THE ban on public smoking has caused a fall in heart attack rates of about 10%, a study has found.
Researchers commissioned by the Department of Health have found a far sharper fall than they had expected in the number of heart attacks in England in the year after the ban was imposed in July 2007.
In Scotland, where the ban was introduced a year earlier, heart attack rates have fallen by about 14% because of the ban, separate research has shown. Similar results are expected in Wales where a third study is still under way.
The success of the smoking ban is emerging as one of the most significant improvements in public health that Britain has seen, even measured by heart attack rates alone.
The early results of the study of England will increase calls for an extension of the ban. Ministers have already commissioned research into the possibility of banning smoking in cars, where children are at their most exposed.
There have also been suggestions that parents could be banned from smoking at home in front of children.
In time, the ban should bring more benefits through reductions in cancers caused by smoking and chronic pulmonary disease.
“We always knew a public smoking ban would bring rapid health benefits, but we have been amazed by just how big and how rapid they are,” said John Britton, director of the UK Centre for Tobacco Control Studies at Nottingham University.
About 9.4m British adults smoke; each year 114,000 die of smoking-related diseases.
The ability of cheap cigarettes smoke to trigger heart attacks, even in non-smokers after just brief exposures, is less well known than its role in lung disease. About 275,000 people suffer heart attacks in Britain each year, of whom about 146,000 die.
Ellen Mason, a senior cardiac nurse at the British Heart Foundation, said: “Exposure to cigarette smoke induces rapid changes in blood chemistry, making it much more prone to clotting. In someone who has narrowed or damaged coronary arteries, smoke exposure can tip the balance and cause a heart attack.”
The research into heart attack rates in England is being led by Anna Gilmore of Bath University. “There is already overwhelming evidence that reducing people’s exposure to cigarette smoke reduces hospital admissions due to heart attacks,” she said.
Gilmore’s research is incomplete and she emphasises the final results for England will not be published for several months. However, the results for Scotland, where public smoking was banned earlier, have shown the benefits.
Jill Pell, public health professor at Glasgow University, and her colleagues found that after the ban the number of people admitted to nine Scottish hospitals because of a heart attack fell 14% among smokers, 19% among former smokers, and 21% for those who had never smoked. Once other factors had been taken into account, this translated into a decrease of about 14% because of the ban.
Last week the EuroHeart conference in Brussels heard of similar results in western Europe after smoking bans. France had a 15% drop in emergency admissions for heart attacks after a year, while both Italy and Ireland had an 11% reduction.
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