Smoke-Free Workplace Law Cuts Heart Attack Deaths

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The Massachusetts Department of Public Health (DPH) today released new data indicating a significant decrease in the number of heart attack deaths following the implementation of the statewide smoke-free workplace law in 2004.

DPH partnered with the Harvard School of Public Health on the study, which reviewed heart attack death data from all 351 Massachusetts cities and towns and showed an estimated average of 577 fewer fatal heart attacks annually than expected since the ban took effect.

Findings from the study, which will be published early next year, were presented in Boston at the monthly meeting of the Massachusetts Public Health Council.

“When we looked at the data, we saw a dramatic drop in heart attack deaths beginning in July, 2005 — a year after the workplace smoking ban went into effect. While there may be several factors that played a role in this decline, we believe the single most compelling reason was reduced exposure to secondhand smoke in workplaces across the state,” DPH Commissioner John Auerbach said.

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“This is the latest success story in the battle to lower the toll that tobacco takes on the people of Massachusetts. Thanks to the ongoing support of Governor Patrick and the Legislature, Massachusetts remains a national leader in protecting its citizens from the health and economic consequences of tobacco use,” Commissioner Auerbach said.

In a 2006 report, The Health Consequences of Involuntary Exposure to Tobacco Smoke, the U.S. Surgeon General states: “Secondhand smoke exposure causes heart disease. There is no risk-free level of secondhand smoke exposure … Even brief exposure adversely affects the cardiovascular and respiratory system … Only smoke-free environments effectively protect nonsmokers from secondhand smoke exposure.”

Massachusetts presented a unique opportunity to examine the effects of smoke-free workplace regulations, since many communities enacted similar local laws prior to the comprehensive statewide ban in July 2004.

“When we compare municipalities with strong smoke-free laws and those without laws during the same time period, we see that, though heart attack deaths declined overall, a strong smoke-free workplace law was the single factor that is most closely related to the sharp decline in deaths,” said Dr. Lois Keithly, Director of the Massachusetts Tobacco Control Program.

The Massachusetts study took into account a number of variables, including the general downward trend in acute myocardial infarction (AMI) deaths, as well as influenza outbreaks, seasonality, pollution, smoking prevalence, and related data.

“Secondhand smoke is an insidious killer,” said Dr. George Philippides, a cardiologist from Boston Medical Center and American Heart Association Boston Board President. “As a cardiologist, I’ve witnessed secondhand smoke’s harmful effects on my patients. This study shows how a public policy to eliminate secondhand smoke exposure can save lives on a large scale. We applaud the Department of Public Health and the Legislature for all the work they’ve done on this issue to protect the people of Massachusetts. With the Patrick Administration’s ongoing commitment to tobacco control programs, the state will continue to see real results, including a reduction in health care costs. The American Heart Association remains committed to working to ensure a comprehensive tobacco control program in the years ahead.”

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