ASH Scotland’s 40th Anniversary

– in the Scottish Parliament at on 26 June 2013.

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Photo of John Scott John Scott Conservative

The final item of business is a members’ business debate on motion S4M-06389, in the name of Duncan McNeil, on the 40th anniversary of Action on Smoking & Health (Scotland). The debate will be concluded without any question being put.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament notes that 2013 is the 40th anniversary of the founding of ASH Scotland; notes that the health charity works with a wide range of partners in pursuit of “a healthier Scotland, free from the harm and inequality caused by tobacco”; understands that, during this time, the smoking rate among adults in Scotland has halved to 23.3%;  believes that this has brought huge benefits, with one million people having greatly reduced risk of contracting cancer, heart disease, stroke and other conditions; believes that preventing children from taking up smoking, protecting people from second-hand smoke and supporting smokers who want to quit is crucial to further improving health in Greenock and Inverclyde and across the country, and looks forward to a time when the only people who smoke are the small number of adults who actively choose to do so.

Photo of Duncan McNeil Duncan McNeil Labour

It has been a long day and I thank all the members who have been able to stay behind and, of course, all those who signed the motion.

In 1973, the Scottish committee of Action on Smoking and Health, as it was originally known, was established by the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh. It operated from a small backroom in the RCPE buildings with just two part-time staff—its medical director, Dr Eileen Crofton, the wife of Sir John Crofton, and its secretary, Alison Hillhouse, who became ASH Scotland’s chief executive in 1984.

The world was very different then and smoking was accepted as the norm in Scotland in public and private. People then were just as likely to see somebody smoking in hospital as we are to see people smoking outside a hospital entrance now, since action has been taken. ASH Scotland campaigned to limit the influence of the tobacco industry through advertising and sponsorship, to increase tobacco taxation, to create smoke-free places and to provide advice to smokers who wanted to quit.

ASH Scotland worked hard to communicate to policy makers the evidence of the harm that smoking does. Many of us will remember the successful publication in 1982 of the facts constituency by constituency—that is almost the norm now—to influence politicians and to make the Scottish epidemic more vivid to parliamentarians.

By the late 1990s and into the new millennium, ASH Scotland had grown from two people to nearly 20 and offered the public specialist tobacco information and smoking cessation services. It also developed and delivered projects to reduce the health inequalities resulting from tobacco.

The 2000s saw a raft of strong controls on tobacco from Holyrood and Westminster. Scotland led the United Kingdom by introducing smoke-free public places in 2006. We also saw a UK-wide ban on tobacco advertising and sponsorship and a rise in the minimum age of sale from 16 to 18, along with graphic warnings on each pack and the expansion throughout Scotland of free national health service support for people who want to stop smoking.

Forty years of action on smoking and health is the proud boast of ASH Scotland. Although it would not claim to have done all that on its own, it has worked with organisations such as the British Heart Foundation and the Government to achieve a legacy of which to be proud in highlighting the hazards and risks of smoking for individuals, groups, children and young people.

Since ASH Scotland was formed more than four decades ago, the number of adults in Scotland who smoke has more than halved, from 50 per cent of the population in the early 1970s to less than 25 per cent today. That means that about a million fewer adults in Scotland are now smoking.

We cannot discuss the ASH Scotland story without mentioning the impact that it has had in the Parliament. No one who was in and around the Parliament in the lead-up to and during the passage of the bill that introduced the ban on smoking in public places could have been unaware of the campaigning zeal of ASH Scotland—it could not be ignored. Its impact in the Parliament was significant as it pushed and encouraged us to make decisions that, it must be conceded, resulted in what some people described as a ban too far, although others described it as the single biggest public health measure that we could have taken to improve the health of the people of Scotland.

That was when I and many others came across the organisation up close. I confess that, as a member of the then Health Committee, which scrutinised the bill, I was sceptical about what the ban could achieve and what was possible. I was unconvinced not about the harm of smoking but about what we could achieve. I asked many tough questions of organisations and others throughout that process.

It was a tough gig to be on that committee. The then convener, Roseanna Cunningham, was uncompromising. She dragged us off to Dublin on a fact-finding mission. We visited bar after bar in the Temple Bar area long into the night, with many hours given to the examination of the impact of the smoking ban in Ireland.

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

You have one minute left.

Photo of Duncan McNeil Duncan McNeil Labour

After the visit, I freely accept that, far from being sceptical, I became optimistic about what could be achieved. I was, if members like, converted on the road back from Dublin.

