Talking Politics

The wisdom of Scotland’s ‘smoke-free’ gamble

By Sheila Duffy

The Scottish government will publish a new, comprehensive tobacco strategy early next year and it could be set to commit to a smoke-free future - as Finland and New Zealand have already done.

Aiming for an adult smoking rate of five per cent or less in roughly a generation is an ambitious but an achievable target. It depends on effectively helping the 69% of adult smokers who say they want to be smoke-free to achieve their ambitions, and preventing children from becoming hooked on tobacco.

The tobacco industry remains a pervasive and malignant influence in our society. It works through lawyers, lobbyists and funded front groups like Forest in a perpetual game of smoke and mirrors. It seeks to throw the focus on its customers, smokers, and away from the lethal and addictive product it continues to peddle. A product which is unlike anything else that can be bought over the counter in that when used as the manufacturers intend, it will reliably kill one in two long-term consumers.

The tobacco industry makes grand gestures in the direction of its competition, and claims that effective public health measures will increase the illicit and counterfeit tobacco trade. It ignores the facts - that illicit tobacco has been in sustained decline for more than a decade, and that the claimed relationship with health measures like plain packs or tax hikes do not stand up to scrutiny.

Tobacco is a product sold on image and branding. In blind taste tests, most smokers can't tell the difference between brands of cigarette. The industry is selling a dream, which for many becomes a solid nightmare.

Fiscally, tobacco remains a drain on economies as well as on household budgets. As well as the monetary costs in terms of NHS treatments, there are direct costs from fires, litter, costs to business from absence due to ill health and the costs of secondary damage to health from breathing tobacco smoke. In human terms, the costs of lives and families damaged by heart disease, strokes, cancer and lung disease are incalculable.

Tobacco is an epidemic - one that claims more than 13,000 lives every year in Scotland. I am proud of the Scottish government's commitment to putting tobacco out of fashion and creating a future in which our children can breathe.

Sheila Duffy is chief executive of ASH Scotland.

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