If you want to be healthier, quit smoking. Few people, even many smokers, would deny that at this point.
Now let's get a little more controversial here: If you want your whole community to get a health boost, then ban those cancer sticks in every public place you can.
I know that's not a popular move among smokers -- they already feel like a persecuted minority. But you just need to look at the numbers to see what a difference it makes.
One study finds that U.S., Canadian and European cities that impose smoking bans have 17 percent fewer heart attacks over the course of the first year of the ban, as compared to cities that don't curb cigarettes.
Fantastic, right? But it gets better...
Those numbers continue to decline by between 26 and 36 percent over three years, according to studies published in Circulation: Journal of the American Heart Association and the Journal of the American College of Cardiology.
Researchers believe that a nationwide smoking ban in public places and offices would prevent up to 225,000 of our 1.26 million annual heart attacks.
These benefits extend to smokers and nonsmokers alike. Remember, of the 440,000 U.S. deaths linked to smoking every year, 38,000 are due to secondhand smoke -- many from heart attacks.
Now, some people still argue over this, in part because many smokers want to believe that they're hurting only themselves. But the truth is cigarette smoke causes blood vessels to constrict and leads to blood clots in both the smoker and the guy standing next to him.
These changes can take place in as little as 20 minutes of exposure to cigarette smoke... and that's why nonsmokers who live or work with smokers have a 30 percent higher risk of heart attack than nonsmokers who live and work with other nonsmokers.
The science is clear on this -- secondhand smoke is not a myth. It's a fact, and that's why public smoking bans are leading to such dramatic health improvements.
And if they get a few smokers to finally throw up their hands in frustration and quit for good, so much the better. Smoking is hands-down one of the worst things you can voluntarily do to yourself, and a terrible habit to subject your friends and loved ones to.
The risks of smoking are well known and well documented. Tobacco is addictive, and the addicts suffer from everything ranging from that persistent smoker's cough and diminished lung capacity right up to lung cancer, heart disease, hypertension and early death.
Smoking has even been linked to knee osteoarthritis.
And with apologies to all my friends who love their cigarettes, smokers always smell like smokers. So in addition to being a health hazard, smoking is also a social one.