London: About 1,200 possible heart attacks were prevented in Britain a year after the introduction of anti-smoking laws in 2007, claims a new research which could be a cue for other countries to follow suit.
A team from the Bath University that analysed hospital admissions in UK between 2002 and 2009 found a 2.4 percent drop in heart attack cases, which saved the NHS of 8.4 million pounds.
The researchers said though the drop was less dramatic, even a small reduction had "important public health benefits", the BBC reported.
The fall recorded was nonetheless an important one, and even greater benefits were likely to emerge in years to come, said Dr Anna Gilmore, director of the Tobacco Control Research Group, who led the study.
"Given the large number of heart attack attacks in this country each year, even a relatively small reduction has important public health benefits," she added.
Focusing on a population of 49 million, the Bath study, commissioned by the Department of Health, was the largest, most comprehensive study to date on the effects of smoke-free legislation anywhere in the world.
The study, published in the British Medical Journal, took into account a variety of factors which can influence heart attacks -- from the weather to influenza rates.
The theory is that non-smokers` exposure to smoke has the same effect on the heart as if they were light smokers, and can trigger acute coronary problems -- meaning that at least some of the impact of a smoking ban should become apparent relatively quickly.
Studies have painted a mixed picture of the effects of such bans -- with one from the US reporting a 40% drop in the number of hospital admissions for heart attacks. But others, notably those from New Zealand, and Piedmont, Italy, found no overall reduction.
Research from Scotland, where a ban was introduced in March 2006, reported a 17 per cent decrease in heart attack admissions in the year after its ban.
Prof John Britton of the Royal College of Physicians said the findings demonstrated "once again the importance of preventing passive smoking.
"We urge the government to take further steps to close the remaining loopholes in the existing smoking laws, and to act to prevent the continued exposure of children to passive smoking in the home."
But smokers rights campaigners said the findings should be treated with caution.
"The number of emergency heart attack admissions had been falling for several years, even before the smoke-free legislation, so what we are seeing is part of a trend that has nothing to do with the smoking ban," said Simon Clark, director of leading tobacco brand Forest.
"This study is designed to show the benefits of prohibition. What is doesn`t show is the misery that has been heaped on hundreds of thousands of people by an unnecessarily harsh and divisive piece of legislation."