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Smoke-Free Spaces Prevent Heart Attacks, Studies Say

Heart attack rates dropped 17 percent where smoking is banned in public places, new study says.

While some consider smoke-free laws an infringement on personal rights, three new studies have this to say about local regulations that have banned smoking in public places: They work.

On October 15, a government report confirmed that bans on smoking in restaurants, bars, and workplaces reduce the risk of heart attack among nonsmokers. The report from the Institute of Medicine reviewed research on the effect of smoking bans on secondhand smoke and heart disease and found the bans lower heart attack risk in both smokers and nonsmokers.

Released online September 21 by the journal Circulation, another study found that heart attack rates dropped 17 percent within a year of the implementation of smoke-free laws in 12 North American and European communities. Moreover, the number of attacks continued to decline over time, dropping by 36 percent three years after the restrictions took effect.

According to lead author James Lightwood, a statistician and economist at the University of California-San Francisco, the results of this analysis of studies done on the effectiveness of the local smoking bans “greatly increase the evidence that public area and workplace smoking restriction laws reduce heart attacks.”

The study results gelled with a similar investigation published in September in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology. “We found that smoking bans reduce the risk of heart attacks, particularly in nonsmokers, women, and those less than 60,” says lead author David G. Meyers, M.D., of the University of Kansas School of Medicine. Meyers questioned whether the reduction of heart attacks after smoke-free laws are passed could be due to chance. These studies put that doubt to rest. “No, the benefit is real,” Meyers says. American Heart Association spokesperson David C. Goff Jr., M.D., says the “studies provide very strong evidence that the public will benefit from implementation of smoke-free policies.” Goff, who is also head of epidemiology at Wake Forest University medical school in Winston-Salem, N.C., and wasn’t involved in the study, says that because heart disease is still the country’s leading killer, “a 17-percent reduction in heart attack rates is a cause for celebration.”

Based on the findings of these studies, Goff adds, “all communities should consider implementing smoke-free regulations.”

John Hanc writes about fitness and health.

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