filed a lawsuit arguing that the ban was unconstitutionally vague. Yet, it is four years later and bars remain busy and rancor is dying down. New York did not collapse after the ban, but we must also ask whether it improved after the ban.

The CDC reported last week on an evaluation done by the New York State Department of Health to determine the effect of the ban. NYSDH analyzed data from the New York Adult Tobacco Survey and then followed up by asking non-smokers to mail in a saliva sample. Despite the strangeness of this request, a third of those surveyed sent in their sample. This analysis had two objectives-- to determine whether the ban actually reduced the amount of second hand smoke encountered by the average citizen and to determine whether there were any detectable biological changes in the population.

Participants were asked: "The last time you went to a restaurant or bar in your community in the past 30 days, did you see someone smoking indoors?" While 19.8% responded in the affirmative to this question before the ban, only 3.1% did so after the ban. This six-fold decrease clearly shows that the ban was not just wasted ink. Once fines and the threat of license-revocation formed teeth for the ban, the sight of smoking became rare in bars throughout the city.

To cement the case that reducing the amount of second hand smoke encountered indoors led to concrete biological changes, saliva samples were analyzed for the level of cotinine, a metabolite that remains in the blood for a few days after exposure to tobacco smoke. Cotinine levels fell 47.4% after the ban. Humorously, one of the only difficulties in doing this analysis came from the extremely low levels of cotinine present in much of the saliva. Because the smoking ban had decreased exposure so drastically, it was hard to create averages incorporating many infinitesimal levels.

This cotinine finding fits with a previous study by Dr, Daniel Menzie, which found that bar workers in Scotland exhibit far fewer respiratory problems after a smoking ban. This reduction was not just observed by bias-susceptible self-report, but also by scientific measurements such as lung inflammation and volume of forced exhalation.

Clearly, the smoking ban is protecting citizens from the chemicals in second hand smoke. This is great news because second hand smoke is a serious problem for densely populated areas. Testifying in favor of the ban, Dr. Thomas Frieden, Commissioner of the NYSDH, warned:

Approximately 1,000 New Yorkers will die prematurely this year because of involuntary smoking. An additional 40,000 New Yorkers will suffer illnesses brought on or worsened by second-hand smoke.

There may be a few smokers missing at your local pub, but with 1,000 lives spared from second hand smoke every year—not to mention the thousands more whose overall health will improve dramatically—there will be more than enough people to keep things lively.

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