My efforts to get on board were not always welcome. My amendment to the Smoking, Health and Social Care (Scotland) Bill to change the minimum legal age for buying tobacco to 18 did not get off to the best start. ASH was sceptical about whether that would be a good measure, but I was pleased to convert it on that occasion. I see that it now lists the increase in the age at which tobacco can be purchased as a significant milestone.

Although this is a night to congratulate ASH on its work and achievements, we agree that much more needs to be done. There are issues that relate to young adolescents and inequalities that must be addressed, and we agree on that point, too.

I thank the Presiding Officer for his indulgence.

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

Members will be aware that standing orders dictate that we must finish by 7 o’clock. I ask the members who are due to speak to confine themselves to no more than their time; less would be more—that would be appreciated.

I call Stewart Stevenson, who has up to four minutes.

Photo of Stewart Stevenson Stewart Stevenson Scottish National Party

I start by congratulating Duncan McNeil on giving me another opportunity to be less than moderate on a subject that I am passionate about. I register once again my absolute admiration for the political courage of a Labour First Minister, Jack McConnell, when, building on the work of Stewart Maxwell, he put his personal credibility on the line to make the smoking legislation happen. Those were brave acts that should be congratulated.

Photo of Stewart Stevenson Stewart Stevenson Scottish National Party

Please forgive me, but I really do not have time.

As I have said, I am no moderate on the subject. When others suggest that tobacco companies are murderers, I can summon no counter-argument. Every 30 minutes, a Scot dies as a consequence of tobacco; during this short debate, someone will die because tobacco companies choose that that is the case.

ASH has done a great deal in the 40 years since it was founded to raise the issue in the public consciousness and in legislative fora. I was a fresh-faced 26-year-old when it was founded. I do not see that person in the mirror today; I see a very different Scotland in the mirror today.

Smoking is not a new issue. I will provide members with some quotes. First,

“smoking is dangerous to the lungs.”

Secondly, it is

“Hurtfull and dangerous to youth.”

Thirdly, it is

“very pernicious to the heart.”

Those quotations were published respectively in 1604, 1606 and 1637 by James VI. In my family, that takes me 10 generations back to my eight-times great-grandfather, Andrew Berry.

James VI wrote in “A Counter-blaste to Tobacco”:

“This filthy smoke makes a kitchen oftentimes in the inward parts of men, soiling and infecting them with an unctuous and oily kinde of soote, as hath bene found ... That after their death were opened.”

He attended post-mortems and saw, 400 years ago, the effects of tobacco. We still grapple with that issue.

One of the first acts of James VI in 1603, when he became the king of the United Kingdom, was to raise the taxation on a pound of tobacco from tuppence to £6 and 10 shillings, so this guy got it right. In today’s terms, by the way, that would be equivalent to a tax of £40,000 on a pound of tobacco. That shows that we have understood the problem for a very long time, yet we still allow the pernicious tobacco companies to kill people in our society.

In the 20th century, more people in the UK were lost to the consequences of smoking than have been lost in all the wars in which we have been involved—I include civilian and military casualties. More people have been killed by smoking. Therefore, when we talk about smoking prevention and ASH’s role in it, we talk about an extremely important subject.

Ireland is a good model in one way, but there are still ashtrays in the bar behind the Dáil—there is a special, informal exception for members of the Dáil. Thank goodness we have not followed them down that road.

Photo of Jackson Carlaw Jackson Carlaw Conservative

I suppose that, in what constitutes an all-night sitting for this Parliament, it is appropriate, at the fag end of the day, that we should be discussing ASH. I thank Duncan McNeil for lodging the motion, and I note that ASH has endured for 40 years.

After that, I am afraid that I am not going to be very nice, because I have a number of reservations. First, I declare a vested interest: I am a lifelong non-smoker. I abhor smoke. Growing up, I would come home on the school bus, which had the bench seats upstairs. You could have cut the atmosphere on the top deck of the bus with a knife and fork. I agree with everything that Stewart Stevenson said about smoking and its effect on public health, and the loss of life that it has caused over many years.

I am prepared to attribute to ASH some of the credit for many of the initiatives that Duncan McNeil listed, although many of those initiatives were progressed by committed politicians on all sides of the political divide out of conviction, and not just because an external agency was lobbying for them.

