Smoke-Free Restaurants

Critical Understanding

A new report tells us that teens living in areas where legislation has been passed to ban smoking in restaurants have been found to have a reduced risk of becoming smokers. Lots of research has been devoted to the risk factors that bring youngsters to try their first cigarette, say the authors of the new study. However, until now, researchers have not devoted themselves to the question of what makes children and teens go on to become established smokers, defined by having smoked one hundred or more cigarettes. "Yet understanding this difference is critical," say the study's authors. "It would allow us to determine the age and stage at which youths are most sensitive to various types of interventions, thus enabling the more specific tailoring and more effective delivery of smoking prevention interventions."

Michael Siegel, M.D., M.P.H., of Boston University School of Public Health, along with his team of researchers looked at 3,834 youths from Massachusetts who were between the ages of twelve to seventeen at the time of their first interviews, which were conducted between the years 2001 and 2002. Of those study subjects, 2,791 were again interviewed two years later and another 2,217 were interviewed four years later.

It was seen that 9.3 percent of those involved in the study became habitual smokers over the course of the study period. This includes 9.6 percent of those living in cities or towns with soft restaurant smoking regulations in which smoking is confined to designated areas or is not restricted at all, and 9.8 percent of those living in areas with medium-strict regulations in which smoking is restricted to enclosed sections or well-ventilated areas, or no smoking is allowed but some variance is permissible. The figure also includes 7.9 percent of those who lived in towns with strict regulations in which smoking in restaurants and eateries was not permitted at all. The level of local smoking restrictions in eateries was not linked with the transition from non-smoking to experimentation, but there was a link with the transition from experimentation to habitual smoking.

The team of researchers believes that restrictions on smoking in restaurants may help influence young people by limiting their exposure to smokers in public spaces, helping them to form their notions regarding the social norms and the acceptability of smoking. It comes down to the fact that while teens may experiment, they won't be as likely to progress to habitual smoking when they are not exposed to smokers and their habit in a social situation.

Most Effective Means

The results are suggestive of the idea that banning smoking in restaurants can act as a deterrent, since there is an observed 40% reduction in the odds of children progressing to become habitual smokers in towns where such bans are in effect. This may be the most effective means at society's disposal to prevent our children from becoming smokers.