Opinion: Time for the Scottish Government to take the next step away from tobacco

Burning cigarette
Picture: Super Fantastic
Burning cigarette
Picture: Super Fantastic

By Sheila Duffy
Chief Executive of ASH Scotland

Scotland has long suffered jokes about the health record of its citizens, and laboured under the “sick man of Europe” tag. Tobacco is the single largest contributor to that problem, with smoking implicated in one in four deaths in this country and with a greater impact on mortality than social class.

Yet Scotland is fighting back, and successive Scottish administrations have tackled the issue head-on, implementing world-leading public health policies to address the problem of tobacco. Perhaps the high-point in this work so far came with the introduction of smoke-free public places in advance of the rest of the UK. Smoking rates have halved from 47 per cent in 1972 to 24 per cent now, and the success of tobacco control efforts was highlighted recently with the publication of figures showing the lowest rates of youth smoking since records began in the mid 1980s.

Sadly not everyone welcomes this progress. The powerful tobacco industry has fought these public health measures every inch of the way – and their lies, trickery and legal challenges risk turning Scotland from leader to laggard in tobacco control.

This week, on Wednesday 16 May, tobacco industry lawyers will once again appear in the Scottish courts to oppose public health legislation. This time it is the ban on cigarette vending machines, passed overwhelmingly by the Scottish Parliament back in 2010. Such vending machines, implicated in young people accessing cigarettes, have already disappeared in England. Large, bright tobacco displays have now been removed from English supermarkets. The laws to do the same in Scotland have twice been upheld by the courts, but a quirk in the Scottish legal system allows a final appeal to the UK Supreme Court and of course the industry lawyers are fighting it to the last.

Most recently, a joint UK and Scottish Government consultation on requiring tobacco to be sold in plain packaging has been met with a furious industry response, and many of their familiar tactics. The industry has funded “grassroots” opposition, saturated retail sector media with scare-mongering stories and threatened further legal action.

Tobacco industry opposition to public health measures is a global problem, with legal challenges to public health measures underway from Australia to Uruguay. Yet there is also a global mechanism to respond. The Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) is the first international public health treaty. Brokered by the World Health Organisation 174 governments are parties to the FCTC, representing 90 per cent of the world’s population.

As a signatory to the FCTC the UK, and hence the Scottish Government, is required to protect public health from the vested interests of the tobacco industry. Article 5.3 of the Framework Convention recognises the “irreconcilable conflict” between public health and tobacco industry interests and requires governments to engage with the industry only so far as is absolutely necessary to organise effective regulation.

Here is an ideal opportunity for the Scottish Government to regain the initiative. Scottish ministers already keep tobacco industry representatives at some distance, but committing to fully implement Article 5.3 means agreeing to full transparency in all contacts with the industry, and also with those such as lawyers, PR firms and lobby groups working on their behalf. It would involve encouraging a policy of disinvestment of public money from tobacco shares. It should require a special declaration of any tobacco connections or interests from any individuals and organisations engaging in public health policy discussions.

The tobacco industry is a public pariah. In a recent YouGov poll only 7 per cent of Scots agreed that “the tobacco industry can be trusted to tell the truth”, and for good reason. They have a long history of lying and manipulating to place their profits above the interests of public health. The Scottish Government committing to fully comply with Article 5.3 would send a clear message that the tobacco industry has no role to play in determining the public health policies of our nation.

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  • Mike Iona

    Is it time for both alcohol and tobacco to be taken away from commercial sales and moved into the equivalent of Scandanavian “Alkoshops”?

    Government run, limited opening hours, no special offers, plain fronted, desolate inside, and with a similar customer experience to a visit to the Jobcentre to discuss a stopped benefit.

    • Mike Iona

       Edit to add;  Also no credit cards, cash or debit card only.  In effect should we completely remove any possibility of pleasure being derived from the purchase of alcohol & tobacco?

  • Maidmarrion

    I have yet to hear of  a smoker who attacked someone in the street for no apparent reason, unlike the aggressive drunk.

    I get really sick of the “we know best brigade” and their puritanical rightness. 

    May I go to hell in my own way please – requiring no one elses permission or condemnation?

  • Sheila Duffy’s claim that “Scotland has long suffered jokes about the health record of its citizens, and laboured under the “sick man of Europe” tag” may be right but  the claim “Tobacco is the single largest contributor to that problem, with smoking implicated in one in four deaths in this country and with a greater impact on mortality than social class”  shows how well she has taken on board from the tobacco industry how to manipulate statistics for her own purposes. The drinking problem and this article although from the US shows it’s not just tobacco which is affecting Scotland’s health  Bit scary – unhealthy foods kill more americans than tobacco  
    http://www.baltimoresun.com/news/opinion/readersrespond/bs-ed-obesity-diet-20120512,0,582975.story   Still she has to justify her funding from the Scots Gov 

  • Libertarian John

    *****Scots agreed that “the tobacco industry can be trusted to tell the truth”, and for good reason.***

    And can we trust “Sheila Duffy” to tell the truth,  running what I regard a fake* charity. Please stop pretending, you get virtually all your funds directly from government, the information you publish has already been pulled a part by groups such as “freedom to choose”.

