- The more stringent the laws, the better the health benefits, American researchers found
- Hospital admissions for heart attacks fell by 15%, strokes by 16% and those for respiratory diseases such as asthma by 24%
Smoking bans dramatically reduce the number of people hospitalised for heart attacks, stroke and respiratory diseases such as asthma and emphysema, new research has shown.
In the largest analysis of smoke-free legislation to date, American researchers found the more stringent the laws, including those for workplaces, restaurants and bars, resulted in the highest health benefits.
The research, published in the American Heart Association journal Circulation, analysed 45 studies covering the US and other countries such as New Zealand and Germany.
It found heart attack hospitalisations declined by an average of 15 per cent after communities passed laws banning smoking in areas such as restaurants, bars and workplaces.
Admissions for strokes declined by 16 per cent, while hospitalisations for respiratory diseases such as asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, were rapidly followed by a 24 per cent decrease in hospitalisation.
Exposure to cigarette smoke induces rapid changes in blood chemistry, making it much more prone to clotting.
In someone who has narrowed or damaged coronary arteries, smoke exposure can tip the balance and cause a heart attack.
The findings are consistent with other studies that have found smoking bans are linked with a decline in cardiac problems.
Department of Health figures found the number of heart attacks in England plummeted by 10 per cent in the year after the ban was imposed in July 2007.
A similar drop was also recorded in Scotland where another study discovered a 14 per cent decrease in the year after the ban was introduced there.
Around 114,000 people die every year from smoking-related diseases.
But while many link smoking to lung cancer, the connection between it and heart attacks is less well known. About 275,000 people suffer heart attacks in Britain each year, with 146,000 of those dying.
Commenting on the research, Maureen Talbot, senior cardiac nurse at the British Heart Foundation (BHF), said: ‘The risks of passive smoking on our health are well known and this is the reason smoking legislation was introduced throughout the UK in 2007.
‘Restrictions on smoking in public can help smokers to cut down or quit as well as reducing our exposure to second hand smoke.
‘This study provides encouraging data about the benefits of a smoke-free environment on our heart health and shows that the right decision was made five years ago.
‘If we want this downward trend to continue, policy makers should introduce further measures to reduce the appeal of smoking, such as plain, standardised packaging for tobacco.’