Premature birth

Fewer Premature Births Since Smoking Ban in the UK

Premature birth

An intubated female premature infant born prematurely 26 weeks 6 days gestation, 990 grams. Photo taken at approximately 24 hours after birth.

Recently it was reported that fewer children were suffering from asthma since the smoking ban came into force. Now we have learned that fewer women are having premature births too. The health benefits of quitting seem to be more diverse than anybody imagined.

The first smoking ban in the UK was launched in Scotland on March 26th 2006. Wales and Northern Ireland followed the following month, and England implemented the ban on July 1st 2007. The whole of the UK has been a smoking free zone (in public places) for almost 6 years.

Belgian introduced their smoking ban in 3 phases:

  • Public places and most workplaces – January 2006
  • Restaurants – January 2007
  • Bars serving food – January 2010

The latest study was conducted by Hasselt University in Belgium and published in the British Medical Journal. The study followed previous work carried out by Scottish health scientists made a similar discovery in 2012.


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The Belgium study set out to investigate the incidence of preterm delivery in the Belgian population after implementation of smoke-free legislation in the three phases.

They found that each smoking ban phase resulted in fewer premature births:

  • After January 2007: a 3.13% reduction in premature births
  • After January 2010: a 2.65% reduction in premature births

ConclusionOur study shows a consistent pattern of reduction in the risk of preterm delivery with successive population interventions to restrict smoking.”

This study shows that each progressive phase of banning smoking in public places results in a reduction in the number of women having premature births. The impact of not being subjected to passive smoke could have many other as yet unknown health benefits. Miscarriages and birth defects have both been connected with smoking, so it is possible that since the smoking ban there have also been fewer miscarriages and birth defects.

Premature Birth Rates Rise Globally

While Scotland and Belgian have both reported a fall in premature births, and it seems very likely that England, Wales and Northern Ireland would have shown similar trends, on the global scale premature births are still rising.

Recently there were reports that the birth rate in the UK has increased rapidly. The tabloid press has attributed the increase in birth rate to the growing number of immigrants in the UK, however, it may be that improved health is also a factor. In June 2012 The Lancet reported that “the burden of preterm birth is substantial and is increasing in those regions with reliable data”.


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So, it really does seem that the banning of smoking is allowing more babies to live and allowing them to grow up to be fitter and healthier.

References and Further Reading

Impact of a stepwise introduction of smoke-free legislation on the rate of preterm births: analysis of routinely collected birth data, by Bianca Cox, Evelyne Martens, Benoit Nemery, Jaco Vangronsveld, Tim S Nawrot. BMJ 2013; 346 doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/bmj.f441 (Published 14 February 2013)

National, regional, and worldwide estimates of preterm birth rates in the year 2010 with time trends since 1990 for selected countries: a systematic analysis and implications by Hannah Blencowe et al. The Lancet, Volume 379, Issue 9832, Pages 2162 – 2172, 9 June 2012

Impact of smokefree legislation: evidence review, March 2011

Smoking ban – Politics.co.uk

Photo credit: Chris Sternal-Johnson

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