Whose Life Is a Smoking Ban Saving?
In 2004, a report was released which claimed that a smoking ban in Montana had resulted in an almost immediate 40 percent reduction of admissions to hospital for acute heart attacks. The report led to a surge in research on the impact of smoking bans in a selection of countries and communities. It’s thought that this effect on hospital admissions and deaths, from heart attacks, range from 47 percent to 6 percent, with larger studies showing a smaller effect. Smoking bans could be reducing heart attacks and heart disease in two major ways – either by inducing current smokers to give up entirely or by reducing the exposure of non-smokers to passive smoking. Over 40 years of research on heart disease has shown that giving up has an incredibly strong effect, but there is very little effect on the latter in terms of how it affects people. With this in mind it is strange that so many advertisers play up the fact that eliminating exposure to environmental smoking in public places could save lives.
Heart disease has been the leading cause of death in the US for more than 70 years, with researchers constantly trying to find new ways to combat the various risk factors for the disease. What all of these studies show is that the most common risk factors for heart disease include smoking, obesity, high blood pressure, level of physical activity, alcohol intake and psychological factors. Those who currently smoke have roughly a two-fold risk of developing heart disease, compared to those who never smoke. This shows that giving up smoking could significantly affect how low your risk is with regards to this disease, not to mention the effect it has on other areas of your health as well.
In contrast to research which previously looked at the causes of heart disease, studies of smoking bans usually compare hospital admissions for heart attacks before and after a smoking ban. But these studies don’t take into account the defined populations nor do they look at information on individuals. Most of these studies are limited to short-term periods preceding and following the ban. Because of this, they are unable to highlight whether a reduction of hospital admissions can be connected to measurable reductions in the exposure to tobacco smoke, or other factors. For this reason, there is a lack of connection between the best research on predicting heart disease and the much weaker body of evidence which looks at the effect of smoking bans on our health. The latter of these is suggested by health authorities that there is a substantial effect of a ban on the health of the public, but this simply isn’t founded in research. Of course, this isn’t to say there is no benefit to a smoking ban – it does, at the very least, limit the amount of smoke each smoker inhales. But it would be difficult to gauge the magnitude of the effect and the mechanism responsible for the reduction of heart disease rates.
Anything which discourages smoking is great news, but health authorities should be careful in how they word their so-called evidence – furthermore, people should be better educated on the effects of bans on their health, so as not to be bought into by clever wording and unsubstantiated evidence. Smoking is a dangerous activity and takes it’s toll on your health in a variety of ways, from cancers to stroke, so giving up is always the better option. But to what extent it helps those around you is yet to be discovered, and will be difficult to decipher.