My reservations about ASH relate to its funding. Of the £1.2 million that it received last year, only £23,000 came from donations that it received, as a charity, from the public, whereas £569,000 came from the Government. Of the voluntary income component of £307,000, a further £250,000 came from the Government, and £33,000 came from NHS Scotland.

I suppose that what really concerns me is that donations were received from the British Heart Foundation and Cancer Research UK. I say that because I do not know that, when people give money to those organisations in voluntary appeals, they realise that some of it is transferred directly, by way of a grant, to a campaigning organisation such as ASH. That knowledge would not change my donation. I donate a considerable amount of money to Cancer Research UK each year, but I do so because I think that the organisation is researching into a cure for cancer. I think that there needs to be more transparency on where the funding comes from and where it goes.

I look at where the money was spent. Of the £1.2 million, £910,000 was spent on salaries. Very little was spent on campaigning; indeed, expenditure on publications and the website fell over the past year. At the same time, expenditure on fees to consultancies and on travel to attend various conferences increased.

I want to see direct action to assist people to reduce their smoking. I want to see smoking levels being reduced. I want people who want to give up smoking to be given every encouragement to do that. I want every effort to be made to reduce smoking among young people.

However, I am also pragmatic in as much as I do not want to hitch myself to every bandwagon that is going. I note that ASH says that it supports only things that are fundamentally evidence based. If that is the case, I would prefer to see the empirical evidence from Australia on plain packaging before I assert that that will make a difference. If it does, I will be very happy to support it, but if it does not, the campaign for plain packaging is a campaign towards a false promise. If it does not contribute to reducing smoking, a legislative solution that promotes something that, ultimately, is proven not to work is not a sensible use of our time.

Similarly, I note that ASH Scotland says that we should support the member’s bill to make it illegal to smoke in cars where children are present. I have huge concerns about the enforceability of that. For example, will children, as the only witnesses, be called to give evidence against their parents? I do not know.

For all that, I think that people at the age of 40 should stand on their own two feet, not on public subsidies, and I want ASH to cease its public funding and make its own way in the world by encouraging the public to give it the money that it needs.

Photo of Jackie Baillie Jackie Baillie Labour

I welcome the opportunity to participate in the debate and join others in congratulating Duncan McNeil on securing the time for it, albeit at the end of a long day.

It is customary for members to agree with one another in members’ business debates, but I find it extremely difficult to agree with anything that Jackson Carlaw said. However, I will leave it at that; after all, we are here to celebrate ASH Scotland’s 40th anniversary and we can be in no doubt that they have been 40 years of very effective and successful campaigning to ensure that action is taken on smoking.

ASH Scotland has been key in changing public opinion and challenging Government at all levels to be brave and to lead the way in tackling the consequences of smoking. We all know about the link between tobacco and ill health and, indeed, the abundantly clear link with cancer and we know that it increases the risk of a variety of conditions that I will not name in deference to the Presiding Officer and his wish that my speech be swift. The point is that there really is nothing good to be said about smoking. Equally, there is nothing quite like a convert. I gave up smoking something like a decade ago and have never looked back, and I would encourage others to do the same.

It is right that we record the progress on this issue that has been made in both Parliaments. Tobacco advertising was banned first on radio and then on television; health warnings began to appear on cigarette packets; and the legislation to ban smoking in public spaces, which was an historic moment for this Parliament, has made a huge difference. I should perhaps put on record that, way back in 1983, George Foulkes was the very first person to introduce a member’s bill on this subject—not here, but in another place—and that he was very patient in waiting for legislation on the matter to be passed. Of course, Duncan McNeil was very successful in pushing through the Parliament’s committee system measures to raise the age for purchasing tobacco from 16 to 18. Then we had the ban on unstaffed vending machines and the changes to tobacco displays. As Mr McNeil pointed out, the adult smoking rate when ASH Scotland was set up was 50 per cent; according to the latest Scottish household survey, which is for 2011, that rate is down to 23 per cent.

I welcome the Scottish Government’s most recent strategy on achieving a smoke-free Scotland. However, although we agree with the aspiration, we recognise that it will be a challenge to deliver and I hope that the minister will outline some of the action that the Government intends to take, particularly in deprived areas. After all, the prevalence rate of smoking in disadvantaged areas is 40 per cent; when we compare that with the rate for adults in the least deprived areas, which stands at 11 per cent, we realise that there is a huge job still to be done. The gap is just too big and is a major contributor to health inequality and mortality rates. If the minister is going to choose only one area on which we should focus, I plead with him that it should be that one.

