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Expert Panel: Smoking Bans Save Lives

Institute of Medicine Analysis Highlights the Heart Risks of Secondhand Smoke
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WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Oct. 15, 2009 -- Even limited exposure to secondhand smoke can increase the odds of heart attacks in people who have heart disease or are at risk, an expert panel report commissioned by the CDC confirms.

Another major finding by the panel: Smoking bans work.

“The report confirms that eliminating smoking in workplaces, restaurants, bars, and other public places is an effective way to protect Americans from the health effects of secondhand smoke, particularly on the cardiovascular system,” CDC Director Thomas R. Frieden, MD, MPH, says in a news release.

The Institute of Medicine (IOM) panel reviewed the research examining the impact of smoking bans on cardiovascular risk and the relationship between secondhand smoke and heart disease.

Panel members discussed their findings in a news conference, telling reporters that no single study was without its flaws but taken as a whole the research shows that secondhand smoke can cause heart attacks.

Laboratory studies show that even minimal exposure to secondhand smoke can increase blood clotting and constrict blood vessels, two major risk factors for heart attacks.

“If you have heart disease, you really need to stay away from secondhand smoke. It is an immediate threat to your life,” physician and smoking researcher Neil Benowitz, MD, of the University of California, San Francisco, said at the news conference.

He added that because many people don’t know they have heart disease until they have a heart attack, anyone could be at risk.

“Even if you think you are perfectly healthy, secondhand smoke could be a potential threat to you,” he said.

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