NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Do Smoking Bans Reduce Heart Attacks?

April 7, 2011

Since 2003, when activists began claiming that smoking bans immediately reduce heart attacks by as much as 47 percent, they have faced two serious credibility problems, says Jacob Sullum, a senior editor at Reason Magazine.

  • First, based on what we know about heart disease rates in current and former smokers, such effects are wildly implausible.
  • Second, given the large number of jurisdictions with smoking bans, it is easy to create a misleading impression by focusing on the places where heart attacks happen to fall.

Judging from the first nationwide study of the question, that is exactly what ban boosters have done.

  • "In contrast with smaller regional studies," write RAND Corporation researcher Kanaka Shetty and three coauthors, "we find that smoking bans are not associated with statistically significant short-term declines in mortality or hospital admissions for myocardial infarction [heart attack] or other diseases."
  • In fact, "An analysis simulating smaller studies using subsamples reveals that large short-term increases in myocardial infarction incidence following a smoking ban are as common as the large decreases reported in the published literature."

In other words, although heart attacks do decline in some places with smoking bans, there are just as many places where they rise.  On average, the difference between jurisdictions with smoking bans and jurisdictions without smoking bans is essentially zero, says Sullum.

Source: Jacob Sullum, "Myocardial Infractions: Smoking Bans and Heart Attacks," Reason Magazine, April 2011.

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