Background: Smoke-free legislation was introduced in Wales in April 2007. In response to concerns regarding potential displacement of smoking into the home following legislation, this study assessed changes in secondhand smoke (SHS) exposure amongst non-smoking children.
Methods: Approximately 1,750 year 6 (aged 10-11) children from 75 Welsh primary schools were included in cross-sectional surveys immediately pre-legislation and one year later. Participants completed self-report questionnaires and provided saliva samples for cotinine assay. Regression analyses assessed the impact of legislation on children's SHS exposure at the population level, and amongst subgroups defined by parental figures who smoke within the home.
Results: Geometric mean salivary cotinine concentrations were 0.17 ng/ml (95% CI 0.15,0.20) pre-legislation and 0.15 ng/ml (95% CI 0.13,0.17), post-legislation, although this change was not statistically significant. Significant movement was however observed from the middle (0.10-0.50 ng/ml) to lower tertile, though not from the higher end (>0.51 ng/ml) to the middle. Reported exposure to SHS was greatest within the home. Home-based exposure did not change significantly post-legislation. Reported exposure in cafés or restaurants, buses and trains, and indoor leisure facilities fell significantly. The proportion of children reporting that parent figures smoked in the home declined (P = 0.03), with children with no parent figures who smoke in the home significantly more likely to provide saliva with cotinine concentrations of <0.10 ng/ml post-legislation. Amongst children with no parent figures who smoke in the home, the likelihood of 'not knowing' or 'never' being in a place where people were smoking increased post-legislation.
Conclusion: Smoke-free legislation in Wales did not increase SHS exposure in homes of children aged 10-11. Reported SHS exposure in public places fell significantly. The home remained the main source of children's SHS exposure. The legislation was associated with an unexpected reduction in cotinine levels among children with lower SHS exposure pre-legislation. The findings indicate positive rather than harmful effects of legislation on children's SHS exposure, but highlight the need for further action to protect those children most exposed to SHS.