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The last gasp

SCOTLAND is to become "smoke-free" under ambitious plans being drawn up by Government ministers.

The SNP has set its sights on ending tobacco consumption
The SNP has set its sights on ending tobacco consumption

The SNP is to unveil its radical proposal to effectively end tobacco consumption in Scotland over the next two decades.

At the moment, New Zealand and Finland are the only other countries to have set the goal of becoming smoke-free by a particular date – 2025 and 2040 respectively.

The SNP, which is due to announce the ambition in the new year, has yet to fix a precise date for making the nation smoke-free – but it is expected to be in broadly the same time frame.

Internationally, it is generally considered that a smoking rate of less than 5% of the population is considered to be "smoke-free".

Campaigners said aiming to have a smoke-free Scotland by the early 2030s would be an "ambitious but realistic" aim.

John Watson, director of policy and communications at anti-tobacco charity Ash Scotland, said: "We could say 'let's look at it as being within a generation'.

"For somebody born next year, let's try and achieve the target by the time they reach 18 or 21, so we are looking ahead to the next generation living their lives free from tobacco.

"For the Scottish Government to set a date and say we want to be smoke-free by this date would be great, and I think would really strengthen the idea that Scotland is a leading nation in terms of tackling tobacco."

Watson said the concept would not be about the "prohibition" of tobacco, but rather aim to drastically reduce the percentage of the population who smoke.

"What we are talking about is the people who want to quit smoking being able to do so, and children not taking up smoking," he said.

"We know that 69% of smokers say they want to quit and we know that two-thirds of current smokers started before they were 18.

"If we achieve those goals, we are actually talking about a small number of willing adult smokers continuing to do that. That is their business, and we don't want them to be criminalised or stigmatised for doing that."

Scotland was the first country in the UK to implement a ban on smoking in public places, which was introduced in March 2006 under the previous Labour administration.

Figures show the percentage of Scots adults smoking fell from 25.7% in 2006 to 23.3% last year. In 1999, just in excess of 30% of adults in Scotland smoked.

In 2010, Finland was the first country to announce its intention to be smoke-free by 2040. In March last year, the government of New Zealand announced a commitment to make the country smoke-free by 2025. The smoking rate in both countries is about 20% of adults.

Professor Gerard Hastings, of Stirling University's Centre for Tobacco Control Research, welcomed the concept of aiming for a smoke-free nation, but warned it would have to be backed with plans on how to reduce smoking rates.

"The idea of having a goal is a good one – like any other aspect of human existence, if you don't have a goal, you don't know the direction of travel and you can't plan accordingly," he said. "It is as sensible as having a destination as when you set out from a journey.

"But if that is all it is – a statement of intent without the follow-through – then it will just come back to haunt you. I think this is a realistic aim, but it is only a realistic aim if we have the follow-through."

Hastings pointed to the example of tobacco-control project "Glasgow 2000", which was launched in 1983 with the aim of making the city smoke-free by the millennium, but did not achieve its overall aim.

He argued one issue that should be considered was moving towards more limited "distribution networks" for tobacco.

He highlighted the example of Sainsbury's, which recently announced the removal of tobacco from sale at six supermarkets in response to the Scottish Government's health levy on business rates paid by large stores selling cigarettes and alcohol.

"The obvious route here is the one we have in the past taken with alcohol in particular, in that somebody with a public health remit rather than a profit remit makes a decision about how many outlets are desirable," he said.

"We might even want a bit of joined-up policy here – the high streets are dying on their feet with competition from supermarkets, so maybe Sainsbury's has shown us the way.

"Maybe we take this (tobacco sales) out of supermarkets altogether, focus it in small shops and train up the staff of small shops in public health issues so they know what they are dealing with."

Unsurprisingly, those representing the interests of smokers think legislation has already gone too far.

Simon Clark, director of pro-smoking pressure group Forest, said: "I don't think it would be a good idea to make any country smoke-fee.

"Nobody is saying smoking is a healthy or clever thing to do, but the reality is a lot of people enjoy smoking. It is a completely legal product and as we have seen with the prohibition of alcohol in the United States, if you try and drive something underground you actually drive it into the hands of the criminal gangs and you lose control of the market."

Clark claimed the almost "daily harassment" now being experienced by smokers was having the effect of encouraging them to "reach for their fags in defiance".

He also raised concerns over countries rushing to be the first to implement bans and seeing it as a "badge of honour", instead of trying to find "moderate" solutions.

"We are not against education, and clearly government has a role to play in educating people about the health risks of smoking, drinking too much alcohol, eating too much fatty food and all the rest of it," he added.

"But with smoking it has gone way beyond that for several years now and there is an element of bullying about it.

"People often talk about the nanny state – in recent years we have tended to talk about the bully state, as it is no longer being left to people to choose whether they wish to smoke or not, it is all about forcing people, it is about coercing them to give up.

"I think government has overstepped its remit if it tries to force people to give up what is a legal product."

The Scottish Government confirmed the new tobacco strategy would contain targets for the country to be smoke-free, but added it was not possible to give any further detail as it was still in development.

A spokeswoman said: "The Scottish Government is currently developing a tobacco control strategy with input from key stakeholders and we hope to launch it early next year.

"The strategy will focus on prevention, protection and cessation and will also include both a review of smoking-cessation services and ambitious targets for reducing smoking across Scotland."

THE POWER OF PACKAGING

Contextual targeting label: 
Health

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