My enthusiasm for government health surveys is, I suspect, a rather niche interest. Yet this week’s announcement of the annual Scottish Health Survey did cause more hearts to flutter than most.
Most of the news headlines focused on obesity, confirming what we already knew – that the long, steady but frustratingly slow decrease in smoking rates is accepted as the norm and isn’t considered newsworthy any more. That’s pleasing and annoying in equal measure.
What did make some waves was the surprising (and really nobody saw it coming) drop in the reported rate of children exposed to SHS in the home.
Children’s exposure to tobacco smoke at home causes a range of health problems and the Scottish Government set the world’s first national target to address this. Aiming to reduce exposure rates from 12% in 2012 to 6% in 2020 seemed commendably ambitious, but it was far from clear that this could be achieved.
This year’s results, from the survey undertaken in 2015, were the first which could reflect any impact from the Take it Right Outside public awareness campaign, as well as debates over banning smoking in cars with children and ongoing local engagement with families.
So achieving the 6% rate in this survey, and meeting the target 5 years early, represents a huge shift and gives strong backing for the effectiveness of the information, support and encouragement provided. Can we now applaud a job well done and move on?
Life is rarely so simple. This survey result is welcome news and indicates an improvement in the situation for many thousands of children across Scotland. That is just cause for celebration.
But there are always limitations in self-reporting studies. In this case the 6% figure arose from asking parents if their children were exposed to tobacco smoke at home. Yet a separate question, asking if anyone in the household smoked in the home, suggested that 12% of children live in such homes (although down from 15% the previous year).
And we know that making a home smoke-free is not always easy. Parents want to protect their children and most take some form of preventative action, but many lack a garden or balcony to go to, others have nobody to look after the children while they go outside, many don’t know enough about the way that tobacco smoke lingers in the air and spreads from room to room, and others have family members who smoke and need persuading to buy into the idea of a smoke-free home.
As is the case with stopping smoking, creating a smoke-free home is often a journey rather than an event. It is reasonable to assume that many of those households have taken the message on board, are resolved to change and even identify as being smoke-free, but have still got some way to go to achieve this.
But, again as with stopping smoking, the important thing is to progress on the journey – and with continuing encouragement and support I believe they will get there. Perhaps one day every child in Scotland can grow up free from tobacco.
Heading image taken from materials produced for Take it Right Outside campaign – www.rightoutside.org