Posted by: Sheila Duffy ASHS | March 25, 2011

Smoke-free success

ASH Scotland join with Scottish Rugby stars Gavin and Scott Hastings, and Health Minister Andy Kerr to support smoke-free public places May 2005

This Saturday 26 March, looking back with the perspective of five years of smoke-free public places, we can celebrate the real benefits this law has brought for Scotland.

Tobacco smoke is toxic. In the early days after the smoking ban came in, bar workers reported rapid improvements in their health. With time and research we saw further clear health benefits including a 39% reduction in second-hand smoke exposure amongst non-smoking adults and children, a 17% reduction in hospital admissions for acute coronary syndrome, and an 18% reduction in child asthma admissions to hospital (as against an increase of 5% in the years leading up to the ban). 

More surprising were the unintended beneficial side effects. The legislation was passed to protect people from having to breathe tobacco smoke in places where they worked and socialised. However the debate around smoke-free and greater awareness led to many adults realising the need to protect children’s health, and taking active steps to reduce their exposure, with children reporting an increase in a complete ban on smoking in their home one year following the ban on smoking in public places.

However despite the excellent health outcomes that smoke-free legislation has brought Scotland, the harm from breathing in tobacco smoke remains. Over a quarter of Scottish children are still exposed to tobacco smoke in their own home, and in Scotland’s poorest areas more than half of babies and young children are regularly breathing in this poisonous substance. We know that the most dangerous parts of tobacco smoke are the very fine particles which are not removed by ventilation or opening windows, and which seep through a home despite closed doors.

Building on the success of smoke-free laws, we need social marketing campaigns to reach out to communities and re-emphasise the harmfulness of tobacco smoke and the particular risks to children, and we need to find effective ways of supporting families to reduce the harm. 

The smoke-free legislation would not have been passed without the strong voices and campaigning of many health and civic organisations and the commitment of MSPs who wanted to reduce the harm caused by tobacco smoke. This courageous legislation is an excellent example of devolution working for the people of Scotland and it is no surprise it is often cited as the best achievement of the Scottish Parliament, and taken by other countries as a gold standard example to follow. It is time for the new intake of MSPs in May to now look at how else they can protect people, especially children, from the harmful effects of smoking and second-hand smoke.

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