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Smoking Ban Leads to Major Drop in Heart Attacks

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Associated Press: A smoking ban in one Colorado city led to a dramatic drop in heart attack hospitalizations within three years, a sign of just how serious a health threat secondhand smoke is, government researchers said Wednesday. The study, the longest-running of its kind, showed the rate of hospitalized cases dropped 41 percent in the three years after the ban of workplace smoking in Pueblo, Colo., took effect. There was no such drop in two neighboring areas, and researchers believe it's a clear sign the ban was responsible.

The study suggests that secondhand smoke may be a terrible and under-recognized cause of heart attack deaths in this country, said one of its authors, Terry Pechacek of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

At least eight earlier studies have linked smoking bans to decreased heart attacks, but none ran as long as three years. The new study looked at heart attack hospitalizations for three years following the July 1, 2003 enactment of Pueblo's ban, and found declines as great or greater than those in earlier research.

"This study is very dramatic," said Dr. Michael Thun, a researcher with the American Cancer Society.

"This is now the ninth study, so it is clear that smoke-free laws are one of the most effective and cost-effective to reduce heart attacks," said Thun, who was not involved in the CDC study released Thursday.

Smoking bans are designed not only to cut smoking rates but also to reduce secondhand tobacco smoke. It is a widely recognized cause of lung cancer, but its effect on heart disease can be more immediate. It not only damages the lining of blood vessels, but also increases the kind of blood clotting that leads to heart attacks. Reducing exposure to smoke can quickly cut the risk of clotting, some experts said.

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