Scotland’s 2013 tobacco control policy overhaul has been effective over the first four years
In 2013, Scotland pledged to implement some of the most progressive tobacco control policies in the world. Their eventual goal was announced as a “smoke-free generation” by 2034 in which less than 5% of the population smoke cigarettes. In 2003, over 30% of the population smoked, the largest cause of preventable death in the country. The Scottish government laid out their plan to virtually eliminate over the next 20 years by combining proper awareness education with easier access to harm reduction tools. As a further measure they placed greater restrictions on where traditional smoking is allowed. Places such as hospitals expanded their smoking bans from just indoors to include anywhere on property.
Earlier this year the University of Edinburgh and NHS Health Scotland conducted a review on the impact the new policies have had. They found significant progress had been made in all three areas of the policy (prevention, cessation, and bystander protection). These results are encouraging for a government who went all-in on their plan to mitigate the societal impact of cigarettes. Legislators felt very strongly about harm reduction in regards to children’s long and short term health. Reviewers found that the number of children exposed to secondhand smoke had dropped from 11% to 6% between 2014 and 2015, a full five years ahead of schedule. Children themselves had become markedly less aware of cigarette brands as a result of new advertising policies preventing shop owners from displaying cigarettes where kids could see them.
The UK’s National Health Service sees smoke free reforms as “the new normal”. Smoking hasn’t been allowed in NHS buildings since 2007 and no one questions it now, so they argue acceptance of the expanded NHS grounds smoking ban is inevitable given a few years. It does appear Scotland is well on its way to becoming smoke free by 2034. At the time of the review, only 21% of the Scottish population currently smoked cigarettes, compared with 31% just over a decade earlier. In fact, the average number of cigarettes smoked per day in Scotland had dropped from over 15 a day to only 12.6, over just the last five years. Numbers like these prove Scotland is a world leader and blueprint for how to effectively implement broad tobacco control policies.
Still A Major Concern
Although things are going well overall in the fight for a smoke free Scotland, there are still those being left behind. A distinct group that hasn’t gained much ground as a result of the new policies is the financially destitute. The review found that over 35% percent of Scotland’s poorest citizens still smoked regularly, compared with only 10% of the richest citizens. Many of the poorest citizens aren’t as well educated, nor are they as able to replace smoking with less harmful substitutes. Elevated levels of stress are also a major concern for the poor. Cigarettes are a known stress reliever, which may help explain why higher rates of low income people smoke. Even with the groups that have made positive strides there is still much work to be done. Nearly a quarter of all deaths in Scotland each year are a direct result of smoking tobacco. Over 13,000 deaths and 56,000 hospital visits could potentially be avoided with continued support and implementation of a broad range of tobacco control policies.
A similar push is desperately needed worldwide. Too many people still cling to the idea that vaping is somehow just as dangerous as smoking tobacco when the evidence is clear that it isn’t. It will take serious pledges like Scotland’s to actually get the ball rolling. Mass education on harm reduction tools like e-cigarettes is needed in conjunction with harsher regulations on where smoking is allowed. The health and safety of our children may prove to be the deciding factor for legislators. It is hard to take freedoms away from people, but when the lives of our children are called into question, most can agree that personal freedoms come second.
Do you think that Scotland is doing the right thing? Do tobacco control policies have a positive or negative impact on vaping? Can society as a whole take the same plunge Scotland has? Let us know what you think in the comments.