Legislation restricting or banning smoking in public places reduces heart attacks, a study in the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health suggests.

The study examined trends in acute heart attacks in Christchurch, New Zealand following the enactment of legislation which made smoking illegal in all workplaces including bars and restaurants.

Three years after a smoking ban in all workplaces was introduced hospital admissions for heart attacks among men and women aged 55-74 fell by 9 per cent. This figure rose to 13 per cent for 55-74 year olds who had never smoked.

Overall, the research showed heart attacks among people aged 30 and over fell by an average of 5 per cent in the three years following the ban.

Researchers also found that heart attacks were reduced for ex-smokers of all ages, and that there was a greater decrease in hospital admissions for men compared with women.

In addition, the study found that people in more affluent neighborhoods benefited more from the ban than those in poorer areas. This may be because they visit cafes and restaurants more often or because they are more likely to use the smoking ban as an incentive to quit.

Dr Jamie Pearce, of the University of Edinburgh's School of GeoSciences, who took part in the study, said: "This short-term research indicates a link between a smoking ban in bars and restaurants and a reduction in severe heart attacks. However, more work is needed to look at the effects of the ban in greater detail."

Citation: Barnett et al., 'Assessing the effects of the introduction of the New Zealand Smoke free Environment Act 2003 on Acute Myocardial Infarction hospital admissions in Christchurch, New Zealand', Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health, March 2010,
33(6), 515 - 520; doi:10.1111/j.1753-6405.2009.00446.x