News digest 28 March 2013 Reply

Of course the BIG news has been the launch of the Scottish Government’s new tobacco control strategy:  Creating a tobacco-free generation –  A Tobacco Control Strategy for Scotland  (pdf, 258kb).  This five year strategy recognises that people deserve to live in a nation free from the harms caused by tobacco, where people choose not to smoke and enjoy longer, healthier lives.  Read ASH Scotland’s response HERE.

Hard on the heels of our new tobacco strategy comes a report ‘Smoking and mental health‘, from the Royal College of Surgeons and the Royal College of Psychiatrists.  The foreword points out that whilst the last fifty years has seen a dramatic fall in smoking prevalence at population level, smoking has become the domain of the most disadvantaged: the poor, the unemployed, the homeless, the imprisoned and the mentally ill.  Smoking prevalence in people with mental health problems has scarcely changed in the last twenty years, and of the 10 million smokers in the UK today, almost one in three reports mental health problems.

Figures just released by the Scottish Public Health Observatory Scotland (ScotPHO) show that 12% in the least deprived quintile smoke compared to 38% in the most deprived quintile, and we know from the Scottish Household Survey that the adults who most commonly smoke are those unable to work due to short-term ill-health (55%), those unemployed and seeking work (49%) and those who are permanently sick or disabled (48%).  Scotland’s new tobacco control strategy recognises that tobacco contributes to our continuing health inequalities, and sets out a dual approach to tackling smoking-related health inequalities, by:

  • ensuring all tobacco control measures are tailored to meet the requirements of Scotland’s most deprived communities
  • maintaining efforts to address the underlying causes of health inequalities.

There’s better news on illicit tobacco.  According to a new report from the All Party Parliamentary Group on Smoking and Health the level of tobacco smuggling and illicit trade in the UK is falling, contrary to claims by the tobacco industry . The report confirms that public spending on action against the illicit tobacco trade is highly cost effective, saving as much as £10 in tax for every £1 spent.  They further assert that the introduction of standardised plain packaging for cigarettes and other tobacco products would make little or no difference to this trend. 

Recommendations include that the UK government should consider following the example of the Scottish government by introducing a simple registration scheme for retailers wishing to sell tobacco products and an offence of selling tobacco while unregistered. This creates an additional low cost mechanism to deal with illicit tobacco sellers. Given that the business of legitimate retailers is damaged by the illicit trade in tobacco products, this should be a net positive benefit to the retail sector.

Finally, an Israeli tobacco company has opened its gates to the rabbis who rule whether products are kosher or not, and now Israeli-made cigarettes may be smoked during Jewish holidays.  Tobacco companies are notoriously secretive about what they put in their cigarettes, and had previously prevented rabbis from supervising their production and investigating their content; rabbis therefore refused to grant certificates confirming that the product was kosher for Passover, and this had long been an issue for Rabbinical religious authorities in Israel and abroad.  Jews belonging to the ultra-Orthodox public took a strict approach and (until now) avoided smoking for the entire holiday week.   Perhaps laudable that the tobacco industry is being more open than is usual but perhaps no suprise that it’s only because this enables them to sell more of their product.  Perhaps best summed up by the chief rabbinate in Israel, quoted in the Guardian, which disapproves of the measure, saying cigarettes were life-threatening and should not be approved by rabbis.  “Poison is not kosher. For all days of the year, not just Passover.”

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