SCOTLAND'S groundbreaking ban on smoking in public places of March 2006 has probably done more to boost public health than any other piece of legislation passed by the Scottish Parliament.
The number of people being taken to hospital with heart attacks dropped by 17% in the year following its introduction while the number of children admitted to hospital with asthma fell by 15% in the three years to 2009.
Since then, smoking has become increasingly marginalised as a lifestyle choice in Scotland. Last month, the Scottish Government announced it wanted to keep up the pressure by setting a target of reducing the number of smokers from the current 23% of the population to less than 5% by 2034, at which point Scotland would be designated as tobacco-free.
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So the ban that comes into force today on cigarette vending machines and the open display of tobacco products in large shops is timely and welcome. It is paradoxical that vending machines should have survived for so long in a climate of increased anxiety about underage smoking. As for hiding cigarettes from customers' view, that can only help former smokers avoid temptation, not to mention hasten the end of a decades-long culture in Scotland in which buying cigarettes was as normal as buying bread or coffee.
Tobacco companies oppose the change, naturally, just as they oppose the introduction of standardised packaging for tobacco products, but both are essential. Just because cigarettes are no longer to be on display – and they will have to be hidden from view in smaller shops as well as large ones within two years – the cachet attached to certain brands of cigarettes will not diminish until the packaging, and indeed the design of cigarettes themselves, is completely standardised.
Young women in particular have been ruthlessly targeted by cigarette companies. Certain brands use boxes blatantly designed to look like perfume packaging, complete with floral imagery. It may not matter much that cigarettes are banned from display in stores if teenagers still get a kick out of showing off their glitzy fag packets to their friends as if they were designer logos. Plain cigarette and package design will help sever the link in young women's minds between smoking and glamour. The Scottish Government has pledged to support standardised packaging and legislation cannot come soon enough.
Meanwhile, Liberal Democrat MP Jim Hume's proposed Member's Bill on banning smoking in cars carrying children is also worthy of serious consideration. Passive smoking in children can have long-term health effects and, as children typically have no say in whether others smoke around them, there are strong grounds for such a ban. Like all types of driving offence, it might prove difficult to enforce in each and every instance, but that is no reason to reject the proposal. The once-unimaginable prospect of a tobacco-free Scotland could actually be achievable if politicians can now stay the course.