Smoking Bans Cause Heart Attacks

(This article is also available as an episode of the Quick Hitts Podcast, with a bit more commentary.)

It started with the Helena fraud.  The city of Helena, Colorado, instituted a smoking ban, and then rescinded it six months later.  Two “researchers” claimed that during while the ban was in place heart attack admissions dropped by 60%, and then rose again when the ban was lifted.

The study, published in the British Medical Journal, wasn’t just inaccurate, it was intentionally fraudulent.  There was a small dip in admissions for heart attacks, but only for the first three months of the ban, when it was being widely ignored by businesses and casinos.  The study’s authors manipulated the numbers, which were based on a laughably small sample size, to make it appear the effect lasted for six months.  You can read the details of the fraud here.  Although the study has been thoroughly debunked, anti-smoker groups still cite it as if it were valid.

This fraud has inspired similar frauds whenever a ban is put in place.  If a city, state or country bans smoking everywhere and the number of heart attacks stay the same or go up a bit, it’s ignored.  If they drop at all it is cited, not as normal statistical variation, but as proof that bans reduce heart attacks.

The nannies claim that Scotland’s ban resulted in a 17% decrease in heart attacks.  The study was limited to ten months before the ban and ten months after – with the time frame cherry picked to provide the most convincing numbers.  It was published in the New England Journal of Medicine where it was, of course, peer reviewed.
But now the truth has come out.

In the first year of the ban the drop was really 7.2%, not the 17% claimed.  The year before the ban it was 10%, so the ban caused a 3% decrease in the trend.  And the year after that the number of heart attacks rose to 7.8%, the first rise in a decade.  This not only completely erased the decease, it was a complete reversal of the trend.  Since the nicotine nannies always claim any decrease in heart attacks is the direct result of bans, using their logic we must also conclude that the 7.8% increase was also a direct result of the ban.  Therefore, we have proof that smoking bans cause heart attacks!

This is, of course, ridiculous.  All we’re seeing is the kind of normal variation that happens from year to year with any common ailment.  But why should we be held to a higher standard than the nicotine nannies with letters after their names, the anti-smoker organizations who quote their numbers, and the peer-reviewed journals are willing to publish nonsense as long as it’s politically correct nonsense?

Most of this information comes from Dr. Michael Siegel, who is a tobacco control advocate.  He likes smoking bans.  But he’s also disgusted with the junk science and dishonesty that pervades every anti-smoking organization.  He’s been calling them out on it for years, and as a result is now a pariah in the movement.

He has announced he’ll donate $200 to any anti-smoker organization that admits the mistake.  (He does a good breakdown of the original report’s inaccuracies here.  You’ll find more information, including a time line, on the site Velvet Glove Iorn Fist.)

I’d like to propose my own bet.  I’ll bet one fine cigar, or if you don’t smoke, the beverage of your choice, that not only will no organization apologize, but that one of them will refer to the fraudulent study as proof that bans are beneficial.

Rather than ship cigars or beer or coffee, let’s simplify things and just make it a ten dollar bet.  Here are the specifics:

  • If any anti-smoker organization comes out and admits the error, and apologizes for it, you win.
  • If, before that happens, any anti-smoker organization refers to the 17% decrease as if it were a fact, I win.

If you’re foolish enough to take the bet, leave a comment or send me an e-mail.   I don’t really expect any takers.


11 Comment(s)

  1. ‘Two “researchers” claimed that during while the ban was in place heart attack admissions dropped by 60%, and then rose again when the ban was lifted.’

    What a strange claim. Health problems leading to heart attacks are caused by the cumulitive effects of years of smoking. If the rate of heart attacks goes down after a measly 2 months of a ban, that has to be a coincidence. Or if it goes up, same coincidence.

    I live in a county that has banned smoking in restaurants and bars, and I am so happy about it. I can actually go out to the comedy club and not come out smelling like stale tobacco and suffering from a migrane.

    Mikayla | Dec 10, 2008 | Reply

  2. OK, so it’s a BS study. Does that in any way change the fact that smoking is harmful?

    While I enjoy listening to the Smartenizer I am really tiring of the pissing and moaning about anti-smokers.

