Researchers report direct link between indoor smoking bans and fewer deaths.
The incidence of heart attacks and sudden deaths has fallen nearly in half since smoking bans took effect in southeastern Minnesota, according to new research from the Mayo Clinic.
The Rochester-based organization said the data bolsters its fight to rid the nation's workplaces of second-hand smoke. It found a 45 percent decline in heart attacks and cardiac deaths.
"That's just a staggering number," said Dr. Richard Hurt, the lead investigator and director of Mayo Clinic's Nicotine Dependence Center. "This is a policy that can be implemented at any legislative level -- any city, any community, any state can do this."
Mayo researchers examined data beginning 18 months before the first smoke-free law was passed at restaurants in Olmsted County, in 2002, and concluding 18 months after the law was expanded to cover all workplaces in 2007.
Adult smoking rates also dropped 23 percent during the time period. Other risk factors, such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes and obesity remained stable or increased, according to the study, which was presented Monday at an American Heart Association conference in Orlando.
In the United States, 23 states plus Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico have banned smoking in all public indoor facilities, according to the American Cancer Society.
Mayo has spent the past 50 years tracking patients in Olmsted County, where its flagship operations are based. Aside from smoke-free Sweden, no place else in the world has the capability to scientifically track health trends and outcomes, Hurt said.
Mayo pushed for a smoke-free ordinance in Olmsted County, the first county in Minnesota to pass a ban and among the first in the nation. Mayo also helped write statewide legislation, known as the Freedom to Breathe Act.
"Had we not done that in Olmsted County, most of us think the state would have watered down the law and made it less than it was," Hurt said.
Jackie Crosby • 612-673-7335