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Ten years on, has Scotland’s smoking ban been a success?

Scotland's then First Minister Jack McConnell attends a smoke free event at Edinburgh Airport on March 26, 2006.
Scotland's then First Minister Jack McConnell attends a smoke free event at Edinburgh Airport on March 26, 2006.

Ten years ago today, it became illegal to smoke in an enclosed public place in Scotland with England, Wales and Northern Ireland following suit the year after.

The Smoking, Health and Social Care (Scotland) Act 2005 was a watershed moment for anti-tobacco campaigners, and supporters say it has had a hugely positive effect on Scotland’s public health.

But the licensed trade says pubs are suffering and others say the ban has been an infringement of civil liberties.

The Act established that from March 26 2006, it would be an offence to smoke in any wholly or substantially enclosed public space in Scotland, with a small number of exceptions, such as prisons, care homes and police interview rooms. Private member clubs were not exempted.

It passed on June 30 2005 by 97 votes to 17. Only the Scottish Conservatives opposed it on grounds that the law infringed personal freedoms and that ventilation systems had improved.

It was a watershed moment for anti-tobacco campaigners particularly when, four years later, figures from the World Health Organisation suggested that tobacco use kills more than six million people worldwide annually.

The WHO study also concluded that passive smoking is the cause of one in every 100 deaths worldwide. The toll was heaviest on women and children who accounted for three-quarters of the 600,000 non-smokers thought to die from passive smoking each year.

According to the NHS, smoking remains the biggest single cause of preventable premature death in Scotland, claiming around 13,000 lives each year.

And passive smoking annually kills 865 life-long non-smokers in Scotland mostly through exposure in the home.

And yet according to a survey produced by a pro-smoking group this week, over half of adults living in Scotland think pubs and private members’ clubs, including working men’s clubs, should be allowed to provide a well-ventilated designated smoking room to accommodate smokers.

A Populus survey of more than 1,000 adults living in Scotland found that 54% of the public would allow smoking rooms, with 40% opposed.

This is in contrast to the Scottish Government which is confident that most people are in favour of the 2006 move.

Simon Clark, director of the smokers’ group Forest that commissioned the poll said: “Politicians like to claim the smoking ban has been a huge popular success. This poll suggests they are out of touch with many ordinary people.”

Paul Waterson, chief executive of the Scottish Licensed Trade Association, told The Courier that since 2006, an average of three mainly rural pubs per week had closed in Scotland and the smoking ban, he said, was an underlying cause of these “terrible” times.

He said: “Eighty-per-cent of our three and five day drinkers smoked, so it’s not rocket science to say what happened when the ban came in. We were told at the time more people would start frequenting pubs when the smoking ban was in force. But that was nonsense then and its nonsense now.

“People are quick to tell us there have been other factors for the decline of pubs. Cheap supermarket drink and the depression of 2008 are cited. Tighter drink drive laws are another. But if you take away the foundation of our business, without the ban we would have been in a better place to ride these out. We were collateral damage.”

Mr Waterson said a survey in 2005 said 70% of people backed a smoking ban in public places. However, when people were asked a supplementary question should smoking be banned in pubs and bars 70% said no.

He realises pubs cannot turn back the clock, but he believes there is a strong case for some flexibility through the creation of smoking rooms.

Jeff Ellis, proprietor of the Bear Tavern in Newburgh, Fife, who is also president of the Fife Licensed Trade Association and chairman of the Fife Licensing Forum, added: “The on-trade generally has suffered from the cumulative effects of a handful of significant factors over the past 10 years.

“In chronological order these have been the smoking ban; the continued growth of the “below cost” alcohol sales of the supermarkets – research carried out on behalf of NHS Scotland shows that over half of all alcohol sold through the off-trade is sold at less than 50p per unit – the economic downturn and the credit crunch; changing habits both in terms of health awareness changes and alcohol consumption changes; and the reduced drink drive limit.

“Coupled with these principal factors have been the unfair treatment of the on-trade, for example in terms of rates.”

Health campaigners Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) Scotland say the smoking ban has saved the Scottish adult population the equivalent of breathing in over half a tonne of toxic material.

Working with academics at Aberdeen University, they conclude that levels of dangerous PM2.5 cancer-causing toxic particles which can travel deep into the lungs via passive smoking – decreased by 86% in pubs when smoking was moved outside. Public Health Minister Maureen Watt said it was clear the smoking ban was “without doubt the right thing to do”.

“Things have had to change, “ she said. “But few would argue they haven’t changed for the better.

“Scotland was the first country in the UK to ban smoking in public places. Since then, evidence shows that the smoking ban has contributed to a 39% reduction in second-hand smoke exposure in adults and 11-year old children, a 17 % reduction in hospital admissions for acute coronary syndrome and improvements in the respiratory health of bar workers.

“Nearly nine out of 10 Scottish adults and almost two thirds of smokers support the smoking ban.

“It has increased awareness of the risks associated with second-hand smoke and there is some evidence of changing social norms around exposing others to second-hand smoke. There was also a 15 % reduction in the number of children with asthma being admitted to hospital in the three years after the ban came into force. And just last month, a study suggested that the ban may have helped reduce the number of teenagers taking up smoking by a fifth.

“But we know there is much more to do, and we remain firmly committed to creating a tobacco-free generation by 2034.”

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