Secondhand Smoke Bans Improving Heart Health

Janice Simmons, for HealthLeaders Media , October 19, 2009

Efforts to ban smoking in public places and eliminate secondhand smoke are making an impact in reducing heart disease among nonsmokers as well as smokers, a new study from the Institute of Medicine (IOM) finds.

"It's clear that smoking bans work," said Lynn Goldman, MD, professor of environmental health sciences at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, Baltimore, and chair of the committee of experts that prepared the report.

Additional research is needed on how secondhand smoke—also known as environmental tobacco smoke—produces toxic effects, Goldman said. "However, there is no question that smoking bans have a positive health effect."

Approximately 43% of nonsmoking children and 37% of nonsmoking adults are exposed to secondhand smoke nationwide, according to public health data. However, despite reductions in the rate of individuals breathing environmental tobacco smoke over the past several years, an estimated 126 million nonsmokers were still being exposed in 2000.

A 2006 report from the U.S. Surgeon General's office had concluded that exposure to secondhand smoke can cause heart disease. It had indicated that moving toward smoke free policies would be the most economical and effective way to reduce exposure. However, the actual effectiveness of smoking bans to reduce heart problems was less clear cut.

Based on its research with 11 key studies, the IOM committee concluded that it is "biologically plausible" to have a relatively brief exposure to secondhand smoke "to cause an acute coronary event."

The IOM report was requested by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the light of a growing number of studies in smoke free localities, states, and countries that found reductions in heart attack rates after smoke free laws were implemented.

Currently, 27 states, plus Washington, DC, and Puerto Rico, have passed smoke free laws that cover restaurants and bars.

Janice Simmons is a senior editor and Washington, DC, correspondent for HealthLeaders Media Online. She can be reached at

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