If a new drug were discovered which could cut the rate of heart attacks by 10% or more, many communities would probably make it available to residents, especially if the cost savings from fewer heart attacks were greater than the cost of the program.
Yet a new study of two different Mississippi communities has now found something even more effective which can be implemented at virtually no cost to prevent even more heart attacks and save millions of dollars in unnecessary medical costs in just two communities — yet many leaders are reluctant to embrace it.
The study found that a smoking ban in Starkville resulted in a 13.1% decline in hospital admissions for heart attacks, at an estimated savings of $288,270. Even more significant, a smoking ban in Hattiesburg showed a similar decline of about 13% in heart attack hospital admissions, at a much larger estimated savings of $2,367,909 during the study period – both estimates in 2010 dollars.
These latest studies strongly confirm conclusions reached by more than a dozen earlier studies, each showing a decrease in heart attack admissions following the implementation of a law banning smoking. Since these consistent findings were based upon studies in different population groups in areas of different sizes (ranging from cities to states and even countries), and used different methodologies, the evidence is considered to be scientifically conclusive.
For example, a comprehensive review of many studies (a “meta analysis”) published in the Circulation: The Journal of the American Heart Association, found that heart attacks decreased about 17% during the first year after smoking bans were put into place, with the effect increasing in later years. Lightwood J, Glantz S. Declines in acute myocardial infarction after smoke-free laws and individual risk attributable to secondhand smoke. Circulation 2009;120: 1371-1379.
Another independent study in the prestigious American Journal of Cardiology reached the same conclusion based upon five major studies. The authors stated: “When taken in the aggregate, these studies offer consistent evidence that smoking bans are associated with reduction in the risk for AMI (Acute Myocardial Infarction, AKA heart attacks) in the general public.” Meyers D, Neuberger J. (2008). Cardiovascular effect of bans on smoking in public places. American Journal of Cardiology 2008;102:1421-1424.
Disease Control and Prevention, the Institute of Medicine (IOM), released another comprehensive study that reached the same conclusion: “Consistent data confirms for the committee that smoking bans do, in fact, decrease the rate of heart attacks.” IOM (Institute of Medicine). 2010. Secondhand Smoke Exposure and Cardiovascular Effects: Making Sense of the Evidence. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press.
These findings are hardly surprising, notes Professor John Banzhaf of Action on Smoking and Health (ASH). The Centers for Disease Control [CDC] has reported that breathing even the small amount of secondhand tobacco smoke drifting into the no-smoking section of a restaurant can trigger a heart attack, particularly among those millions of Americans already at elevated risk for cardiovascular problems. Moreover, it noted — as others have also reported — breathing secondhand tobacco smoke can also temporarily increase a nonsmoker’s risk of a heart attack to that of a smoker.
“We now know that it is possible for cities, counties, and even entire countries to cut their heart attack rates, and the associated costs of treating heart attacks, with a simple step and at virtually no cost. All it takes is the political will to do it,” says Banzhaf.
He notes that most of the almost $200 billion a year costs of smoking are borne by nonsmokers in the form of higher taxes to cover additional medical care costs under Medicare, Medicaid, and other programs, and inflated health insurance costs. Fortunately, he reports, as a result of his efforts, it is now legal to charge smokers more than nonsmokers for health insurance, a freedom which will remain even after health care reform.
PROFESSOR JOHN F. BANZHAF III
Professor of Public Interest Law at GWU,
FAMRI Dr. William Cahan Distinguished Professor,
FELLOW, World Technology Network, and
Executive Director and Chief Counsel
Action on Smoking and Health (ASH)
America’s First Antismoking Organization
2013 H Street, NW
Washington, DC 20006, USA
(202) 659-4310 // (703) 527-8418
Action on Smoking and Health (ASH), America’s first anti-smoking and nonsmokers’ rights organization, serves as the legal action arm of the anti-smoking community. It is supported by tax-deductible contributions.