September 23, 2009 The Pump Handle 6Comment

Bans on smoking in restaurants and other public places don’t just make nonsmokers’ working and dining experiences more enjoyable, they also protect our health. Reducing exposure to secondhand tobacco smoke reduces the risk of heart attacks – and the places that have enacted bans are finding that the health improvements are significant. Two new studies that pool results from several communities that enacted such bans found that a year after the bans took effect, heart attack rates were at least 17% lower.

The Wall Street Journal’s Ron Winslow describes the studies and their limitations, and he also highlights one particularly noteworthy case study:

One physician who has seen first-hand the effects of second-hand smoke on heart attack rates is Richard P. Sargent, a family doctor in Helena. He and some colleagues noticed a sharp drop in heart-attack admissions at the city’s main hospital about three months after a ban against smoking in bars, restaurants and casinos went into effect in June 2002. Then in December of that year, opponents succeeded in getting the ban revoked.

“We performed an ideal experiment,” Dr. Sargent recalls. “We turned [the ban] on, and we watched the heart-attack rate go down. We turned it off and watched it go back up.” The reduction was 40% in absolute terms—102 heart attacks per 100,000 person years after the ban, compared to 170 before the ban. Heart-attack rates rose sharply again after the ban was revoked, he says.

A Montana law has now led to the prohibition of smoking in restaurants throughout the state, and smoking will be banned from the state’s bars later this year. Seventeen states, plus DC and more than 350 other US jurisdictions, ban smoking in restaurants, bars, and other workplaces. Perhaps the accumulating evidence of the public health benefits of such bans will spur prohibitions in more locations, or even in the country as a whole.

6 thoughts on “Evidence that Smoking Bans Work

  1. That’s really intresting. Probably about as good evidence as you can get of a public health intervention, I suppose.

    Could that be a circannual effect though, in the Helena example?

  2. I am sorry to smokers but I should say that smoking on public places should be banned. I have heard many lectures said that even if you don’t smoke and yet you can smell the smoke of others there is no difference between you and the smoker. Love this post!

  3. Dear fellow libertarians,

    If there is one thing that we all ought to realize when talking about rights, it is this


    For example, what would you say to smokers, who have children, smoking in their own private homes? Now that isn’t forbidden by law. And yet, one cannot help wonder how to balance the parent’s right to smoke with the child’s right to avoid second-hand smoke? Of-course, the child may not always complain and even take to early smoking. Now if nobody is complaining, there is no argument from rights, no question of conflict of rights but for the child’s health which could have been far better in a healthier environment – you see the point, don’t you?

    We have to choose the right balance between opposing rights of different people keeping the larger picture in perspective – by trying to identify which things are gratuitous and which absolutely important (good health, for example).

  4. Smoking bans are going to impact the health and wellbeing of people everywhere. This is particularly relevant within the occupational sphere with less and less employers choosing to hire smokers.

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