    I’m a non-smoker and despise smoking. Thisis primarily because of 30 years of observing smokers. In that time I have drawn many conclusions that apply to a majority of smokers. As always there are exceptions, but they are rare in my experience.

    Smokers are self-centered, rude, and have no consideration or respect for others.

    They think they have a supreme right to smoke anywhere they want.

    They put their desire to commit a slow suicide above every other person’s desire to breathe.

    Smokers throw their butts anywhere they want without any consideration for who will clean it up.

    Bryan | Dec 11, 2008 | Reply

  3. I’ve never claimed that primary smoking isn’t risky. It’s the claims about second hand smoke that are bullshit.

    I’m a non-smoker and despise smoking.

    No, it is quite clear from your comment you are an anti-smoker who despises smokers. The behavior you describe applies to maybe 5% of the smokers out there.

    The reason you see butts everywhere is because the antis have had ashtrays removed from just about everywhere. I can’t count the number of times I’ve been unable to find an ashtray to discard my butt. (It’s not safe to throw a butt into a garbage can. Even if you’re sure it’s out, it might not be, and could start a fire.)

    Smokers are like anyone else – we don’t want to bother people. Tell smokers “you can only smoke over here” and we’ll be quite happy. But the problem, caused by antis, is that an increasing number of places we can’t smoke anywhere. There is a county in California where it is not only illegal to smoke anyplace outside, but in most cases it is illegal to smoke in your own home.

    You need to reign in your bigotry toward 25% of the population. Until you do, at least try to understand why some smokers, tired of being constantly shit on, tend to get a little uppity.

    Dave Hitt | Dec 13, 2008 | Reply

  4. Yes, I am anti-smoker, but your 5% number is the inverse of my experience. I know there are some polite smokers, my mother was one until she quit a dozen plus years ago. She would only smoke at home, away from us.

    We have three designated smoking areas outside my office. Each smoking area is equipped with a picnic table with ash trays or other acceptable containers for butts. They even have umbrellas for hot days.

    Still, they wander around the parking lots and linger outside the doors. I’ve seen them walk up to the door with a cigarette, open the door, take a drag and flick it wherever as they walk in the door. I’ve watched the cleaning staff picking up after these inconsiderate people.

    I don’t care what drives militant smokers to think their desire to smoke trumps everyone else’s need to breathe. I don’t care about the SHS BS. If you smoke near me, I have trouble breathing, I don’t need a medical study to tell me that. Whether or not SHS causes cancer, asthma, etc is irrelevant.

    I think EVERYONE has a right to breathe clean air. If you choose to smoke you must deal with the consequences. If it forces you to fell like a second class citizen, quit.

    Bryan | Dec 15, 2008 | Reply

  5. Check out this article. Apparently, in a study over 3 years in Colorado, the heart attack rate decreased dramatically after a smoking ban was put in place. The link to the actual study is provided in the article, in case you want to check it out.


    Mikayla | Jan 7, 2009 | Reply

  6. Mikayla,

    As you pointed out in a previous comment, the very premise is ridiculous. The damage from primary smoking takes place after decades of smoking, so simple common sense will tell you that claims of huge reductions heart attacks immedatly following smoking bans are nonsense.

    You’ll note that in this study they made absolutely no attempt to discover if the heart attack victims had any exposure to SHS, or if their exposure had been reduced. Honest researchers would have asked patents about their exposure.

    The first study to create this fraud was done in Helena. You can read the details about it here:


    The Helena fraud was so successful it was, of course, repeated in other cities. And when the fraud is caught, as it was in the Scottish ban, it’s ignored by the same mass media that prominately featured the original claims.

    In any geographic area there will be a natural statistical variation for any illness, especially one as common as heart attacks. In most places there will be no change. (It shoudl be notied that in most areas heart attckas are dropping, on their own, by 3-5% a year.) In others there will be an increase, in others a decrease. When a decrease happens to coincide with a smoking ban the nannies scream “Proof! Proof!” and “journalists” print their proclamations as if they were fact.

