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Mayo Clinic study finds that smoke-free laws save lives

Mayo Clinic study finds that smoke-free laws save lives
Canadian Honker server Michon Balcome waits on customers Sharon Taylor and Tom Wooner. She remembers the days when smoking was allowed in restaurants and appreciates the ban first enacted by Olmsted County in 2002.

Since Olmsted County passed its smoke-free workplace ordinance, residents here are half as likely to have a heart attack or die of sudden cardiac arrest, according to a new Mayo Clinic study.

The study, which was presented to the American Heart Association’s Scientific Sessions on Monday in Orlando, compared the number of heart attacks and sudden cardiac deaths before and after the county's smoke-free laws and found that both decreased drastically — heart attack rates dropped by 45 percent and sudden cardiac deaths by 50 percent — after the smoking ban.

"If we had a new drug that did not cause much in the way side effects and we were able to put it in the water like fluoride to reduce the rate of heart attacks by 45 percent and sudden cardiac death by 50 percent, it would receive a Nobel Prize in medicine," said Dr. Richard Hurt, director of Mayo Clinic's Nicotine Dependence Center and lead author of the study.

The decreases were in spite of other heart disease risk factors such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes and obesity remaining stable or increasing during that time period, Hurt said. And while the number of adults who smoke also dropped by 23 percent, he said, that alone wouldn't account for cutting the rates in half.

Although this is not the first study on the correlation between second-hand smoke and heart attacks, it is the most definitive to date, Hurt said.


By tapping into data collected through the Rochester Epidemiology Project, a long-term, collaborative medical records project among health care providers in Olmsted County, the study encompassed all Olmsted County residents.

"We will use this to hopefully convince people of the need for smoke-free worksites across the globe," Hurt said.

He credits the leadership of the Olmsted County Board for its foresight in enacting the ban.

"Our county board showed the courage and wisdom that not many did (not have) when it passed the smoke-free legislation in 2007 that then served as a model for the state," Hurt said. "They deserve a lot of credit for this."

Olmsted County was the first county in Minnesota to pass a ban on smoking in workplaces, including restaurants, and among the first in the nation.

Among those pushing for the ban was Joe Powers, owner of the Canadian Honker restaurant.

"I think that is absolutely awesome," he said in reaction to the study. 

Among the benefits of having a smoke-free workplace, he said, are a cleaner environment and fewer customer complaints as well as more employees choosing not to smoke.


"It's been a win-win all the way around," he said.

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