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Secondhand smoke kills

Rosemary Ellis from the NYT, talks about the town of Helena, Montana, where dramatic effects were seen on health when smoking was banned in public places and then reintroduced.

First a note on Rudolphs recent visit to Ireland – who are about to ban smoking in all public places, and also have the highest incidence of heart disease in Europe.

Six months into New York City’s smoke-free ordinance, there has been a spate of criticism about the wisdom of sticking by such a ban. The most notable came in a roundabout swipe from none other than former Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, who declared during a trip to Ireland last month that Irish citizens should have the choice to smoke in public places. (Giuliani later tried to distance himself from his comments.)

Then this staggering figure:

The study showed two trends. First, there was no change in heart attack rates for patients who lived outside city limits. But for city residents, the rates plummeted by 58 percent in only six months.

‘‘We know from longer-term studies that the effects of secondhand smoke occur within minutes, and that long-term exposure to secondhand smoke is associated with a 30 percent increased risk in heart-attack rates,’’ says Stanton Glantz, a professor of medicine who conducted the study’s statistical analysis. ‘‘But it was quite stunning to document this large an effect so quickly.’’

And like Ireland, pressure was put on by the Vintners:

It was also stunning to witness what happened next. The Montana state legislature, under pressure from the Montana Tavern Association and tobacco lobbyists, rescinded the ban in December. As a result, heart-attack rates bounced back up almost as quickly as they dropped.

And I work in bars too, by the way…

The bottom line of Helena’s plummeting then soaring heart attack rate is painfully obvious: Secondhand smoke kills. Only 30 minutes of exposure to it causes platelets in the bloodstream to become stickier. When that happens, blood clots form more easily, which can block arteries and cause heart attacks.

Dr. Richard Sargent, one of the study’s authors, points out that eight hours of working in a smoky bar is equivalent to smoking a pack of cigarettes a day. In such an environment, other studies have shown, workers more than double their chances of developing cancer and asthma, and pregnant workers put themselves at risk for miscarriage and premature delivery.

All of which make Giuliani’s comments particularly ill informed. And although the tobacco lobby continues to finance a campaign claiming that New Yorkers are unhappy with the ban, a poll released this month by Quinnipiac University in Hamden, Connecticut, reported that 59 percent of voters in the state favor prohibiting smoking in public places. Another survey, commissioned in August by anti-smoking groups, found that 70 percent of New York City voters support it.Smoking in public places also sets off an enormous domino effect in public-health spending by creating or worsening illnesses whose treatment costs are eventually shouldered by taxpayers.

For all of these reasons, New Yorkers can’t afford to be as easily defeated as the citizens of Helena – nor as easily manipulated by the tobacco lobby and the politicians who are in its pocket.

Ban smoking in public places, everywhere.

2 thoughts on “Secondhand smoke kills”

  1. Good news! A huge new study indicates that smoking bans are not necessary to protect public health after all.

    Press Release

    For Immediate Release: December 5 , 2005

    Do Smoking Bans cause a 27 to 40% drop in admissions for myocardial infarction in hospitals?
    December 5, 2005

    Antismokers claim that studies have shown that bans bring about an immediate and drastic decrease in heart attacks among nonsmokers exposed to smoke at work.

    This claim was never true to begin with – the cited studies never separated and analyzed nonsmokers as a separate group – and it has now been pointed out in the pages of the BMJ that even the claim of saving lives among the combined population of smokers and nonsmokers might be worthless.

    While many making that claim may have believed their information to be accurate, it is now obvious that its basis has been thrown strongly into question. As Jacob Sullum noted in a December 1st reaction to the announcement, “An effect this dramatic (i.e. an immediate and pronounced drop of hospital admissions for heart attacks) should have been noticed all over the country…”

    Just a week before the Chicago Aldermen were due to vote on a citywide smoking ban, two independent researchers working together, David W. Kuneman and Michael J. McFadden, unveiled a new study covering a population base roughly 1,000 times as large as the previous town-based studies. The new study indicates strongly that rather than a 30% decrease in heart attacks, statewide smoking bans seem to have literally NO EFFECT AT ALL on heart attack rates. Incredibly the data even indicates that California’s statewide heart attack rate went UP by 6% in the first full year of their total smoking ban!

    The data for the study and the basis of its design have been backed up and expanded by well-known antismoking researcher Michael Siegel who has come out in support of the researchers’ approach as providing “compelling evidence that brings into question the conclusion that smoking bans have an immediate and drastic effect on heart attack incidence.” His observation is echoed by researcher Kuneman who asks, “Ever wonder why you didn’t hear about post ban heart attack declines in New York City? Or in Minneapolis or Los Angeles? Now you know!”

    On December 4th the British Medical Journal entered the fray with the online publication of a Rapid Response by Mr. McFadden outlining the new research and posing sharp criticisms of the earlier studies and of the refusal of the authors of those studies to respond to previous criticisms and questions. McFadden points out that the data in the Kuneman/McFadden study are fully open for public examination and far less selective than the data in the earlier studies and notes with pride that he and his co-researcher have been quick to respond to all queries posted about their methodology on Dr. Siegel’s web blog.

    He also poses the wider ranging question of whether studies commissioned by the “Antismoking Industry” should begin to receive the same cautious reception accorded those commissioned by “Big Tobacco.” The current study, as well as an earlier one by the duo, were unfunded and neither researcher receives grants for their work from either interest group. Kuneman sharply asks the question, “Why the difference between the studies? For one thing we weren’t dependent on antismoking-targeted grants!”

    At this point there appears to be very little, if any, real scientific support for the claim that protecting nonsmokers from normal levels of exposure to secondary smoke prevents any heart attacks. And it is this claim that has always provided the impressive numbers upon which ban advocates have pressed legislators to pass smoking bans.

    Without those numbers proponents of extreme bans are left with little other than the widely discredited EPA figures relating ETS to lung cancer and a few isolated instances of hospitality workers who have come to believe that their own cancers were caused by working in smoking establishments. Samantha Phillipe, editor of the longstanding newsletter, notes that while it’s always a cause for sadness when someone becomes ill that it’s even more sad when they are misguidedly advised to blame family and friends for their illness.

    Without a compelling body of scientific evidence backing them up, smoking bans are an unnecessary and overbearing intrusion of government into the spheres of free choice, private property and free enterprise. And the Kuneman/McFadden study points up just how uncompelling even some of the strongest and most publicised evidence actually is.


    1) Article: A Preliminary Study

    2) Mike Siegel’s blog analysis and follow up comments:

    3) BMJ Response: Helena 1000 Days

    4) Jacob Sullum’s REASON column: Hit and Run

    Michael J. McFadden
    Author of “Dissecting Antismokers’ Brains”
    Mid-Atlantic Regional Director of
    web page:

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