Smoke and Mirrors: Exaggerated claims for reduced heart events post-smoking ban in Minnesota

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We've seen it before reports of reports of near-immediate reductions in heart attacks after smoking bans were enacted indoors. Now a new report in the Archives of Internal Medicine repeats the same errors of statistical analysis in an even more egregious manner.

The authors, based at the prestigious Mayo Clinic in Minnesota, analyzed hospital admissions for diagnosed heart attacks and sudden cardiac deaths over two 18 month periods before and after Olmsted County, Minn., passed a smoke-free restaurant law in 2002 and before and after the county passed a smoke-free bar and workplace law in 2007. They detected a 34 percent decline in heart attacks and a 17 percent decline in sudden cardiac death, to which they attributed the passage of those laws.

But ACSH advisor Dr. Mike Siegel of the Boston University School of Public Health calls to account the biased, predetermined statistical manipulation (not to say intentional distortion) of the study authors. For starters, heart attack diagnoses in all Minnesota hospitals dropped 26 percent from 2001 to 2009, and admissions also declined.

In other words, Dr. Siegel writes, in the absence of a smoking ban, heart attack admissions in Olmsted County would have been expected to drop by 34%. In the presence of the smoking ban, heart attack rates dropped by 33%.

Dr. Siegel is kind when he attempts to give the authors a sort-of break, by noting their devotion to the cause of reducing smoking rates by any means necessary. However, as he and we here at ACSH agree, when it comes to science, the end most definitely does not justify the means those sort of tactics are more reminiscent of the dark days of Big Tobacco in the latter half of the 20th century.