Most people admit that smoking can kill you, but many of us are unsure about second hand smoke. Surely being in a smoky room can’t be that bad for you?but a new study shows it is. The evidence was revealed unintentionally when Helena, Montana imposed a six-month ban on smoking in all public places. Doctors discovered the number of heart attacks in the area went down by almost half. While some of this drop could be due to people who stopped smoking, most of it can be attributed to the lack of second hand smoke.

Statistician Stanton Glantz says, “This striking finding suggests that protecting people from toxins in second-hand smoke not only makes life more pleasant, it immediately starts saving lives.”

The Helena smoking ban was ended six months after it began, in June 2002, because of a legal challenge. But Glantz was able to check the records at St Peter’s Community Hospital in Helena, comparing the hospital charts of heart attack patients admitted from the smoke-free town with those from neighboring areas, as well as with records from Helena in the four years before the ban. Before the smoke free period, heart attack admissions to the hospital had averaged just under seven per month. But this fell to less than four a month during the smoking ban.

While the risk of lung cancer rises steadily with the amount of tobacco smoked, the heart attack rate isn’t so simple. It may increase because the inhaled smoke stimulates the production of macrophages, which are white blood cells that “clean up the system.” But these break down and lead to the production of blood clotting agents. Researcher Robert West says, “So if someone is teetering on the brink of a heart attack, this clotting is likely to tip them over.”

Did you know that traces of tobacco and cocaine have been found in Egyptian mummies, although archeologists believe there was no trade between Egypt and South America, where these two substances originated? Find out every secret you’ve ever wanted to know about ancient Egypt from Moustafa Gadala, on Dreamland this Saturday.

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