Heart attack study shows health benefits of smoke-free laws
The introduction of smoke-free legislation in England was followed by a 2.4 per cent drop in the number of emergency hospital admissions for heart attacks, new research shows.
The government-funded study, which was carried out by scientists at the University of Bath's Tobacco Control Research Group, is the first to look at rates of heart attacks since the implementation of the legislation on July 1st 2007.
Researchers analysed hospital admissions for all heart attacks among over-18s in England between July 2002 and September 2008.
Publishing their findings in the British Medical Journal, they revealed that the number of emergency admissions for heart attacks fell by 2.4 per cent, resulting in 1,200 fewer heart attacks during the first year of the legislation.
A reduction was seen for both men and women over the age of 60, but not for younger women.
The findings suggest that even in England - where levels of secondhand smoke exposure were already lower than in many countries thanks to the high number of smoke-free public places and workplaces before the ban - the legislation has had a significant beneficial effect on people's health.
First author Dr Michelle Sims, who is a research officer in the University of Bath's School for Health and the UK Centre for Tobacco Control Studies, confirmed: "After the implementation of smoke-free legislation there was a statistically significant drop of 2.4 per cent in the number of emergency admissions for myocardial infarction.
"This implies that just over 1,200 emergency admissions for myocardial infarction were prevented over a 12-month period."
Recently-published research suggests that non-smokers who are exposed to secondhand smoke may have a similar risk of coronary heart disease to that found in light smokers.
Lead researcher Dr Anna Gilmore, director of the Tobacco Control Research Group, said that the study provides "further evidence" of the benefits of smoke-free legislation.
She observed: "Given the large number of heart attacks in this country each year, even a relatively small reduction has important public health benefits."
Betty McBride, director of policy and communications at the British Heart Foundation, commented that banning smoking in public places was "absolutely" the right thing to do.
"Government should see this as a green light for further life-saving measures - going beyond the forthcoming ban on vending machines - to crack down on illegal tobacco smuggling and introducing plain packaging on cigarette boxes," she claimed.
Robin Hewings, Cancer Research UK's tobacco control manager, said: "This study shows how smoke-free legislation helped to improve people's health soon after it started - one of the reasons why 80 per cent of people back it.
"What's also great news is that recent research shows that following the law's introduction, fewer and fewer people are smoking in their own homes. This protects their families and children from the many health problems caused by secondhand smoke.
"We look forward to the new regulations putting tobacco out of sight at the point of sale and getting rid of cigarette vending machines. These new measures will help protect young people from tobacco marketing and remove easy access to cigarettes."