Workplace smoking bans do save lives, according to a new study from researchers at the Mayo Clinic.
A significant number of lives, in fact.
The Mayo researchers found that the incidence of heart attacks and sudden cardiac deaths in Minnesota’s Olmsted County (home to the Mayo Clinic) was cut in half during the past decade after two smoke-free ordinances went into effect.
The study’s findings were presented in Orlando, Fla., Monday at a scientific meeting of the American Heart Association.
For the study, the Mayo researchers used data from the long-running Rochester Epidemiology Project to compare the incidence of heart attacks and sudden cardiac deaths during two periods: the 18 months before Olmstead County’s 2002 ban on smoking in restaurants and the 18 months after the county’s 2007 ban on smoking in all workplaces.
The incidence of heart attacks was 212.3 cases per 100,000 Olmstead County residents before the first smoking ban. That rate dropped to 102.9 per 100,000 after the 2007 ban.
The incidence of sudden cardiac death fell during that same period from 152.5 to 76.6 per 100,000 residents.
Smoking rates also went down during the period of the study — but not enough to account for the incidence drops observed in the study, say its authors.
A confirmation of earlier research
These findings support earlier studies that also found a link, albeit a smaller one, between smoking bans and a decrease in heart attacks. In 2008, for example, a team of researchers reported that heart attack-related admissions to hospitals in Scotland fell by 17 percent in the 12 months that followed a 2006 ban on smoking in that country’s enclosed public places.
Most of that drop, like the one observed in Olmstead County, occurred among non-smokers.
The Mayo study is the first, however, to report a link between smoking bans and a decrease in sudden cardiac deaths.
Zero exposure is best
How does secondhand smoke contribute to heart problems in nonsmokers? The smoke restricts the ability of blood vessels to dilate and makes blood platelets stickier — factors that can lead to the formation of life-threatening blood clots, Dr. Richard Hurt, director of Mayo Clinic’s Nicotine Dependence Center told Pioneer Press reporter Christopher Snowbeck.
Secondhand smoke may also contribute to heart-rhythm problems, the prime cause of sudden cardiac death, Hurt added.
“We’re going to recommend that secondhand smoke be considered a sixth risk factor for coronary disease,” he told Snowbeck. “People should minimize their exposure to secondary smoke, and people with known coronary disease should have no exposure — zero. It’s too dangerous.”
The study was funded by a grant from the nonprofit organization Clearway Minnesota.