The citizens of Helena, Montana, a relatively small town of
about 66,000 in the north of the United States, voted in June
2002 to ban smoking in all public buildings -- including
restaurants, bars and casinos. Soon after, doctors at the
local hospital noticed that heart-attack admissions were
In conjunction with the University of California, San
Francisco, the local doctors did a study to measure the short-
term effects of a smoking ban.
Helena is a perfect place for such a study: relatively
isolated, there is only one cardiac-care hospital within a 60-
mile radius. If you get a heart attack in Helena, there's
only one place to go.
The study showed two important things. For one, there was no
change in heart attack rates for patients who lived outside
city limits where there was no change in smoking laws. For
city residents, where there was the new law banning public
smoking, the rates plummeted by 58 percent in only six
Other studies found that long-term exposure to secondhand
smoke is associated with a 30 percent increased risk in heart
attack rates. Researchers were surprised to find the effects
appearing so soon.
It was interesting that the politics also gave them another
twist. The Montana State Legislature overrode the city and
rescinded the ban in December. Heart-attack rates went back
up almost as quickly as they dropped.
The research shows clearly that secondhand smoke kills. Only
30 minutes of exposure to it causes platelets in the
bloodstream to become stickier. When that happens, blood
clots form more easily, which can block arteries and cause
Eight hours of working in a smoky place is equivalent to
smoking a pack of cigarettes a day. Workers in such places
more than double their chances of developing cancer and
asthma, and pregnant workers put themselves at risk for
miscarriage and premature delivery.