Barkeep and blogger Scribbler has a piece up giving one bartender's view of New York's smoking ban. Since I like Scribbler, I wondered what the data say about the effect of smoking bans on his health. Cigarette smoke has many harmful physiologic effects, and the data are pretty clear that you don't have to be the one holding the cigarette to suffer the consequences. Tobacco smoke damages lungs and increases vascular inflammation which leads to heart attacks and strokes. While permanent damage is done to the lungs with smoking, damage slows after quitting. Lung cancer risk is probably not significantly reduced by quitting in long time smokers, but the risk of dying of heart disease declines very rapidly after quitting, and it is heart disease that is the biggest killer.
Smoking bans appear to reduce the number of cigarettes consumed by smokers, and reduce the amount of smoke that all workers are exposed to. What about Scribbler? As a bartender, how is his heath likely to be affected?
A number of studies have looked at this question, and the results are encouraging. After smoking bans, bartenders and other hospitality workers reported a decrease in respiratory symptoms and improvements in objective tests of lung function. There are also measurable reductions in some blood measurements of inflammation which may be a marker for cardiac risk. In New York in particular, the smoking ban led to a rapid decrease in smoke exposure among hospitality workers. Given what we've seen in other cities, we can expect rapid subjective and objective improvements in health in Scribbler and his comrades due to the smoking ban. Since we like Scribbler, this is a good thing.
While many may cringe at the paternalistic nature of public health laws, few complain about the availability of clean water and the notable absence of open sewers. The smoking ban is in the same category.
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