Herald suggests Scotland’s 2006 smoking ban behind drop in heart attacks since 1990

23 June 2021
What was claimed

Smoking ban credited for 74% drop in heart attacks in Scotland.

Our verdict

The research reported shows the 74% drop in heart attacks since 1990 is due to a reduction in the risk from smoking, cholesterol and high blood pressure. It only mentions the ban in passing.

“Smoking ban credited for 74% drop in heart attacks in Scotland”

Last week, a headline in Scotland’s Herald newspaper claimed that the smoking ban is credited for the 74% drop in heart attacks in Scotland. 

This could be misleading as it suggests that the smoking ban alone was responsible for the change, something the research didn’t attempt to quantify.

In fact, the research paper reported on in the article found that the incidence of heart attacks had fallen by 74%, driven by reductions in blood pressure, smoking and cholesterol levels. 

These factors were, roughly, equally responsible across the population, though the paper did say that the large reduction in smoking amongst young women was the single most important factor associated with the reduction of heart attacks in that group.

The time period being reported on was between 1990 and 2014, and the smoking ban was only introduced in Scotland in 2006

The paper didn’t seek to estimate the effect of the smoking ban specifically. 

The only mention of the smoking ban is when it is named alongside factors including stronger medications and increases in the screening and treatment of high cholesterol and blood pressure as being likely to account for a large part of the reductions observed in the study.

That’s not to say that the smoking ban hasn’t had some effect, but it should be credited alongside other factors for a 74% reduction in heart attacks. The study doesn’t provide enough evidence to single it out as the headline did. 

A 2016 review of evidence on the subject found: “There is consistent evidence of a positive impact of national smoking bans on improving cardiovascular health outcomes,” but noted that “evidence of an impact of legislative bans on smoking prevalence and tobacco consumption is inconsistent.”

Last month we wrote about the misinformation problem caused when headlines are misleading, because headlines are often the only part of an article the average reader will read.

While the article in The Herald goes on to more accurately describe the findings of the research, that doesn’t excuse a headline which misrepresents the truth of the story. 

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