Smoke-Free Laws Are Saving Lives

You can't smoke in most restaurants and malls, and those laws may be responsible for saving thousands of lives.

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You can’t smoke in most restaurants and malls, and those laws may be responsible for saving thousands of lives.

According to two separate studies, recent laws that limit smoking in public places are contributing to fewer tobacco-related hospital visits and deaths. In 2009 the Institute of Medicine concluded that smoking bans contributed to fewer heart problems in areas where the policies were implemented, but the panel was unable to determine how much benefit the laws provided. The new research provides some objective improvements in lower heart attack rates and adds to a growing body of evidence for the tangible health effects of stricter smoke-free laws across the USA and all around the world.

Since 2000, more than half of U.S. states have enacted laws to restrict indoor smoking, and new smoke-free policies have taken hold in countries such as  Germany, Bhutan, and Vietnam. Although these regulations are relatively new, researchers are eager to document what effect they have on health; with strong data, public health experts hope that more smoke-free policies will be considered in countries where smoking-related deaths continue to cost nations in health and productivity.

(MORE: Can Asia Kick the Habit?)

For one of the two new studies, published in Archives of Internal Medicine, scientists at Minnesota’s Mayo Clinic  analyzed effects of smoke-free laws that were introduced in Olmstead County, MN, over the past ten years. Most of the county’s more than 144,000 residents receive health care from the Mayo Clinic, allowing the researchers to obtain consent to track heart-related health outcomes. In 2002, Olmstead County required restaurants to be smoke-free, and a few years later passed even stricter anti-smoking laws, mandating that all workplaces, including bars, become smoke-free in 2007. When they compared the 18-month period before the restaurant ban to the 18-month period directly afterward, the researchers found a per-capita drop of 33% in the number of heart attacks in the county, and a 17% drop in the number of sudden cardiac deaths. The decline occured at the same time that rates of hypertension, diabetes and other heart-disease risk factors either remained constant or increased, suggesting that the effect was primarily attributable to the more rigid smoke-free laws. The study’s authors also adjusted for the effect of other community anti-smoking efforts, and the drop in heart attacks remained strongly tied to the new policies.

In the second study, published in the journal Circulation, researchers at the University of California, San Fransisco (UCSF) took a different tack. They analyzed the combined the results of 45 previous studies that focused on 33 different smoke-free laws worldwide and their impact on health.

(MORE: How Second-Hand Cigarette Smoke Changes Your Genes)

Like the study in Olmstead County, the UCSF meta-analysis showed a clear health benefit for regions that go smoke-free. Areas that restrict public smoking saw a prompt and sustained decline in both hospital admissions and deaths from a variety of causes related to smoking, including heart disease, stroke, and many lung conditions. In these regions, the UCSF researchers showed an average decline in heart attack hospitalizations of 15% — less than the Mayo Clinic study, but, the California authors note, their analysis took an average of hospitalizations; some regions may have benefited from far fewer health effects attributable to smoking, while others saw slighltly less benefit.

“All people should avoid secondhand smoke to the extent possible, and people with coronary heart disease should have no exposure to secondhand smoke,” the authors of the Mayo Clinic study wrote, noting that many of the heart-related health problems of smoking occur in non-smokers who are exposed to second-hand smoke. They say that their data should support continued expansion of smoke-free laws.

(MORE: Smoking Ban? The French Light Up Again in Public)

Stanton Glantz, director of the Center for Tobacco Control Research and Education at UCSF and the senior study author on the Circulation paper, has argued previously that smoke-free laws work to improve health not only because they  protect non-smokers from harmful health effects of secondhand smoke, but they also protect smokers, by discouraging them from smoking as much, or even encouraging them to quit.

Despite the growing evidence supporting their health benefits, however, critics of the laws argue that smoking bans limit the freedom of smokers to choose when and where they smoke. Smoke-free advocates often argue, in response, that restrictions are needed to protect the rights of non-smokers to remain tobacco-free — and to protect the freedom of workers in bars and restaurants to avoid the potential health fall-out from their customers’ risky habits. The new evidence isn’t likely to settle this thorny debate over personal freedoms, but, the authors hope, the results may sway more lawmakers to take the negative health effects of smoking more seriously in protecting public health. Heart disease remains the country’s leading killer, and a policy that limits its toll can be hard to ignore.

18 comments
charlesthemagician@comcast.net
charlesthemagician@comcast.net

There are certainly a lot of claims being made of benefits from Smoking Bans.  How much challenge and inquiry has been applied to these claims????  There were phenomenal claims made about the improvement of Health after the Helena Smoking Ban.  Closer inquiry, however, debunked the whole argument.     The results are available on line.  Who are promoting the claims ???  The reporting of these claims, as far as I know have still to receive challenge, or  perhaps they have been challenged , but no one is reporting the inquiry.  We have been conditioned to accept positively what ever we are told, and little or no debate on the subject is reported.  In this climate of acceptance, I believe there is a great fertile ground for the growth of Misinformation.  We should often ask ourselves, "Are well informed about this, or are we greatly misinformed".

joshstrike
joshstrike

So just because you, or your friends, or people you like to nag don't have the "will power" to quit smoking means there should be a law to ban it? Listen, I realize most of you people never learned to think critically or to understand reason - but try to understand this: If *some people lacking self-control over something* is a reason to pass a law against it, then EVERYTHING will be banned, because there is always SOMEBODY who can't stop herself from eating, from dieting, smoking, drinking, or even laughing too loudly in public. In nova scotia they banned perfume under the same rubric. In Queensland, Australia, you can now have your car impounded and crushed for squealing your tires - even if it was an accident.

