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Cardiovascular Health

 

Smoking ban reduces heart attacks

Reported September 14, 2009


Researchers commissioned by the Department of Health found a sharp reduction in the number of hospital admissions for heart attacks in England in the year after the ban on public smoking was imposed in July 2007.

Separate research found an even sharper falls elsewhere in Britain, with a 14 per cent drop in Scotland, where the ban was imposed a year earlier. Another study in Wales is expected to reveal similar results.

The figures come after a Europe-wide study last week named Britain among the worst countries for deaths from heart disease with smoking one of the main causes alongside poor diet and lack of exercise. That report found Britain has some of the highest deaths rates from heart disease among women with only Hungary, Estonia, Slovakia doing worse.

The research into heart attack rates in England is being led by Dr Anna Gilmore, clinical reader in public health at Bath University.

She said: "There is already overwhelming evidence that reducing people's exposure to cigarette smoke reduces hospital admissions due to heart attacks."

Her research is not yet complete and the final results for England will not be published for several months.

However, a study led by Jill Pell, visiting professor of health at Glasgow University, found that after the ban the number admitted to nine Scottish hospitals because of a heart attack fell 14 per cent among smokers, 19 per cent among former smokers, and 21 per cent for those who had never smoked.

John Britton, director of the UK Centre for Tobacco Control Studies at Nottingham University, said: "We always knew a public smoking ban would bring rapid health benefits, but we have been amazed by just how big and how rapid they are."

Ellen Mason, a senior cardiac nurse at the British Heart Foundation, explained why smokers and passive smokers have an increased risk of having a heart attack.

She said: "Exposure to cigarette smoke induces rapid changes in blood chemistry, making it much more prone to clotting. In someone who has narrowed or damaged coronary arteries, smoke exposure can tip the balance and cause a heart attack."

Other western European countries have seen similar falls in heart attack rates after smoking bans. Figures showed France had a 15 per cent drop in emergency admissions for heart attacks after a year, while both Italy and Ireland had an 11 per cent reduction.

In Britain just over one quarter of men and 23 per cent of women smoke compared with the highest rates in Greece for men at 47 per cent and in Germany for women at 31 per cent. This puts Britain about mid-table for smoking.

A spokeswoman for the Department of Health said it could not comment on research that was not yet complete but added: “Smoking is one of the most challenging public health issues we face. Our Smokefree legislation and campaigns are having an impact on driving down smoking.

“Over the coming months, we hope to see continued success in saving smokers' lives.”

The estimates come as the government launches as a powerful new advertising campaign featuring children expressing concern about their parents' smoking.

The campaign is backed by an NHS survey of 1,000 children in England which found 91 per cent of those aged 8-13 do not see smoking as 'cool' and do not expect to try a cigarette.

Gillian Merron, Public Health Minister said: "We understand how difficult it is to stop smoking. I hope this new campaign will give mums and dads the encouragement they need to realise they can do it with help from the NHS, and support from their children.

"You are four times more likely to quit if you use the free NHS stop smoking service. The facts are clear – every week 2,000 people die from smoking-related diseases, which has a devastating effect on children’s lives.”

Meanwhile, magistrates were urged to hand out higher fines to shop owners caught selling cigarettes to children.

Trading standards officers said retailers who break the law are too often given a "slap on the wrist" or a small fine as punishment.

It follows research by LACORS (Local Authorities Coordinators of Regulatory Services) which revealed a third of fines issued to shop owners were less than £100 and more than three-quarters were under £350.

The figures were based on information about 72 fines.

Children could get cigarettes from vending machines in more than half (58%) of test purchases carried out in England, with one in five shops willing to sell tobacco products to the youngsters, the report also found.

It has been illegal for under-18s to buy tobacco since October 2007 when the legal age was changed from 16.

Paul Bettison, chairman LACORS chairman, said: "Councils are doing everything in their power to protect young people from the dangers of smoking but retailers caught selling to minors are effectively only being slapped on the wrist with minuscule fines.

"A fine of less than £100 is hardly enough to make a shopkeeper think twice about selling to children.”