I read this article from The Times (it also appeared in a number of other papers, notably the Daily Mail) with more than a little interest.
The reason for that is quite simple; my father died at the age of 47 – younger than I am now - of a heart attack, having suffered his first two such episodes at the incredibly early age of 38.
Up until suffering those first two attacks in the mid-sixties, like the vast majority of his contemporaries, he had smoked about twenty-five untipped cigarettes a day, in addition to regularly smoking a pipe. After those early attacks, however, he never smoked another cigarette, nor touched his pipe again for the rest of his life – all nine years of it.
As you might imagine, losing my father to heart disease at such a young age (I was 14) has had what I now understand to be a significant effect – and ongoing - on my psyche; in fact all the more so as I grew older. For instance, odd as it might sound, turning 39 without having suffered a heart attack or another, related condition was an important milestone for me. More important still was the day on which I actually surpassed my father’s age; a date, moreover, that I had calculated months in advance. And just in case you think I’m a little odd, I took a great deal of comfort from the fact that my elder brother (five years older than me and still hale and hearty, I’m glad to say) did exactly the same.
I also have no doubt whatsoever that my enthusiasm for keeping fit and maintaining a healthy weight similarly arise from my father’s (and therefore my family’s) experience.
So, as I observed in the first sentence of this post, the article in The Times suggesting that the ban on smoking in public places has led to a 10% fall in heart attack rates in England was of the greatest interest to me, irrespective of the fact that I have never so much as put a cigarette to my lips.
But having read it more than once, a nagging doubt about the accuracy of the story occurred to me.
I cannot think of a single person who has stopped smoking because of the ban of doing so in public places; all they do is simply troop off to the smoking area-cum-shelter-cum-lean-to where they are allowed to indulge their habit. What’s more, I can personally vouch for the fact that non-smokers tend to join them, in order that the night out, and whatever conversation is taking place, isn’t unduly interrupted, or in some cases, ruined.
What’s more it has been my experience that smokers deprived of the right to indulge their habit inside buildings – chiefly pubs, of course – have taken to doing so in the comfort of their own homes, lubricated by large quantities of cheap the supermarket beer I have written about before.
So why have the heart attack statistics reportedly gone down by such a significant percentage?
The simple answer is, I simply don’t know; but I would be very sceptical of any suggestion that, given the absence of any significant evidence proving the wholesale cessation of smoking by those engaging in it ‘first hand’, the reduction was exclusively due to non-smokers no longer being exposed to the deleterious effects of ‘secondary smoking’, a concept on which the jury is still out.
I am not an epidemiologist, and nor do I claim any medical expertise, but if there has been a ten percent reduction in the national heart attack rate, could the fact that people may be taking more exercise, or eating more sensibly, or advances in drug treatments not be partially responsible for it, too?
Sadly, I remain unconvinced by their theory that the smoking ban alone has been responsible for this reduction, because hand in glove with that claim comes the suggestion (or should that be demand?) that the ‘ban’ should be extended still further, into cars carrying children, or most sinisterly of all, into private houses where there are children present.
I’m afraid to say that I see the use of this as yet unsupported statistic as more emotive grist to the bansturbators’ mill and as much as I would like to do so, I simply don’t believe it.