Smoking-ban benefit

Times Staff Writer

REGULATIONS banning smoking in restaurants were designed to protect the health of nonsmokers. But the laws appear to have an unintended bonus: They deter kids from becoming smokers.

A study published last week in the Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine found that teens in towns with complete smoking bans were 40% less likely to become established smokers compared with their peers in areas with weak restrictions. The study followed 3,834 Massachusetts youths, ages 12 to 17, for up to four years. In towns where smoking wasn’t restricted or was only partially restricted, 9.6% and 9.8% of the youths, respectively, became established smokers over the study period. But in towns where smoking was banned in restaurants, 7.9% became smokers.

“These regulations are basically sending a message that smoking in public places is no longer socially acceptable,” says Dr. Michael Siegel, a professor of social and behavioral sciences at Boston University’s School of Public Health. “I think that decreases the appeal of smoking to adolescents. Kids’ perceptions of how many people are smoking is a major factor in whether they decide to smoke.” About half of all states have banned smoking in public restaurants. The regulations’ effect on youth smoking surpasses that of tobacco taxes and media campaigns, Siegel says.