In each of the 4 years since state legislators banned smoking in restaurants, bars and many workplaces, nearly 600 fewer Massachusetts residents died from heart attacks, according to a report from the state Department of Public Health and the Harvard School of Public Health.
That represents a 30% decline in heart attack deaths, a significant acceleration that was easy to spot amid a gentler, long-term decline reflecting national trends. Officials noted that Boston and surrounding municipalities, which had enacted bans prior to 2004, experienced the steep decline before other areas in the state.
The report explored other possible causes for the drop-off such as improved transportation of heart attack victims to hospitals, medical record coding changes and demographic changes, but there was no evidence they played a role.
“This is the strongest study yet of the effect of smoking bans on heart attacks,” Dr. Michael Siegel told the Boston Globe. Siegel, who had criticized earlier studies of the matter, is an expert on tobacco control programs. “You can no longer argue that these declines would have occurred simply due to medical treatment.”
The findings should impact the debate over secondhand smoke, in which tobacco and hospitality industry lobbyists argue that available data does not support workplace tobacco bans.
It should also further empower the Boston Public Health Commission which had tentatively approved several muscular tobacco control regulations such as ending cigarette sales on college campuses and at drug stores, and closing cigar parlors and hookah bars.
Scientists have known for years that secondhand smoke can adversely affect the cardiovascular system, even if exposure is brief. In particular, such exposure triggers coronary artery spasm, damages coronary artery endothelial cells, and increases the risk of blood clots, all of which can trigger heart attacks.