The Scottish Government has published a new 5-year strategy on tobacco, including a headline commitment to make the next generation free from tobacco. ASH Scotland finds much to welcome in the strategy, but also much more hard work to come.
Let’s start with the basics – we at ASH Scotland absolutely support the Scottish Government’s aim for the next generation to be free from tobacco. Nobody wants their children to smoke, and this is just as true for Scotland as a whole as for individual families. So let’s have a debate about timescales and action plans – and try to work out what small number of willing adults will wish to continue to smoke – but who can argue with the idea of a healthier, wealthier Scotland where children don’t smoke and anyone who wants to stop smoking is able to do so?
The Strategy specifically commits to reducing the adult smoking rate to 5% by 2034 – when a child born today will come of age at 21. This is ambitious, but given the huge costs to health and to society we should demand that our governments be ambitious.
With two thirds of smokers starting as children, and 69% of smokers wanting to quit, the target is about preventing children from taking up smoking and helping those smokers who want to quit to do so. These are existing goals, which few would disagree with – what we have yet to see is the detail of how they will be delivered, particularly in relation to tackling the higher smoking rates in poorer communities. And efforts will be hampered by the lack of new money available – maintaining the tobacco budget at current levels for five years represents a significant cut in real terms.
Nevertheless there is much here to applaud. The proposed Youth Commission and piloting the Assist peer-education programme show a welcome commitment to engage with young people. The support for plain, standardised packaging of tobacco products is welcome and reflects the strong evidence submitted to Government showing that standardised packs will make tobacco less attractive to young people. This work would be strengthened by a firm target to reduce youth smoking rates.
Setting a target to reduce children’s exposure to second hand smoke is leading edge stuff. Taken alongside strong commitments to make indoor spaces in prisons and mental health services smoke-free this once again makes Scotland a world leader in protecting people from second hand smoke.
The Strategy includes a welcome commitment to review the role and involvement of the tobacco industry in Scotland, with a view to protecting health policy from tobacco industry interference. This rightly exposes the tobacco companies as the villains of the piece, with a long track record of self-interest and dishonesty in opposing regulation of the harmful product they sell.
On the other hand, we would have liked to see a commitment to making the 2014 Commonwealth Games smoke-free. Smoking has no place at an major international sporting event which celebrates healthy achievement and aims to attract the interest of children and young people as well as generating lasting health benefits for the host city.
And the impact of tobacco across society means that this is not just a matter for the Health Department and the NHS. Achieving the target will require political buy-in from Children and Families, Finance and Justice departments. And we need greater recognition that helping people to stop smoking is the responsibility of everyone interested in health and communities.
The Scottish Government is the first in Europe to agree such an ambitious big picture target (the New Zealand Government has adopted a 2025 target, an NGO movement in Finland is pushing for 2040) reinforcing Scotland’s claim to be a world leader in tobacco and health. Let’s get on with achieving it.