The first evidence that community smoke-free policies could prevent illness and save lives came from Helena, Mont.
On June 5, 2002 a smoke-free ordinance went into effect in Helena. After six months, three researchers (doctors Sargent, Shepard, and Glantz) compared hospital records for persons admitted for a heart attack from smoke-free Helena with those from outside the area that did not have such a law. They also compared hospital records of the smoke-free period with those from the 4 years before the ordinance. They found that the number of hospital admissions for heart attack in smoke-free Helena declined by nearly 60 percent. There was no significant change in the number of similar admissions outside the Helena area.
Seeking to confirm this study, doctors Alsever, Bartecchi, Krantz, and Nevin-Woods performed a similar study on Pueblo, Colo. and reported it at the recent American Heart Association meeting in Dallas.
Pueblo, with a population of over 100,000, passed its smoke-free ordinance in 2003. The researchers tabulated the number of heart attacks in Pueblo during the 1½ years before and after the Smoke-Free Air Act. In the time before Pueblo's ordinance, 399 patients with a heart attack were admitted to the city's two main hospitals. In the same time period after the ordinance, the number of heart attack admissions dropped to 291, representing a 27-percent decrease.
These studies did not distinguish between smokers and non-smokers and constitute strong evidence that controlling second-hand smoke can reduce these events and save lives. It is estimated that more than 440,000 Americans die from smoking-related illnesses annually. About 53,000 people die from the effects of exposure to second-hand smoke; 49,000 of these are non-smokers who die from coronary heart disease.
The trustees of Oak Park have an opportunity to make a difference in the health of our community by making the public places in Oak Park smoke-free. These two studies have demonstrated that enacting a strong smoking ban reduces heart attacks and ultimately saves lives. Seldom is there an opportunity to make such an impact.
Dean Schraufnagel, M.D.