Heart study IDs smoking

DOWNTOWN — A government study showing that a partial smoking ban had a dramatic effect on reducing heart attacks in a Colorado town may have implications for Glendale and Burbank, where similar ordinances have been passed in recent years, experts said.

The study, published Dec. 30 by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, was the first conducted over a period as long as three years and showed a sustained decrease in hospital admissions for heart attacks, said Christine Nevin-Woods, the lead researcher on the study and the director of the Pueblo City-County Health Department in Pueblo, Colo., where the study was conducted.

Heart attack admissions dropped 41% in Pueblo over the three-year period that followed the enactment of a law that made workplaces and public areas smoke-free, the study showed.

While researchers were not able to draw a direct connection between the decrease in heart attack patients and the partial smoking ban, the group’s work was the ninth study worldwide that showed a similar trend, accounting for a strong correlation, said Terry Pechacek, one of the authors of the study and associate director for science at the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s office on smoking and health.

“These data add further emphasis on the fact that if someone wants to reduce their risk of a heart attack, or protect themselves from a possible heart attack, they should avoid indoor places that permit smoking,” he said.

Researchers focused on measuring heart attacks, rather than lung cancer or other respiratory illnesses commonly associated with smoking, because smoke can have a more immediate effect on the heart, whereas other problems can take more than 30 years to develop, Nevin-Woods said.

“The medical profession has known that heart attack and heart disease is associated with secondhand smoke,” she said. “That’s easier to measure because there’s special tests that are done that tell us, as doctors, when someone has a heart attack, so we can specifically measure that in the hospital.”

Although no concrete figures are available for changes in heart attack admissions in Burbank, where police have been enforcing an anti-smoking law since August 2007, the findings could predict added health benefits for local residents, said David Sato, a cardiologist at Providence St. Joseph Medical Center.

“It doesn’t surprise me that there’s improvement, but the magnitude of the improvement is, I think, quite remarkable,” said Sato, adding that the results reinforce the connection between secondhand smoke and heart disease, which could be reduced locally because of recent laws.

Burbank’s law forbids smoking in its downtown and within 20 feet of public buildings, parks and the city’s Chandler Bikeway.

The Glendale City Council passed its own anti-smoking ordinance in November, banning smoking on public property, including parks, and at publicly accessible private property like shopping malls, service lines and parking lots.

California law, like the law enacted in Pueblo, already bans smoking in most workplaces, restaurants and bars.

Since local laws are more comprehensive than those in Pueblo, the local health benefits could be even greater than those found in the Pueblo study, but it would not be easy to track results here, experts said.

“All the heart attacks would go to one of two hospitals [in Pueblo],” Nevin-Woods said of the city, which is geographically isolated from other nearby towns. “It couldn’t be done in the Los Angeles area because people could go to a hospital 40 miles away and you couldn’t track that.”

While the study may not show that the anti-smoking law was the sole cause for the decrease in heart attack patients in Pueblo, more stringent laws in Glendale and Burbank will benefit residents, said Santo Polito, a cardiologist and the director of the heart center at Glendale Memorial Hospital.

Polito’s patients who smoke sometimes continue with the habit after having open-heart surgery, he said, explaining that smoking and secondhand smoke are major causes of heart disease that should be avoided.

“It’s like you have an open wound and you’re trying to pour dirt in there to see if it’ll heal,” he said of those who go back to their smoking routines.

 ZAIN SHAUK covers education. He may be reached at (818) 637-3238 or by e-mail at zain.shauk@latimes.com.

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