Introduction: In the past few years, comprehensive smoke-free laws that prohibit smoking in all workplaces have been introduced in many jurisdictions in the US, Canada, and Europe. In this paper, we review published studies to ascertain if there is any evidence of health benefits resulting from the implementation of these laws.
Methods: All papers relating to smoke-free legislation published in or after 2004 were considered for inclusion in this review. We used Pubmed, Google scholar, and Web of Science as the main search tools. The primary focus of the paper is on health outcomes, and thus many papers that only report exposure data are not included.
Results: Studies using subjective measures of respiratory health based on questionnaire data alone consistently reported that workers experience fewer respiratory and irritant symptoms following the introduction of smoke-free laws. Some studies also found measured improvements in the lung function of workers. However, the most dramatic health outcome associated with smoke-free laws has been the reduction in myocardial infarction in the general population. This outcome has been observed in the US, Canada, and Europe, with studies reporting reductions of between 6 and 40%, post-legislation, the larger reductions being mostly from studies with smaller population groups. The evidence as to whether these smoke-free laws have helped smokers to stop smoking or to reduce tobacco consumption is less clear.
Conclusions: There is now significant body of published literature that demonstrates that smoke-free laws can lead to improvements in the health of both workers who are occupationally exposed and of the general population. There is no longer any reason why non-smokers should be exposed to SHS in any workplace. We recommend that all countries adopt national smoke-free laws that are in line with article 8 of the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control that sets out recommendations for the development, implementation, and enforcement of national, comprehensive smoke-free laws.