Arizona hospital admissions for stroke, asthma, heart attacks and angina fell more than 10 percent in the year after a statewide smoking ban took effect, a new study says.

While there have been studies on the economic impact of the ban on smoking in public places, including bars and restaurants, the researchers believe the study on hospital admissions is the first to look at the health ramifications of Arizona's smoking law.

For their report, University of Arizona psychology department researchers Patricia M. Herman and Michele E. Walsh analyzed admission data from Arizona's 87 hospitals between January 2004 and May 2008 for Arizona residents only.

Their findings are published in a peer-reviewed article in this month's issue of the American Journal of Public Health.

The new study shows evidence of a direct relationship between exposure to secondhand smoke and asthma and cardiovascular disease.

Herman and Walsh found that in the 13 months after the law took effect in May 2007, admissions for asthma dropped by 22 percent; heart-attack admissions by 13 percent; admissions for unstable angina by 33 percent and admissions for acute stroke by 14 percent.

For strokes, angina and heart attack, the researchers used data from adult admissions only, but they included babies and children in their analysis of the asthma data, Herman said. The study looked at hospital admissions, not emergency room visits, she stressed.

The cost savings of those reduced hospital admissions was nearly $17 million, the researchers estimate.

"Within the context of the growing body of consistent evidence from studies in other states and regions, the results of this study support the case for substantial health benefits from Arizona's comprehensive statewide smoking ban in areas with no previous bans," the study says. "If one considers the fact that only about 40 percent of the U.S. population is presently covered by a comprehensive smoke-free law, and the need for effective and cost-saving options in health care, comprehensive smoking bans should be considered by any governmental agency, employer or other organization seeking to advocate or implement policies that improve health and reduce health-care costs."

Herman said the Arizona study, which was funded by the Arizona Department of Health Services' Bureau of Tobacco and Chronic Disease, had results similar to health studies conducted in other jurisdictions with smoking bans.

"There's a lot of evidence out there," said Herman, who is also a licensed naturopathic physician. "One of the things I found fascinating, that piqued my interest, was that I think people recognize the long-term effects of smoking, but not the short-term effects. The cardiovascular effects are profound."

As a check on their results, the researchers looked at admission data for four diagnoses that aren't related to secondhand smoke - appendicitis, kidney stones, acute cholecystitis and ulcers. The researchers said they found no statistically significant changes in admissions for those conditions before and after the ban took effect.

Contact reporter Stephanie Innes at or 573-4134.