VIENNA Ireland's rate of heart attacks fell by around a tenth in the year following the introduction of the world's first nationwide ban on workplace smoking, boosting the case for more similar bans, doctors said on Tuesday.
Edmond Cronin and colleagues at Cork University Hospital said an analysis of people admitted with heart attacks to public hospitals in southwest Ireland showed an 11 percent fall in the year after the ban came into effect in March 2004.
"This should further encourage health authorities to look at more smoking bans around the world," he said in an interview at the annual European Society of Cardiology congress, where the data was presented.
There was no significant change in heart attacks in the second year after the ban, indicating a possible step change in medical outcomes.
Smoking, which leads to heart disease as well as lung cancer and other serious respiratory conditions, is the leading cause of preventable deaths worldwide.
It increases the risk of heart problems like angina, heart failure and heart attacks by contributing to the build-up of cholesterol plaques of the artery walls, leading to narrowing or blockage.
More recent research also suggests that inhaling tobacco smoke, either directly or passively, can trigger a heart attack.
The World Health Organisation called in May for a global ban on smoking at work and in enclosed public places, arguing there was no safe level of exposure to second-hand tobacco smoke.
The International Union against Cancer estimates that recent anti-smoking legislation in some European countries and parts of Australia, Canada and the United States now means that around 240 million people worldwide are protected by smoke-free rules.
But that is still less than 4 percent of the world population.
Worryingly, other research presented at this week's cardiology congress showed that while the dangers of smoking are becoming ever more clear, one in five patients diagnosed with heart disease still continues to smoke.