Back in the office this morning after a few days off covering the school holidays. The first thing demanding attention is a slew of media articles along the lines of “Ban smoking at home, say Scots campaigners”.
I’m not surprised journalists would leap onto such a story, it makes for great headlines. The only problem is that it just is not true. It is a particularly fine example of what we now call “fake news”.
To be very clear – ASH Scotland does not support this idea and has never called for it. As Mark Twain had it “Falsehood flies, and the truth comes limping after it”.
Certainly we believe that tobacco smoke is harmful, particularly to children, and that most exposure to tobacco smoke happens in the home. That much is established scientific fact.
How we should act in response to that is less clear cut.
Any government ban or legal restriction must always be justified by balancing the benefits achieved against the costs imposed. The practical implications of imposing, and monitoring and enforcing, a ban on smoking in the home are substantial, while any additional benefits in shifting from the current supportive approach to a legal prohibition are entirely unknown.
Smoking is most commonly an unwilling addiction. Studies engaging parents to support them in making their homes smoke-free have consistently indicated that parents are motivated to do so but often do not manage. Given what we know about this context, punitive sanctions are not the right response to parents and carers who are trying their best.
What we have heard from services providing support to families (for example at the recent STA event) is a real concern that a legal ban could lead to professionals (from health visitors to social work) being perceived as policing the legislation, and being denied access to the home by those not managing to comply with it. Having families disengage with support services increases the risks to children and is not what we want to see.
Exposure to tobacco smoke in the home causes real harm. ASH Scotland is already engaged in a range of activities to reduce that harm – continuing the awareness-raising campaigns (see image above) that have already achieved so much, tailoring and improving support programmes for parents and carers, providing training to front-line staff and supporting the rights of those who wish to live their lives free from other people’s tobacco smoke.
What links each of these varied approaches is that they are supportive of families rather than coercive. If that’s less exciting for the media then so be it.