SCOTLAND'S chief medical officer is asking retailers to stop shoppers smoking or vaping in queues - because of public worries that it might be a coronavirus risk.

Dr Gregor Smith, the interim CMO, has put out a warning to retailers across Scotland asking them to put out notices warning people not light up or vape while waiting to get into shops.

Dr Smith stressed that there is "no scientific evidence" to suggest that the virus can be spread through smoke or vape drift.

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But he added in the 'for action' memo to all retailers sent to Scottish trade groups that it had been raised as a "public concern over and above the fact that many find the passive inhaling of tobacco or vape drift unpleasant".

The CMO was criticised by the smokers' group Forest for "fuelling" the unwarranted fears about smoking and vaping.

Simon Clark, director of the group said: "Most smokers are considerate and use their common sense when lighting up outside shops or in queues. They don't need more nagging notices telling them how to behave.

"It may be mildly annoying to some people, but not only is there is no evidence linking tobacco smoke or e-cigarette vapour with the spread of Covid-19, there is no evidence that smoking or vaping in the open air poses any significant threat to other people's health.

"Instead of fuelling unwarranted fears about smokers and vapers, the CMO should focus on tackling a genuine public health emergency, the ongoing coronavirus crisis."

It comes as a new scientific brief from the World Health Organisation concluded that the available evidence suggests that smoking is associated with increased severity of disease and death in hospitalized Covid-19 patients.


The opinion comes as a result of analysis of seven studies involving 1725 patients which found a "statistically significant" association between smoking and severity of Covid-19 outcomes amongst patients.

The WHO acknowledged that questions have been asked about whether smokers are equally susceptible to Covid infection and if the effects of nicotione had any biological effect on the virus - but no scientific trials were active.

There were were also no peer-reviewed studies that have evaluated the risk of SARS-CoV-2 - the virus that causes Covid-19 - infection among smokers.

Dr Smith's letter to retailers stated: "The Scottish Government would like to request that retailers take steps to discourage people from smoking or vaping whilst waiting in queues to enter premises.

"This request follows a significant volume of correspondence received by ourselves from concerned members of the public around the practice by a minority of people.

"While we stress that there is no scientific evidence to suggest that the Covid-19 virus can be spread though smoke and vape drift, this has been raised as a public concern over and above the fact that many find the passive inhaling of tobacco or vape drift unpleasant.

"The dangers of second hand tobacco smoke are well understood and there is a known health risk to people in queues who are standing close to any clusters of people who are smoking. There is no scientifically proven risk to health from inhaling second hand vape.

"Current laws governing where smoking is banned are restricted to enclosed spaces where the dangers from inhaling second-hand smoke are greater.

"Whether or not individuals are permitted to smoke outside premises remains at the discretion of management. This applies equally to retail as it does to hospitality settings.

"This Government has been working with Scottish Trading Standards, the Scottish Retailers Consortium, and Scottish Grocers Federation – organisations which collectively represent the interests of most retailers across Scotland - to seek support in introducing non-legally binding protective measures that resolve the concerns expressed around the practice of smoking and/or vaping in the relative close proximity of queues. We believe this should be discouraged for the consideration and comfort of others.

"We recognise this continues to be a very testing time for business in Scotland, but are also clear that it will take retailers, employees and customers each playing their own part in making responsible choices to allow us to make progress in reopening the sector safely.

"In line with the phase two retail sector and consumer guidance, and Operational guide for retailers (COVID-19) checklist – available on the Scottish Government website, I therefore ask for your support to consider placing signs or notices outside your premises to encourage individuals not to smoke or vape whilst waiting in queues, for the consideration and comfort of others.

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"Your assistance would be greatly appreciated in this matter."

WHO, in its latest guidance said that while tobacco causes 8 million deaths every year from cardiovascular diseases, lung disorders, cancers, diabetes, and hypertension it is also a known risk factor for severe disease and death from many respiratory infections.

It said: "WHO recommends that tobacco users stop using tobacco. Proven interventions to help users quit include toll-free quit lines, mobile text-messaging cessation programmes, nicotine replacement therapies and other approved medications."

A Scottish Government spokesman said:“The Chief Medical Officer has written to Scottish retailers, pharmacies, restaurants, cinemas and hospitality outlets to suggest that they consider placing signs or notices outside their premises to encourage individuals not to smoke or vape whilst waiting in queues, for the consideration and comfort of others.”