    Smartenized people, such as yourself, laugh at the nonsense, but the stupid gobble it down and use it to further justify their hated of a quarter of the population.

    Dave Hitt | Jan 7, 2009 | Reply

  7. “As you pointed out in a previous comment, the very premise is ridiculous.”

    I said that a attributing a change in heart attacks within 2 months to a smoking ban is ridiculous. A significant change in 3 years is, I think, a bit more reasonable. I haven’t yet taken the time to comb though the study, but I’ve noted that they do at least provide the details. That tends to increases my confidence in the study at least a little bit.

    Personally I think the smoking ban is a good idea regardless. It does affect my health, even if not in life-threatening ways. Second hand smoke irritates my eyes and lungs and causes my nose to clog up and my head to hurt. I live in a county under a smoking ban, but I was reminded of these affects second hand smoke has on me when I ate at a restaurant out-of-town last weekend. Even if second hand smoke didn’t cause long term health problems it is still noxious pollution.

    Mikayla | Jan 7, 2009 | Reply

  8. A different point of view on the smoking ban issue… I don’t mind businesses, bars, land owners, etc… stating that they will not allow smoking in their establishments or on their property. My argument is when government is dragged into the private sector, it very rarely (if ever) turns out for the best. It allows the government a foot in the door to meddle in EVERYONES lives.

    As an example, lets take smoking completely out of the picture and replace it with something else that people feel strongly about one way or another… red meat

    I will stick up for an extreme vegetarian that claims to get sick at the smell of cooking meat standing on a soapbox yelling to the world the hazards of eating meat and the cruelty to the animals in the meat industry. I might even help them in a political campaign to mandate that eating establishments post clearly if they cook meat, have vegetarian food that is cooked on a separate grille or serve no meat.

    If they however were to attempt to get meat banned everywhere but private property (ballpark franks would have to be changed out for tofu dogs)… how many people would be outraged?

    …shouldn’t have used an analogy such as that, now I want a steak.

    H Williams | Jan 8, 2009 | Reply

  9. mmmm… Steak.

    I read the article and report that was posted by Mikayla while indulging in my omnivorous eating preferences. Anyone without some form of cranial deficit or another might ask… if the report was posted on 1/02/09… why would they not continue gathering data for 2007? Wouldn’t having all of 2008 be enough time to compile and post the findings?

    I’m not saying that what was put forth wasn’t accurate, but what’s not being said is bugging me.

    H Williams | Jan 8, 2009 | Reply

  10. @Dave:

    I don’t think that not asking patients about exposure is dishonest — it’s just lazy (if they’re doing a prospective trial; it’s impossible if they’re doing a retrospective one).

    Moreover, a lot of what you discuss is not “nannies” perpetrating a hoax, though, it’s just plain old bad science reporting: no matter what the ridiculous finding, the initial report will be publicised and the sheepish retraction will not. It happens whenever anyone finds a spurious health risk or benefit to any common activity. And I think many of the actual findings are again not a “fraud” as you say, but simply bad science: bear in mind that there are entire journals that publish endless falsely positive trials of any kind of alternative therapy you like. Doubtless some of them are deliberate fraud to keep the money coming, but I think Hanlon’s Razor alongside reporting- and publication- biases are a better explanation for the phenomenon as a whole.

    I don’t want to defend the practice, but words like “fraud” do make you look more than a bit paranoid. You might want to be careful not to look like an equal and opposite reaction to the worst lunatic fringes of the ban supporters.

    Andrew | Jan 8, 2009 | Reply

  11. Past studies have actually found quitting to increase heart attacks and many other diseases. (maybe because of the weight gain)

    The stress imposed on smokers is toxic. Stress is a very know cause for heart attacks.

    Staticians are very critical of the anti-smoking campaign stats and one of them was saying that the dangers of quitting were very obvious though.

    Why don’t they tell us this? Oh, I forgot. They don’t give a damn about our health.

    angie | Jun 4, 2010 | Reply

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