Do you not see that if you start banning things because some people can't control themselves, we will all end up miserable and forced to live in sterile little boxes?

PatElgee
PatElgee

Some countries keep raising the age to buy cigarettes.  This year, 18, next year 19 would work, 20,21,22,23,24.  That is smart. 

This industry has become rich and  powerful on the graves of others.  Most older smokers wish they never started.  I am Italian with thalasemia, (Blacks get sickle cell anemia; Italians thalasemia).  Spending a weekend with smokers can drop my blood levels to half.            I would rather be where someone loaded his drawers, than in the same place with smokers.   Sorry for the crude image. . . .  

Will power does not come easy for any of us, but continuously raising the age to buy cigarettes would prevent others from getting hooked, while leaving those already addicted to their misery.  

PattiStamper
PattiStamper

After years and years of smoking I finally quit.  The college I was attending instituted a campus wide smoking ban.  Since parking was at a premium and smoking had gotten to be a huge hassle, I fnally just gave it up.  I've been smoke free for almost two years, without the ban I know I would not have quit.  Not once have I said to myself, gee, I wish I still smoked.  My health has improved, I no longer cough my lungs out and I've save thousands of dollars.  So, yes, these bans save lives and money.

KenC
KenC

If only we could coerce a healthy diet and exercise program for all Americans, we could have a nation of non-smoking, goose-stepping, lettuce-eating plebes.

That would be paradise.

ErnieChiasson
ErnieChiasson

this is all bull , I just quit and it had nothing to do with the laws!! I am a 40 year smoker to. We all want to quit, But the goverment continues to let the tabaco companies add chemicals that make it next to imposible to quit, Do some research and talk to smokers that have tried to quit. This life and death thing to try to make people quit is bull also. Also remeber all these taxes they are collecting pays for all your roads Etc, what happens when all the smokers are gone who are they going to tax next lol 

johnnyrenonv
johnnyrenonv

Horse malarky.  Fewer people are going to the doctor because the cigarettes are healthier!

joshstrike
joshstrike

Yeah, ever since Hitler enacted the first modern smoking ban, governments have been finding it a great way to criminalize part of their population. Banning smoking on private property also has the added benefit of shutting down cafes, bars and other places where people congregate to talk with each other, forcing them to stay in their homes instead and get more of their opinions from television. Anti-smokers, scolds and teetotalers, who were never part of the cafe culture and always hated it, now get to see it completely destroyed in the name of "public health" - another concept favored by National Socialism, by the way, as a means to curtail individual rights.

SteveInIndy
SteveInIndy

And in related news, totalitarianism works. Just give up your soul and you too can live a few weeks longer.

hans
hans

@ErnieChiasson False.  The healthcare costs to the US government associated with smoking/tobacco use are greater than the amount of taxes paid for cigarettes and other tobacco products.  

JuliaWebb
JuliaWebb

Where do you get your facts?  Tobacco healthier?  I work in a hospital with people that have smoking related diseases and they are coming in by the droves at ever younger ages.  They are losing their lives at younger ages, too. 

johnnyrenonv
johnnyrenonv

Funny... I always compared businesses with public smoking to the gas chambers Hitler used.

SteveInIndy
SteveInIndy

@johnnyrenonv Nobody made you enter a business where smoking was allowed. Hitler, on the other hand, didn't allow choice any more than the anti-smoking zealots do today.

joshstrike
joshstrike

@johnnyrenonv That's a typical, meaningless non-argument from a prohibitionist. If you didn't like smoke, at least you had free will and could choose to spend your money elsewhere. And business owners had the right to choose for themselves. Maybe you want to live in a society where your idea of what other people should do is enforced on them by law, but if we lived in a society like that EVERYTHING would be banned because there is always some jerk who doesn't like something you're doing. Anti-smokers always seem willing to throw out the principle of "live and let live". It's no wonder that many of the people you've tried to criminalize and kicked out into the street are angry at you, and wish for you to suffer something that will take away your rights in the same way you've taken away ours. That's why we love to see new laws telling you what you can eat and drink, or that use eminent domain to take away your property - not because we support that, but because you deserve it for being so short-sighted and thinking you could set a system in motion that would deprive people of their rights to property and free choice, and that it wouldn't eventually come back to bite you.

JuliaWebb
JuliaWebb

Hitler Schmitler.  What are you talking about?  He decimated the Jews, not the smokers.  Anyway, the driving force behind the smoke free bar and restaurant bans is to protect the employees who have to work in a smoke filled room for 8 or more hours in order to earn a living.  Do you think a waitress should put her life on the line just to earn a tip?  That is what they were doing.  It is about smoke free work places.  Although it does not cover all work places comprehensively, it at least addresses some hot spots.  This has nothing to do with smokers rights.  All  you have to do is eat, pay the bill and leave to go smoke.  The workers can't leave.  No one has said you can't smoke.