British Medical Journal Study Shows Smokefree Law Slashed Heart Attack Rate 40%

April 5, 2004


BERKELEY, CA, April 5 -- A new study posted April 5th on the British Medical Journal website (www.bmj.com) shows that the health benefits of a comprehensive smokefree workplace law may be much more immediate than previously thought, resulting in a decline of 40% in the number of heart attacks.

The study, authored by Richard P. Sargent, MD, Robert M. Shepard, MD, and Stanton A. Glantz, PhD, looked at the number of hospital admissions in Helena, Montana for acute myocardial infarctions (AMI) during a sixth month period; compared those numbers to the same time period in the previous four years, and looked at figures for the surrounding area not affected by the smokefree law. The doctors found a 40% drop in admissions for heart attacks from people living or working in Helena - where a smokefree ordinance was in effect - and no change for people living further away.

According to Dr. Glantz, “This is not the first study to find a link between long term exposure to secondhand smoke and heart attacks. There is a mountain of evidence that this connection exists. It is, however, the first study to show the rapid community level benefits of a smokefree policy. This study shows that a comprehensive indoor smokefree law reduces heart attacks immediately.”

One year after Dr. Sargent presented the Helena Heart Study findings at the Annual Scientific Sessions of the American College of Cardiology in Chicago in April 2003, the British Medical Journal, one of the most prominent peer-reviewed medical journals in the world, is publishing the dramatic results.

The journal article points out that even 30 minutes of exposure to secondhand smoke increases blood platelet “stickiness,” which can lead to blood clots. In addition, arteries narrow after exposure to secondhand smoke, so smaller clots cause more damage, and there is an increase in heart rhythm problems associated with heart attacks.

According to Cynthia Hallett, Executive Director of Americans for Nonsmokers' Rights, "The bottom line is simple. Secondhand smoke kills. This study validates that there are important and immediate community-level health benefits to smokefree workplace policies. All nonsmokers deserve to breathe smokefree air in enclosed workplaces and public places."

Communities across the U.S. have taken steps to protect nonsmokers from the disease and death caused by secondhand smoke. Cities as diverse as Pueblo, CO, Boston, MA, Tempe, AZ, New York City, and El Paso, TX have enacted laws that bring smokefree air to enclosed workplaces and public places. In fact, over 1700 U.S. communities and several states have enacted local smokefree workplace laws according to the ANR Foundation Local Ordinance Database (chart available at: http://www.no-smoke.org/ordgraph.pdf).

"Smokefree indoor air is a mainstream idea whose time has come," said Hallett. "As the public has learned more about the health dangers associated with secondhand smoke, people have supported smokefree polices as a way to address this easily preventable cause of premature death and chronic disease."
This study is further evidence that smokefree ordinances benefit everyone in a community, including residents and workers, who as a result of these policies are less exposed to a the toxic chemicals in secondhand smoke, reducing their risk of disease and death from secondhand smoke exposure.

The study follows on the heels of other recent smokefree air news. Last week, New York City issued a report celebrating the one-year anniversary of its smokefree workplace law (http://www.ci.nyc.ny.us/html/doh/html/public/press04/pr031-0329.html), the bar provision of Connecticut’s smokefree law went into effect, Idaho Governor Dirk Kempthorne signed a strong statewide smokefree bill into law, and all indoor workplaces in Ireland including pubs became smokefree.

2004 also marks the 40th Anniversary of the 1964 U.S. Surgeon General’s Report on Smoking and Health, the first federal study that identified tobacco as a health hazard, as well as the 10th anniversary of California’s statewide smokefree workplace law.

The U.S. national smoking rate has dropped from 42% in 1964 to 23% in 2002, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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