BERKELEY, CA - A major report released today by the Institute of Medicine (IOM) concludes that smokefree laws reduce heart attacks. After one year of thorough and rigorous review by experts in public health and cardiovascular disease, this report, Secondhand Smoke Exposure and Cardiovascular Effects: Making Sense of the Evidence, affirms studies from around the world which reported dramatic reductions (ranging from 6%-47%) in heart attacks once smokefree laws are in place.
Secondhand smoke exposure alone is estimated to cause between 38,100 and 128,900 heart attacks each year ("Coronary heart disease attributable to passive smoking: CHD policy model," American Journal of Preventive Medicine 36(1): 13-20, January 2009).
"This report confirms the research from around the world on the immediate and powerful impact of strong, 100% smokefree regulations. Bottom line: Smokefree laws save lives - not in the distant future, but within the first year of enactment," said Cynthia Hallett, Executive Director of Americans for Nonsmokers' Rights, "There are no more excuses for leaving any workers behind. It's time to close the gaps in smokefree protections because all workers deserve protection from toxic secondhand smoke."
The Study that Sparked the Discussion
The first study to find dramatic declines in heart attack rates was conducted in Helena, Montana. Study authors, Dr. Richard Sargent and Dr. Robert Shepard measured numbers of heart attacks before and after a local smokefree workplace law took effect. Helena's smokefree law was put in place for several months, and then suspended. This gave the doctors an opportunity to measure heart attack rates before the law took effect, while workplaces were smokefree, and then, when workplaces were again filled with smoke. What they found sent a shockwave through the medical community.
In Helena, heart attack rates dropped by 40% while the smokefree law was in place, but increased again once smoking was allowed back in workplaces. The study gained worldwide attention and results were replicated in cities and states worldwide. Based on the results from the Helena study and others, the Centers for Disease Control issued a warning that people at risk of heart disease should avoid exposure to secondhand smoke.
The Protected vs. the Unprotected
While 19 states have strong smokefree laws covering all workplaces, including restaurants, bars and casinos, nearly 59% of the US population still remains unprotected by a law covering all these venues.
Additional states have laws in place that do only half the job, and leave certain workers exposed and at risk. Nevada's law, for example, exempts casino floors which leaves casino workers exposed to some of the highest reported levels of secondhand smoke. "Why are casino workers left out of the law?" asks Terrie Price, a former Vegas casino worker fired from her job after complaining about the smoke. "Casino workers deserve smokefree air too. The air in casinos is toxic and now we know it's leading to heart attacks. It makes no sense to put casino workers and gamblers at such high risk", Price added.
The IOM study released today reaffirms that 360 cities and 19 states have already done the right thing by passing strong laws to make all workplaces and public places 100% smokefree. Eliminating secondhand smoke exposure not only reduces heart attacks, but leads to reduced risks of asthma, other lung disease, and cancers. According to Hallett, "Passing a smokefree law with no exemptions may be the single greatest way to prevent heart attacks and improve health. What are you waiting for?"
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