When smoking is banned in bars and workplaces, the number of people who suffer heart attacks and die drops within months, according to two new studies.
They found benefits not only in saving lives, but in lowering the cost of medical care for heart attacks, stroke and other smoking-related illnesses. It's the best evidence yet demonstrating big, swift health improvements when secondhand smoke is banished.
"We should now accept this as fact," says Richard Hurt, a professor of medicine at the Mayo Clinic who led one of the studies. Tobacco industry arguments that secondhand smoke isn't a major risk factor for heart disease, he says, are "just nonsense," because the only risk factor that changed in those 18 months was secondhand smoke. People's cholesterol and blood pressure stayed the same, and obesity rates increased.
And the man who invented this fraudulent field of pseudoscience is on hand for a comment of his own:
"It's just a gigantic effect," says Stanton Glantz, director of the Center for Tobacco Control Research and Education at UCSF, and a leader on the study. "There's nothing else you can do that's going to have that big an effect that fast."
Forgive my scepticism, Stanton, it's just that every time hospital admissions data are publicly available, they show these 'heart miracle' studies to be castles made of sand.
The latest effort focuses on Olmstead County, Minnesota, where the heart attack rate fell by 33 per cent between 2001 and 2009. All the ingredients of a heart miracle scam are in place.
Yes, these—ahem—'findings' were published by press release a year ago.
Yes, it's another small locality.
Yes, there's no control group to compare it to.
Yes, the timeframe studied is peculiar (the smoking ban was enacted in 2007).
Yes, heart attack rates have been falling all around the world with or without smoking bans (in the UK, for example, the heart attack rate fell by 50 per cent between 2002 and 2010.)
And yes, once again, the hospital admissions data make a mockery of the claim that the smoking ban 'caused' the fall in heart attacks. As Michael Siegel showed yesterday, the heart attack 'plunged' by a similar rate in the rest of Minnesota. And today, he has found data which show that the heart attack mortality rate which was falling steeply before the ban and then rose after it. Oh dear.
Thus, it is clear that the observed 33% reduction in heart attacks in Olmsted County during the study period is not attributable to the smoking ban.
Note that even if one looks only at hospital admissions for heart attacks in Minnesota, there was a 23% decline in these admissions between 2001 and 2006 alone (the data is not provided by HCUP past 2006). However, if one extrapolates to the year 2009 based on the secular rate of decline in the 2001-2006 period, the estimated number of hospital admissions for heart attacks in 2009 represents a drop of 34% from 2001.
In other words, in the absence of a smoking ban, heart attack admissions in Olmsted County would have been expected to drop by 34%. In the presence of the smoking ban, heart attack rates dropped by 33%.
Thus, it appears that the observed decline in heart attacks in Olmsted County is roughly representative of the overall trend in heart attacks in the state as a whole. In this light, the present study hardly supports a conclusion that the Olmsted County smoking bans produced a 33% decline in heart attacks.
If these are "definitive" results, I'd hate to see what "tentative" results look like.
Quite. Frankly, this is getting boring. It's the same crude trick again and again. Stop it.