THE number of heart attacks fell more than 10pc in the year after the ban on smoking in the workplace here, it was revealed yesterday. Doctors said that it boosted the case for similar bans around the world and reduced the burden on the health service.
Dr Edmond Cronin and colleagues at Cork University Hospital said an analysis of people admitted with heart attacks to public hospitals in the south-west showed an 11pc fall in the year after the ban came into effect in March 2004.
"This should further encourage health authorities to look at more smoking bans around the world," he said at the annual European Society of Cardiology congress in Vienna, where the data was presented.
"Before the admission of the other eastern countries to the EU, Ireland had the second highest rate of cardiovascular deaths in Europe after Finland," said Dr Cronin.
"With the admission of other countries from the former eastern bloc, that's changed a little now, but obviously, cardiovascular disease is a big problem in Ireland.
"While we can't prove that the smoking ban decreased the admission, this study adds to the evidence that smoking bans are effective in reducing admissions for heart attacks and gives encouragement to people advocating antismoking laws."
There was no significant change in heart attacks in the second year after the ban, leading doctors to believe it is a sustained reduction.
Dr Cronin told specialist website theheart.org he was not surprised by how quickly the benefits of the smoking ban were played out, considering that within 30 seconds of inhaling smoke the blood platelets get thicker and cardiovascular system stops working so well.
"Suddenly, with no smoking anywhere, individuals are removed from that threat, and we'd expect to see the impact right away. Also, for smokers, they have a higher risk of heart attack, but by giving up smoking, that risk declines very rapidly, and we would expect that to show up within the year."
Dr Cronin said he thinks smoking is declining in Ireland, with provisional data showing reductions in cigarettes sold, and he said it was reasonably to assume the health service had saved money thanks to the smoking ban.
Professor Luke Clancy, chairman of the anti-tobacco group ASH Ireland said: "It is an encouraging piece of evidence. Reducing lung cancer rates might take years but for heart attacks and breathing we expected to see benefits in the short-term."