SMOKING bans increase the exposure of children to potentially deadly levels of tobacco fumes, according to new research by independent analysts.
Stopping smokers from lighting up in bars, pubs and restaurants forces them to smoke more than they previously did at home. Consequently, children and non-smokers face a higher risk of exposure to carcinogenic fumes than beforehand, the study concludes.
The findings have emerged as Scotland prepares to mark the first anniversary of the smoking ban in three weeks. This summer, the ban will also apply in England.
Ministers have trumpeted it as one of the major success stories of their administration, pointing to figures which suggest tobacco sales had dropped by 5% since the ban was introduced. But the research, published by the Berlin-based Institute for the Study of Labour, contains worrying evidence that all-out bans carry unwanted consequences.
The researchers studied data from the US, where bans have been up and running in California and New York for a number of years. The presence of the nicotine by-product cotinine was recorded to see the effects of such bans.
The results found that bans on buses, in shopping malls and in schools had the desired effect of reducing the levels of tobacco inhaled by non-smokers. But once bans were imposed in recreational places such as pubs, the results shifted markedly.
The researchers said: "We find that bans in recreational public places can perversely increase tobacco exposure of non-smokers by displacing smokers to private places where they contaminate non-smokers."
The researchers concluded: "Governments in many countries are under pressure to limit passive smoking. Some pressure groups can be very vocal about these issues and suggest bold and radical reform. Often, their point of view is laudable but too simplistic in the sense that they do not take into account how public policies can generate perverse incentives and effects."
The research was carried out by two economics academics from University College London, Jerome Adda and Francesca Cornaglia. Their findings were seized upon last night by pro-smoking groups who said it confirmed their view, expressed last year, that less draconian measures than an all-out ban should have been employed.
Neil Rafferty, Scottish spokesman for the smokers' rights group Forest, said: "MSPs were warned that a comprehensive smoking ban would mean greater exposure for children but, typically, they ignored this and instead forced through a law which not only exposes children to tobacco but robs adults of their personal freedom."
However, Maureen Moore, chief executive of ASH Scotland, poured doubts over the quality of the research. "Tobacco industry front groups frequently claim that banning smoking in public places will lead to increased exposure of children in the home. All published international research goes against these claims. In America, New Zealand, Australia and Ireland, it has been shown that smoke-free legislation contributes to reduced smoking in the home. It has also been shown that where smoke-free enclosed public places are the norm, parents are more likely to try and prevent smoking in the home."
Health Minister Andy Kerr has said it is too early to evaluate the impact of the ban in Scotland. Research is under way to provide a full assessment of the effect of the regulations. However, there are signs that thousands of Scots have used the ban to try to give up smoking.
Meanwhile, a study by Aberdeen University suggested air pollution in pubs had dropped by a massive 86%.