Studies offer evidence smoking bans do help

Two recent reports on the health impacts of public smoking bans reinforce the sound policy decision local elected officials made when they limited indoor smoking here in Beaufort County.

Two separate analyses released last week found that the rate of heart attacks fell within a year after public smoking bans were put in place. In one analysis, the average rate of heart attacks fell 17 percent after one year. After three years, the rate fell about 26 percent. The two analyses, published in Circulation: Journal of the American Heart Association and the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, looked at a combined 24 studies.

Cigarette smoke can trigger heart attacks in people with underlying heart disease by causing clots or spasms in the blood vessels, according to the American Heart Association. Cardiovascular disease costs the country an estimated $475.3 billion a year in direct costs, such as hospital stays, and indirect costs, such as missed work.

Stanton Glantz of the University of California-San Francisco, co-author of the Circulation study, told USA Today that the smoking ban laws reduce heart attacks in three ways: They protect smokers; they protect non-smokers, especially waiters and bartenders, from secondhand smoke; and they encourage people to quit or smoke less by making it more difficult to find a place to smoke.

The biggest beneficiaries of smoking bans, according to the analyses, were people who don’t smoke and people from ages 40 to 60.

Researchers warn that analyzing pooled data has its own statistical flaws because it combines results from differing studies. But the downward trend in heart attacks seems undeniable.

A study released in December found a dramatic drop in heart attack hospitalizations in Pueblo, Colo., three years after the city’s smoking ban was put in place. The study, one of the longest-running of its kind, showed the rate of hospitalized cases dropped 41 percent in the three years after the ban against workplace smoking took effect. There was no such drop in two neighboring areas, and researchers said it was a clear sign the ban was responsible.

If these study results bear out here, we should be seeing some positive impacts. The Bluffton, Beaufort County and Hilton Head Island bans have been in place for more than two years.

Many communities across the state, including the city of Beaufort, followed suit after the state Supreme Court turned back legal challenges to local smoking ordinances.

Restaurants, bars and other workplaces have adjusted to the smoking rules with no major ill effects. The fact that the bans were enacted about the same time certainly helped.

We salute local elected officials who pushed for and voted for ordinances that could a big difference in our community’s health.


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