Posted by: Sheila Duffy ASHS | September 28, 2011

The Power of Prevention

In last week’s draft budget and spending review John Swinney reaffirmed the Scottish Government’s direction for preventative spending, proposing a levy from April 2012 on the business rates paid by large retailers who sell tobacco and alcohol products, which will help to fund preventative measures. There were immediate and predictable protests from large scale retail interests. However these retailers currently make substantial profits from selling tobacco and alcohol to people, profits that are likely to increase if a minimum unit price is imposed on alcohol sales.

At a time of financial constraints, this far-sighted commitment to preventative spending is both welcome, and key to ensuring Scotland’s longer term success. Tobacco use and the illness it causes costs Scotland over £1 billion annually and tobacco is a major cause of health inequalities and preventable early deaths. Smoking rates in our poorest communities are four times higher than those in more affluent parts of Scotland, widening the health gap in our country. Recently, more than 30 organisations including Oxfam and WWF urged MSPs to think beyond measuring economic growth and to define measurements that aim to create a flourishing nation that is healthy in terms of its wellbeing, equalities and the environment. Tobacco control has a central role to play in achieving this.

Tobacco use is a risk factor that is common to the major non-communicable diseases (NCDs) such as cancer, cardiovascular disease, chronic respiratory disease and diabetes. These diseases are responsible for some 35 million deaths annually, of which 80 per cent occur in low and middle income countries. Following a major UN summit on NCDs on 18/19 September, the final political declaration affirmed the role of the international Framework Convention on Tobacco Control in reducing the international disease burden caused by the tobacco epidemic and underlined the “fundamental conflict of interest” between the tobacco industry and public health. The declaration also recognises the importance of price and tax measures in reducing tobacco consumption and – like the Scottish Government – affirms the key role of prevention measures in reducing these diseases.

At the meeting, real political leadership was shown by the Australian Government, which announced it will provide an additional $700,000 to the World Health Organisation to increase the global fight against tobacco smoking.

Announcing the contribution, Australian Health Minister Nicola Roxon commented: “Tobacco companies are fighting for their profits; but we are fighting for people’s lives”.

Tackling tobacco now is a worthwhile investment in Scotland’s future and necessary to protect our children. I trust our politicians in all parties will show similar vision and commitment to the future.

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