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Public smoking bans reduces diseases { April 5 2004 }

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Fresh evidence on passive smoking risk

James Meikle, health correspondent
Monday April 5, 2004
The Guardian

Doctors today repeat calls for a ban on smoking in public places after further evidence that passive smoking causes fatal illnesses such as heart disease and cancer.
A six-month ban on smoking in public places in the US town of Helena in Montana led to a 40% fall in heart attack cases admitted to the only local hospital, according to a study in the online version of the British Medical Journal.

In the same journal New Zealand researchers say that adults who have never smoked but live with smokers have a 15% higher risk of death within three years than those living in a smoke-free household. The estimate is based on mortality figures using census data.

Vivian Nathanson, the head of research and ethics at the British Medical Association, said the two articles confirmed that passive smoking was "a very real risk".

"The BMA estimates that second-hand smoke kills at least 1,000 people in the UK every year," she said. "Yet despite their promises to protect workers from tobacco smoke the UK government continues to rely on failed voluntary measures that have the support of the tobacco industry."

Dr Nathanson called on ministers to show "courage and leadership" by introducing legislation for smoke-free public places. "If Ireland can do it, why not us?" she asked.

The American study was carried out between June and November 2002 when Helena, with a population of around 68,000, banned smoking in public places. The law was overturned in December 2002.

The number of hospital admissions for heart attacks during those months fell from an average of 40 in the years before and after the ban to 26.

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