College researcher finds smoking ban reduced hospitalization rates
As the university considers a “tobacco free” campus policy at the Arizona Health Sciences Center, results of a study conducted by a COP researcher present strong evidence of the benefits of reducing people’s exposure to secondhand smoke.
The research concluded that within a year after an Arizona law that banned smoking in public places took effect, hospital admissions for health problems related to secondhand smoke declined by:
- 33 percent for unstable angina
- 22 percent for asthma
- 14 percent for acute stroke
- 13 percent for acute myocardial infarction
Moreover, the researchers estimate that the reductions in hospital charges totaled more than $16 million in the first 13 months after the law went into effect.
So were the findings of a study conducted by COP research scientist Patricia Herman and her collaborator, Michele Walsh, an associate research professor in UA’s Norton School of Family and Consumer Sciences.
“What was shocking to me were the dramatic changes that we saw, especially the decrease in hospital admissions for asthma,” says Herman, who works in the Center for Health Outcomes and PharmacoEconomic Research.
“Also, this research caused us to look closer at what is known about the fairly immediate effects of secondhand smoke exposure on the cardiovascular system. Within four minutes of being exposed to secondhand smoke, a person’s aortic artery becomes more rigid. Platelet aggregation, which can create a clot and cause a blocked artery, is evident in about 20 minutes. A blocked coronary artery can cause result in the death of heart tissue. In general, these effects reach the levels seen in active smokers.”
Herman cites the 2006 Surgeon General’s Report on Secondhand Smoke, which found sufficient evidence of a causal relationship between secondhand smoke and, among other things:
- Sudden Infant Death Syndrome
- Low birth weight
- Lower respiratory illnesses
- Middle ear disease
- Lung cancer
- Coronary heart disease (e.g., myocardial infarction, angina) morbidity and mortality
For their research, Herman and Walsh used public data on monthly hospital admissions in Arizona from January 2004 through May 2008. They studied hospitalization rates for a range of ailments related to secondhand smoke exposure.
To control for other reasons that hospital admissions change over time, Herman and Walsh compared admissions for those primary diagnoses before and after May 1, 2007 (the start date of the smoking ban) to admissions for four diagnoses not associated with secondhand smoke: appendicitis, kidney stones, acute cholecystitis and ulcers.
Their conclusions? There were statistically significant reductions in hospital admissions for unstable angina, asthma, acute stroke and acute myocardial infarction. There were no statistically significant changes seen for diagnoses not associated with secondhand smoke.
“This study adds to the growing body of evidence that smoking bans result in a significant improvement in health outcomes,” says Herman. “Two things that our research adds to what has been done before: We used strong, more rigorous methodologies and we included asthma. So our results certainly add to the literature on this important topic.”