Landmark Study on Smoke Free Air Workspace Laws

By: Tobacco Education & Prevention Coalition for Porter County Last Updated: October 20, 2009

A new report issued Thursday by the Institute of Medicine (IOM) shows that smokefree air workplace policies reduce the risk of heart attacks and heart disease associated with secondhand smoke exposure.

The report concludes that exposure to secondhand smoke can cause acute coronary events, such as heart attacks and summarizes evidence that suggests that even brief secondhand smoke exposure might trigger a heart attack.

According to Karla Sneegas, executive director, Indiana Tobacco Prevention and Cessation, the new report adds to the body of science that was issued in the 2006 U.S. Surgeon General’s Report, The Health Consequences of Involuntary Exposure to Tobacco Smoke.

“In 2006, the U.S. Surgeon General told us that there is no safe level of exposure to secondhand smoke”, said Sneegas. “The new Institute of Medicine report extends the science by making it clear that strong smokefree air policies work and save lives.”

More than 40 percent of the American public is protected by comprehensive smokefree air workplace laws that include all workplaces, restaurants, bars, and entertainment venues. By contrast, in Indiana, approximately 8 percent of Hoosiers are protected by comprehensive smokefree air workplace laws.

To date, 11 local municipalities in Indiana have implemented comprehensive smokefree workplace laws that extend coverage to all workers including those in the bars and restaurants.

Indiana study included in IOM review

In its report, the IOM committee conducted a comprehensive review of published and unpublished data and testimony on the relationship between secondhand smoke and short-term and long-term heart problems. As part of the research, 11 key studies that evaluated the effects of smokefree workplace laws on heart attack rates were cited as part of the committee's conclusions about the positive effects of smokefree policies.

One of the 11 studies was conducted by researchers from Indiana University. The IU study was one of only two studies in the IOM report to examine the effect of public smoking laws on heart attacks among non-smokers.

The IU study compared the reduction of heart attacks in Monroe County following a comprehensive smokefree air law to Delaware County which did not have any law at the time. Monroe County saw a 59% net decrease in the number of nonsmoking patient admissions for acute heart attacks after the smokefree air law was enforced.

The IOM committee of scientific experts reached the following conclusions:

  • There is a causal relationship between smoking bans and decreases in acute coronary events.
  • “The evidence is consistent with a causal relationship between secondhand-smoke exposure and acute coronary events, such as acute myocardial infarction.”
  • It is biologically plausible for a relatively brief exposure to secondhand smoke to precipitate an acute coronary event." According to the report, experimental studies have found that secondhand smoke exposure causes adverse changes in the cardiovascular system that increases the risk of a heart attack.

The Institute of Medicine Report, Secondhand Smoke Exposure and Cardiovascular Effects: Making Sense of the Evidence” was sponsored by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Established in 1970 under the charter of the National Academy of Sciences, the IOM provides independent, objective, evidence-based advice to policymakers, health professionals, the private sector, and the public. The National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Engineering, Institute of Medicine, and National Research Council make up the National Academies.