A story by Jacob Grier in the online magazine Slate asks whether public-places tobacco smoking bans have gone too far given new evidence that the health risks associated with second-hand tobacco smoke have been overstated.
Grier starts his long piece in Helena, Montana, US, which in 2002 implemented a comprehensive smoking ban in its workplaces, bars, restaurants, and casinos.
In the first six months of the ban, the rate of heart attacks in the city plummeted by nearly 60 percent, Grier wrote. Just as remarkably, when a judge struck down the smoking ban in November 2003, the rate of heart attacks shot back up to its previous level.
For three anti-smoking advocates this sudden drop in heart attacks had been proof that smoking bans ushered in extraordinary benefits for public health.
Newspapers ran with the story, he wrote, credulously assuming that the correlation had been truly caused by the smoking ban.
In the early 2000s, as jurisdictions across the country fought over expanding smoking bans to bars and restaurants, anti-smoking advocates seized on the Helena study and related research showing that second-hand smoke exposure could affect coronary functions to promote fear of second-hand smoke. The message they put out was that even the briefest exposure to second-hand smoke could kill you.
‘A decade later, comprehensive smoking bans have proliferated globally,’ wrote Grier. ‘And now that the evidence has had time to accumulate, it’s also become clear that the extravagant promises made by anti-smoking groups – that implementing bans would bring about extraordinary improvements in cardiac health – never materialized.
‘Newer, better studies with much larger sample sizes have found little to no correlation between smoking bans and short-term incidence of heart attacks, and certainly nothing remotely close to the 60 percent reduction that was claimed in Helena.
‘The updated science debunks the alarmist fantasies that were used to sell smoking bans to the public, allowing for a more sober analysis suggesting that current restrictions on smoking are extreme from a risk-reduction standpoint.’
Jacob Grier is a freelance writer based in Portland, Oregon, and the author of Cocktails on Tap: The Art of Mixing Spirits and Beer and the weblog Liquidity Preference.
His story is here.