When laws prevent people from smoking in public buildings, in offices, and restaurants, the health benefits are immediate and enormous. That's what a review of 45 studies on the effects of smoke-free laws at the local and state levels found. Previous research has shown that smoking bans clean up the air.

It didn't matter where the law was enacted. Smoke-free legislation was associated with substantially fewer hospitalizations and deaths from heart and respiratory diseases in countries like the United States, Uruguay, New Zealand and Germany.

The most comprehensive laws — those covering workplaces, restaurants and bars — resulted in the highest health benefits.

According to research, preventing people from smoking resulted in:

  • A rapid 15 percent decrease in heart attack hospitalizations and 16 percent decrease in stroke hospitalizations.
  • A 24 percent decrease in hospitalizations for respiratory diseases, including asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

Probably the best proof of the value of such legislation comes from the finding that the most comprehensive laws — those covering workplaces, restaurants and bars — resulted in the highest health benefits.

When cities fail to enact legislation or permit loopholes in some areas, such as those exempting casinos, it more or less guarantees a significant percentage of citizens will soon be heading to the emergency room, according to Stanton Glantz, Ph.D., senior study author and director of the Center for Tobacco Control Research and Education at the University of California, San Francisco.

It's not just smokers who benefit."Stronger legislation means immediate reductions in secondhand smoke-related health problems as a byproduct of reductions in secondhand smoke exposure and increases in smoking cessation that accompany these laws," said Glantz in a press release.

The study, published in the journal, Circulation, didn't address the healthcare cost savings associated with fewer hospitalizations, but the savings are bound to be considerable. And any reduction in the number of cigarettes a person smokes is money in their pocket.

The health benefits of the smoke-free laws suggest that New York City's recent "soda ban" on the sale of sugar-sweetened drinks in containers larger than 16 ounces may spur similar health improvements and healthcare savings.