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Smoke-Free Workplaces Boost Employee Wellness

A Minnesota study confirms growing consensus that smoking bans reduce heart attacks.

Cigarette being put out-- by Suzanne Boothby

The Gist

Heart disease is still the #1 killer in our country, but as a new study shows, more public smoking bans could help prevent more heart attacks. The study, published online in the Archives of Internal Medicinea JAMA Network publication, showed a decline in the incidence of myocardial infarction (MI, heart attack) associated with the implementation of smoke-free workplace laws.

The news adds more clout to a growing body of evidence linking the relationship of secondhand smoke to heart disease.

In North Carolina, emergency rooms have seen a decline in people experiencing heart attacks by 21 percent since the Smoke-Free Restaurants and Bars Law went into effect, according to a report to the North Carolina State Health Director.

A 2010 U.S. Surgeon General’s report found that chemicals in tobacco smoke raise blood pressure, narrow blood vessels, and help trigger heart attacks.

The risk is not just for smokers. The effects are almost as large when it comes to secondhand smoke. A 2009 report from the Institute of Medicine found a 25 to 30 percent increase in the risk of coronary heart disease from exposure to secondhand smoke. 

The Expert Take

“We report a substantial decline in the incidence of MI from 18 months before the smoke-free restaurant law was implemented to 18 months after the comprehensive smoke-free workplace law was implemented five years later,” Richard D. Hurt, M.D., and colleagues at the Mayo Clinic, in Rochester, Minnesota wrote.

Other experts believe expansion of smoking bans will continue to improve our health.

“Moving forward, we should prioritize the enforcement of smoke-free policies, eliminating loopholes in existing policies as well as encouraging expansion of smoke-free policies to include multiunit housing, motor vehicles, casinos, and outdoor locations,” wrote Sara Kalkhoran, M.D., and Pamela M. Ling, M.D., M.P.H., of the University of California, San Francisco, in invited commentary for the study. “All workers, including those of lower income and those in the service and hospitality industries, should have equal protection from secondhand smoke exposure."

Source and Method

In the current study, scientists evaluated the incidence of MI and sudden cardiac death in Olmstead County, Minn. during an 18-month period before and after smoke-free ordinances were enacted. In 2002, a smoke-free restaurant ordinance was implemented in the region and, in 2007, all workplaces, including bars, became completely smoke-free.

Heart attacks (MI) went down by 33 percent from about 150.8 to 100.7 per 100,000 population, and the incidence of sudden cardiac death declined by 17 percent from 109.1 to 92 per 100,000 population. 

The Takeaway

With only 40 percent of Americans living in areas with comprehensive state or local laws that ban public smoking, tens of thousands of heart attacks could be prevented each year with more smoke-free laws in place.

The researchers concluded that all people should avoid secondhand smoke exposure as much as possible and people with coronary heart disease should have no exposure.

Other Research

A 2009 study found that passage of smoke-free legislation produced rapid and substantial benefits in reduced myocardial infarctions, and that benefits continued to improve with time.

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Tags: Awareness , Latest Studies & Research , Public Health & Policy

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The Healthline Editorial team writes about the latest health news, policy, and research.