* Bans on public smoking have immediate impact
* Researchers call for widespread smoking bans
* Women, younger people most likely to benefit
(New throughout, adds second study, industry comment)
By Julie Steenhuysen
CHICAGO, Sept 21 (Reuters) - Smoking bans in public places can significantly reduce the number of heart attacks, two U.S. research teams reported on Monday.
One team found smoking bans in the United States, Canada and Europe had an immediate effect that increased over time, cutting heart attacks by 17 percent after the first year and as much as 36 percent after three years, they reported in the journal Circulation.
A second team found such bans reduced the annual heart attack rate by 26 percent. Their report in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology estimates a nationwide ban in the United States could prevent as many as 154,000 heart attacks each year.
Both research teams said the findings support the adoption of widespread bans on smoking in enclosed public places to prevent heart attacks and improve public health.
“Public smoking bans seem to be tremendously effective in reducing heart attack and, theoretically, might also help to prevent lung cancer and emphysema, diseases that develop much more slowly than heart attacks,” said Dr. David Meyers of the University of Kansas School of Medicine, who led the study in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology.
“Even breathing in low doses of cigarette smoke can increase one’s risk of heart attack,” he said.
Smoking bans have been enacted in countries all over the world. In the United States, 32 states ban smoking in public places and workplaces, and many cities and other localities do, too.
Meyers and colleagues analyzed data from 10 studies on smoking bans in the United States, Canada and Europe to compare rates of heart attacks before and after public smoking bans.
They found women and younger people were most likely to benefit, possibly because they often work in or frequent bars and restaurants where smoking is common, Meyers said.
James Lightwood of the University of California-San Francisco, who worked on the study in Circulation, said prior studies have been inconsistent in their findings, but their analysis found that smoking bans had a compelling effect.
“This study adds to the already strong evidence that secondhand smoke causes heart attacks, and that passing 100 percent smoke-free laws in all workplaces and public places is something we can do to protect the public,” Lightwood said.
Andy Deloney, spokesman for the Michigan Restaurant Association, said he has not seen the latest studies but remains skeptical about research findings that show immediate health benefits. He said tobacco smoke is just one of many factors that influence heart disease.
Deloney said many Michigan restaurants are choosing to ban smoking and using that as a competitive edge. In Michigan, where there is no statewide smoking ban, about 5,700 restaurants are smoke-free, compared with 2,200 in 1998.
But he thinks the choice should be up to restaurants and their customers. “We couldn’t care less if all of the restaurants in Michigan went smoke-free -- as long as it’s their choice,” he said.
A spokesman for the National Restaurant Association said his organization had not been involved in the issue.
Long-term exposure to secondhand smoke can raise heart disease rates in adult nonsmokers by 25 percent to 30 percent, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention,.
Secondhand smoke kills an estimated 46,000 Americans every year from heart disease alone, the CDC and Heart Association say. Smoking also causes several types of cancer, stroke and emphysema or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. (Additional reporting by Lisa Baertlein in Los Angeles; Editing by Maggie Fox and Chris Wilson)