    How much does you organisation spend on lobbying government who in returns gives this  charity even more money. Just a reminder, this is not governments money, it is our money, money taken by force from us tax payer who government in return gives it to you. 

    The truth is people don’t care, if people really care you would not need to go cap in hand to Alex begging for more money because virtually no individual would voluntarily  donate you a penny.

    Yes smoking is bad for you, in fact I go one step further it can kill you and perhaps  destroy your life by passive smoking it. The reason why I don’t smoke, the reason why I don’t allow the wife to smoke or allow smoking on my own property or visit any property that may allow smoking.  I do so by my voluntary choice, no law was used, no force was used so what exactly is ash Scotland doing with tax payers money?

    Ash Scotland is campaigning for what I regarding another step to totalitarianism, laws, regulations dictating to people how they should or should not live their lives. If people want to smoke, they should be allowed to do so with out being penalised with high taxes or restriction of choice.

    With liberty comes responsibility, if you decide to smoke, then you as an individual need to take responsibility for that bad life style choice.   We all need to ask our selves is it government responsible to look after us or should it be up to all of us to take responsibility for our own lives.

    Liberty is about taking control of your own life, when you have individuals campaigning for government “to take the next step” or another law, after another law to the point we all might as well say good bye to freedom.

    If you want to kill your self by drink/smoking, then what gives me the god given right to stand in the way, I will stay out of your life so  long you stay out of mine.  Organisation such as Ash Scotland is a major threat to freedom, as it is actively campaigning for government to take liberty,  wants government to interfere is your life style choices thus Ash Scotland should be considered a real enemy to liberty. 

    Note, I regard it as a fake charity as a large percentage of the funding is not voluntary based.

    Information on Ash Scotland  from http://fakecharities.org, last updated 2009:
    ***Stated Aims***

    The objects for which the Company is established are the advancement
    of health to protect people from the harmful effects of tobacco through
    promoting and encouraging effective policy and standards development;
    training and education in cessation and prevention and dissemination of
    research and relevant information for the benefit of all communities and
    the public generally.


    Openly prohibitionist anti-smoking pressure group. Upon leaving office after 12 years, its Chief Executive Maureen Moore said

    “As the Scottish Government work towards a smoking prevention
    strategy next spring, let’s see them state outright that they want
    Scotland to become a smoke-free society and they will provide all the
    necessary support, funding, and legislation to do so.”


    Of the £468,500 ASH received in grants and donations in 2006/07,
    £403,800 came from the Scottish Parliament. The remainder came from
    Health Scotland (which is part of NHS Scotland) and the British Heart
    Foundation (which receives £4m from the government).

  • John Watson

    Like the guy below I’m also a libertarian called John. And because I’m a libertarian I think fully-informed adults who choose to smoke should be able to do so. Only problem is that very few adults start smoking – it is an addiction which people take up as children. And we know from asking adult smokers that most of them want to give up. So in order to maintain people’s freedom from this addictive substance we need to restrict the ability of the tobacco industry to market its addictive (and lethal) products to our children. Simple – and entirely libertarian.

    • Libertarian John

      Well, I am now concerned, as my name is also “John Watson”, but will stick to Libertarian John to avoid confusion. 

      “ddictive substance we need to restrict the ability of the tobacco industry to market its addictive (and lethal) products to our children.”

      I have to disagree with you, it is up to us parents to educate our children, it is up to us to teach our children to read between the lines and not believe every advert on Television.  As you advocate one law, then another, then another law to the point we all might as well say good bye to freedom which I consider incompatible to liberty

      Rather than another law, it is up to people like you and me, and even anti smoking organisations (not ash Scotland) to educate children of the risk of alcohol, drink and other harms in life.  I remember 20 years ago when I was a child their was organisations such as “smoke busters” who visited primary schools to educate young children of the risks of smoking. 

      I don’t believe government getting involved at any level is the solution but always causes more problems.  “John” if you are based in Edinburgh, we have a Libertarian meetup in the next few weeks, search “Scottish Libertarians” on facebook. 

  • Bill Gibson

    The day that politicians give up their Pensions for Life that are being kept afloat by their Pension Fund Managers who have invested wisely in the Tobacco Industry over the years thus showing a good return for the investment in what is a grewth market.

  • Bill Gibson

    Soon, the likes of Sheila Duffy will be answerable within a Court of Law when being sued for financial damages to businesses as a direct result of the gross misinformation that she presents to Government and the media. The social and ecomomic damages caused so far are huge, so let the Law Courts decide on the fate of Non Government Organisations and the individuals within.