Health survey results – food for thought or more smoke and mirrors? 1

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 –


One comment

  1. Thanks for highlighting this. The data indicating a substantial reduction in the number of children exposed to SHS in the recent Scottish Health Survey is indeed good news. I agree that the 12% to 6% drop may, in some part, be due to under-reporting but if so then perhaps this, in itself, reflects a much greater public awareness that exposing children to SHS at home is becoming less socially acceptable: all part of that ‘journey’ towards making more homes smoke-free and ensuring that one day every child in Scotland will grow up free from tobacco,

    I see in today’s news that the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health have called for a ban on smoking in playgrounds, zoos, themeparks “and anywhere else where children play”.

    They make this argument based on the need to de-normalise smoking behaviour and protect children from seeing adults smoke.

    The home is the place where children are most exposed to secondhand smoke. We know that children who live in smoking homes are more likely to go on to become adult smokers and we know that having a smoke-free home is one of the most effective routes towards have a successful quit attempt. Our approach to protecting children from tobacco must therefore use this twin-track approach. Protecting children from the acute and chronic health effects of breathing in other people’s smoke while also protecting them from the obvious harms of becoming smokers themselves. Increasing the number of smoke-free homes must continue to be one of the key policies in Scotland’s journey towards 2034 and a tobacco-free generation.

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s