A major report by the Institute of Medicine confirms that bans on smoking in public places reduce the risk of heart attacks among nonsmokers.
The report’s concluded that while heavier exposure to secondhand smoke is worse, there’s no safe level. It also cited evidence that even less than an hour’s exposure might be enough to push someone already at risk of a heart attack over the edge.
That’s because within minutes, the smoke’s pollution-like small particles and other substances can start constricting blood vessels and increasing blood’s likelihood to clot, a key heart attack factors. Yet many people don’t know they have heart disease until their first heart attack, making it important for everyone to avoid secondhand smoke.
How much do bans help? That depends on how existing bans were studied and how much secondhand smoke exposure different populations have. Some heavily exposed nonsmokers have the same risk of heart damage as people who smoke up to nine cigarettes a day.
The review evaluated 11 key studies of smoking bans in parts of the U.S., Canada, Italy and Scotland. Those studies found drops in the number of heart attacks that ranged from 6 percent to 47 percent. And the impact can be quick.
Helena, Mont., for example, recorded 16 percent fewer heart attack hospitalizations in the six months after its ban went into effect than in the same months during previous years, while nearby areas that had no smoking ban saw heart attacks rise. More dramatically, heart attack hospitalizations dropped 41 percent in the three years after Pueblo, Colo., banned workplace smoking.