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Laws that ban smoking in enclosed public places may result in lower preterm birth rates, a new study suggests.

Belgian researchers studied trends in preterm births from 2002 to 2011. Belgium’s smoking ban was implemented in three phases—in public places and most workplaces in 2006, in restaurants in 2007, and in bars serving food in 2010, Reuters reports.

The researchers studied 606,877 babies born between 24 and 44 weeks of gestation. They did not detect any decrease in preterm births in the years or months before the bans, but found a consistent pattern in reduction in the risk of preterm delivery with each phase of the smoking ban. There was a 3.13 percent decrease in preterm births after January 2007, and an additional 2.65 percent decrease after January 2010.

The changes could not be explained by other factors such as the mother’s age and socioeconomic status, changes in air pollution, or influenza epidemics, the researchers note in a news release.

The study “supports the notion that smoking bans have public health benefits even from early life,” the researchers wrote in the British Medical Journal.

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