Data Science

Did the smoking ban work?

By analyzing data, researchers at The Farr Institute have shown how the introduction of smoke-free areas in public places has led to a number of benefits to public health.

Photo of a person smoking

School of Health and Wellbeing research theme

Data Science

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Addressing Inequalities

The challenge

When policy changes are introduced by Government it is important to measure how effective they are and the impacts they have on society. One example of recent policy change is the introduction of smoking restrictions in public places. By comparing health outcomes before and after the smoking ban was introduced, it is possible to assess the effects it has had on the health of the population.

The research

Scotland’s smoke-free legislation was passed in 2006. A team of scientists and clinicians from across the UK developed a detailed programme of research using data from sources such as hospitals, maternity units, quit-smoking clinics and various Government departments and agencies. Researchers used this information to evaluate the impact that the public smoking ban has had on people’s health by comparing the data from before and after the policy was introduced.

The results

The studies showed that the smoking ban has had a positive impact on the health of the public. In particular, the research showed improvements in the rates of childhood asthma (hospital admissions reduced by 18%), pregnancy complications (preterm births reduced by more than 10%) and strokes caused by blocked blood vessels to the brain (10% drop over the first 20 months after the ban). It also showed that more people have attempted to quit smoking since the legislation was introduced.

The impact

By using data in research, this programme of studies showed that smoke-free legislation in Scotland was associated with a number of public health benefits. It showed that this change in policy reduced rates of respiratory disease, producing fewer hospital admissions for childhood asthma. The results also showed that introduction of the smoking ban reduced the risk of babies being born prematurely and also reduced the number of babies born smaller than expected. Results also showed a reduction in heart attacks and strokes. In addition, it demonstrated a dramatic increase in the number of people who tried to stop smoking at the beginning of 2006 in anticipation of the smoking-ban coming into place. Only by collecting and using data about Scotland’s population could researchers unveil the benefits that smoke-free legislation has had on the health of the country. Research like this can inform and provide evidence to Government and policy makers, proving that changes in legislation can have significant positive impacts on society and public health. The smoking ban has improved the health of the nation.

For more information on the benefits of stopping smoking and advice on how to quit, please visit the NHS advice pages.


Professor Jill Pell

This case study is featured in the Farr Institute "100 Ways of Using Data to Make Lives Better" series.