Newswise — A Mississippi State study released Monday [Nov. 9] shows a 27 percent decrease in heart attacks among Starkville residents since the city passed a smoking ban in 2006.

Researchers associated with the university report also are recommending a statewide public ban on smoking.

The study by Robert McMillen and Dr. Robert Collins shows fewer heart attacks being treated at the Oktibbeha County Hospital. It focused on Starkville residents in the three-year span after the ban became law, compared to three years prior.

McMillen is an assistant professor in the psychology department and researcher at MSU's nationally recognized Social Science Research Center; Collins is director of University Health Services.

Their findings are part of a larger SSRC evaluation of Mississippi communities that passed smoking bans in recent years. McMillen said the data shows Starkville benefitting medically from the smoking ban.

"The emerging scientific consensus clearly demonstrates that communities like Starkville can reduce heart attacks simply by prohibiting smoking in indoor public places," McMillen said. "Smoke-free laws are popular with the public and are free to implement."

The MSU investigation mirrors findings of a federally commissioned panel of scientists recently made public. Commissioned by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, that report by the independent and non-profit Institute of Medicine examined information from 11 studies of communities in Canada, Italy, Scotland, and the United States.

The CDC/IM conclusion: Bans on smoking in public places reduces cases of heart attacks and heart disease.

"Our research substantiates that report from the Institute of Medicine," McMillen said.

In addition to Starkville, larger Mississippi communities with public-place smoking bans include Tupelo, Meridian, Hattiesburg, Greenwood, Grenada, and Pontotoc. In all, some two dozen Magnolia State municipalities have bans.

Nationwide, 17 states, Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia ban smoking in bars, restaurants and workplaces. Also, 14 other states and more than 350 cities and towns ban smoking in one or two of those types of establishments, according to the advocacy group Americans for Nonsmokers' Rights.

Collins, an MSU physician since 1977, said the 27 percent decrease in heart attacks in Starkville translates into 14 fewer heart attacks for local citizens and an estimated $750,000 not spent on heart attack aftercare, based on reports of the average financial costs for heart attacks.

Data from the Mississippi State Department of Health and national figures indicates the state would save an estimated $125 million annually in health care expenses if a legislatively mandated smoking ban was enacted, he added.

"I plead with the Mississippi Legislature to ban smoking in public places," Collins said. "Our data reflects the findings of every other community that has looked at what happened when smoking is banned in public venues."

Roy Hart, director of the Office of Tobacco Control at the Mississippi State Department of Health, also supports additional smoking bans in public places. He said enacting smoking restrictions is one of the simplest, healthy and cost effective "tobacco control strategies."

"Smoking restrictions save lives, reduce health care costs and youth smoking initiation, and encourage smokers to quit," Hart said.

Anti-smoking advocacy groups in Mississippi, including chapters of the American Heart and American Stroke associations, long have supported efforts to ban smoking in public places throughout the state.

"Improving the health of Mississippians is the main reason that groups all across the state fight for comprehensive smoke-free laws," said Katherine Bryant, public advocacy director for both Jackson-based organizations.

"The American Heart Association, along with other coalition partners, hopes our lawmakers realize how vital strong smoke-free laws are to the health of all Mississippians," Bryant added.