UK study finds smoke-free laws lead to reduced rates of lung cancer

A recent study by UK’s BREATHE (Bridging Research Efforts and Advocacy Toward Healthy Environments) shows that fewer new cases of lung cancer were found in communities with strong smoke-free workplace laws.

Strong smoke-free laws are known to improve public health by lowering rates of heart attack, stroke, asthma and emphysema. This study, led by Ellen Hahn, PhD, director of BREATHE and professor in the UK College of Nursing, is the first to show that new cases of lung cancer are lower when communities enact strong smoke-free laws.

The results of the study were published in Cancer, an American Cancer Society journal dedicated to providing clinicians with information on diagnosis, treatment and prevention.

Benefits of stronger smoke-free laws

Kentucky has more cases of lung cancer than any other state, and its mortality rate is 50 percent higher than the national average. Hahn and her team studied whether new cases of lung cancer in Kentucky were lower, higher or stable in communities with smoke-free laws.

“Kentucky has one of the highest adult cigarette smoking rates and the highest rate of new lung cancer cases in the nation,” Hahn said. “Only one-third of Kentuckians are protected by strong smoke-free workplace laws.”

Though other environmental factors play a part in the development of lung cancer, smoking and secondhand smoke exposure are the root cause of the disease.

“This new study shows that having strong smoke-free workplace laws in place to prevent exposure to secondhand smoke is one more way we can help protect our citizens from this devastating disease,” said Dr. Mark Evers, director of the UK Markey Cancer Center.

Creating more smoke-free workplaces

Using data compiled from the Kentucky Cancer Registry, the Cancer Research Informatics Shared Resource Facility and Markey, researchers looked at 20 years of new lung cancer diagnoses among Kentuckians age 50 and over in communities with strong, moderate and weak smoke-free laws.

Lung cancer incidence was 8 percent lower in communities with strong smoke-free workplace laws compared to communities without smoke-free laws. Researchers did not find differences in lung cancer rates between communities with moderate or weak smoke-free laws and those without any smoke-free laws.

These findings could be used to prompt legislation to create more communities with strong smoke-free workplace laws in Kentucky.

“Local government can play a critical role in preventing lung cancer,” said Hahn. “Elected officials can ensure that all workers and the public are protected from secondhand smoke by passing strong smoke-free laws with few or no exceptions.”

BREATHE is a multi-disciplinary research, outreach, and practice collaborative of the UK College of Nursing. Its mission is to promote lung health and healthy environments to achieve health equity through research, community outreach and empowerment, advocacy and policy development and access to health services.

For more information about BREATHE, visit www.breathe.uky.eduClick here to see the map and listings of smoke-free ordinances in Kentucky.


Next steps: