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A single change in municipal law can cut the heart attack rate by 17 percent, according to research at the University of California–San Francisco. Since about 200,000 people die in the U.S. each year from heart attacks and strokes, this legal shift could save millions in healthcare costs.
The law that saves lives: a ban on smoking.
One year after smoking in public places was banned, North American and European communities had 17 percent fewer heart attacks compared to communities without smoking restrictions. Plus, the number of heart attacks in these towns keeps decreasing every year.
A meta-analysis of 13 studies, in which researchers examined changes in heart attack rates after smoking bans were enacted, shows that heart attack rates started to drop immediately following implementation of the laws. Three years later, there was about a 36 percent drop.
“While we obviously won’t bring heart attack rates to zero, these findings give us evidence that in the short- to medium-term, smoking bans will prevent a lot of heart attacks,” says researcher James M. Lightwood. “The studies on this issue now have long enough follow-up periods so that we can see exactly how big the effect is.”
“It is important to move forward now with widespread implementation of smoke-free laws,” says David Goff, a professor at Wake Forest University School of Medicine in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. “At a time of great concern over the financial sustainability of our healthcare system, smoke free laws represent an inexpensive approach to reducing heart attacks, and, probably, other cardiovascular conditions.”