Most people I know experience a road to Damascus moment; in Duncan McNeil’s case, it was the road back from Dublin. I congratulate ASH not only on making us all brave and ensuring that we took that same road, but on ensuring that we continue to be brave in future.

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

I call Michael Matheson. Minister, you may have the six minutes and 15 seconds up to 7 o’clock.

Photo of Michael Matheson Michael Matheson Scottish National Party

Thank you very much, Presiding Officer.

Like others, I congratulate Duncan McNeil on securing time for this important debate, and I welcome his reflections on ASH Scotland’s work, although I have to confess that when it was established I had not even started primary school.

In its 40 years, ASH Scotland has made a lot of progress in supporting changes to our society’s overall perception of smoking and tobacco. The cultural shift that has been created has, if anything, probably been more significant than the simple legislative changes that have been made, and like others I pay tribute to ASH Scotland for its significant contribution to Scotland’s tobacco control strategy and agenda in recent years. All those who have been associated with ASH Scotland over the years can be very proud of the part that they have played in that success, particularly in more recent years.

Duncan McNeil said that he was involved in scrutinising the bill to introduce the ban on smoking in public places. Scotland led the way in the United Kingdom in that particular area of policy, and Ireland was among the first countries in the world to introduce such a ban. However, significant work was done in the Scottish Parliament before we got to the point of legislation. Kenny Gibson looked to introduce a member’s bill to ban smoking in restaurants, and Stewart Maxwell looked to introduce a member’s bill before the then Scottish Executive decided to introduce its own legislation to ban smoking in public places. Therefore, from a very early stage in the Parliament, there was clearly an intention among members to consider how we could address smoking in our society and to take forward progressive measures that would assist us in doing that.

We have made significant progress since the ban was introduced in 2006. As Jackie Baillie mentioned, we have had the comprehensive legislation to ban tobacco advertising and promotion, which has been implemented across the UK. The minimum age of sale has been raised—Duncan McNeil referred to that. We have seen the implementation of large graphic warnings on packs as a result of policy changes, and smoking cessation services have been established and have become increasingly accessible across the country.

I am pleased that, following the unsuccessful legal challenges that the tobacco companies mounted against the legislation to ban the display of tobacco in shops, larger shops have introduced a display ban. By April 2015, the ban on tobacco displays will be implemented in our smaller retailers.

Jackie Baillie referred to our new “Creating a Tobacco-free Generation” tobacco control strategy, which I launched at the end of March this year. Again, I thank ASH for the role that it played in supporting the development of that strategy.

Scotland is among the first countries in the world to have introduced an ambitious target for reducing smoking prevalence. The target is to reduce that to 5 per cent of our population by 2034. A child who is born this year will celebrate their 21st birthday in 2034. Our aim is to create a generation of young people and young adults who do not smoke; to create a Scotland in which young people and young adults turn away from tobacco use; and to get the health, social and economic benefits that will come from that approach. As a Government, we recognise that that is a very ambitious approach to take to tobacco control, but we believe that we need to take bold and decisive action to reduce smoking prevalence in Scotland further to create a tobacco-free generation.

The 5 per cent target is certainly challenging. Achieving it will require a determined effort on the part of the Government and other agencies that have a role to play in helping to reduce smoking prevalence. We believe that the target can help to ensure that we fundamentally change the whole culture of smoking in Scotland and get the health benefits that will come from that.

We will take forward a range of measures in the five-year strategy to ensure that we take action. The strategy includes a national campaign that will start early next year to raise awareness of the dangers associated with smoking in enclosed spaces; the introduction of a new target to achieve a substantial reduction in children’s exposure to second-hand smoke by 2020; continued support for parents to create smoke-free homes for children; and the aim of all our NHS boards having smoke-free grounds by 2015. We will also review our smoking cessation services with a view to ensuring that they are much more effective, particularly in tackling smoking in our more deprived communities, in order to close the gap.

The strategy can help to deliver real change over the next five years. It can help to ensure that we make progress on the agenda and demonstrate yet again that Scotland is prepared to lead the world in taking forward the necessary bold measures that will enable us to achieve our target of becoming a smoke-free nation by 2034. I have no doubt that ASH Scotland will continue to play its role in ensuring that we deliver on that commitment.

Meeting closed at 18:59.