I have an op/ed up today at The Oregonian addressing the question, “Whatever happened to Oregon’s heart miracle?” Oregon’s statewide smoking ban took effect in 2009 and was predicted by many advocates to result in a steep decline in the rate of heart attacks of 17% or more. I contacted the Oregon Public Health Division to see if hospital data bore this out. Unsurprisingly, it didn’t.
For those who are curious, here is the age-adjusted rate of heart attack admissions for Oregon as provided to me by the state, with percentage change from the previous year in parenthesis:
2004 181.2 (8.67)
2005 166.8 (7.95)
2006 166.6 (0.12)
2007 163.4 (1.92)
2008 152.5 (6.67)
2009 141.5 (7.21)
2010 137.1 (3.11)
And here is the same data in graph form:
As I explain in the op/ed, the drop in 2009 is on trend with those in previous years and can’t be reasonably attributed to the smoking ban, and even under the rosiest interpretation it is still less than half of what ban advocates predicted.
The task of explaining this discrepancy fell to Ty Gluckman, director of clinical excellence for Providence Heart and Vascular Institute. It was Gluckman who wrote in 2009 that “[…] it’s highly likely that Oregon’s heart attack rates are already dropping as we near the law’s one-year anniversary. If we reduce the number of acute heart attacks by 17 percent, there will be at least 1,100 fewer hospital admissions in Oregon in just one year.” I said at the time that there was no way this was going to happen. You can read his entire response here.
Undaunted by contrary data, Gluckman suggests that Oregon’s less than stunning decline in heart attacks is due to two factors. One is that many bars were already banning smoking voluntarily before the ban. Another is that over this same period Oregonians were becoming more obese. However these confounding factors hold to some extent just about everywhere, which is why the only way to test the impact of bans is by 1) looking for increased rates of decline after implementation and 2) comparing these results with control populations that were not under a ban. This is essentially the method of the RAND study cited in my article, which found no impact.
The story in Oregon is consistent with that of other large populations that experienced no noticeable decline in heart attack rates following implementation of a smoking ban. See for example this New Zealand study, omitted from the meta-analysis Gluckman cites, or the publicly available data from many national governments.
Today’s article is my third Oregonian contribution on the subject of the state smoking ban. In 2008 I argued that the ban wasn’t actually about saving lives. In 2009 I argued that the its exemptions were unduly restrictive. Finally, also in 2009, I wrote for Doublethink about the last night of legal smoking at my favorite cigar hangout, the legendary Horse Brass pub.