Brian Monteith: Smoke-free Scotland benefits only bureaucrats
The evidence is that all smoking control funding could be cut and smoking rates would still fall, writes Brian Monteith
THIS March, it will be seven years since the ban on smoking in public places was introduced in Scotland. Many meaningless claims have been made about its popularity, the miracle of falling heart attack rates, improving asthmatic diagnosis and the consequent need to go further in reducing smoking rates.
Since 2006 we have had further restrictions designed, without a shred of reliable, provable evidence that they will work, to further stigmatise smokers as too stupid to know what’s good for them and too stubborn to change.
Displaying cigarettes will be illegal, while displaying pornography will be OK if, nudge, nudge, wink, wink, it is put on the top shelf. Campaigners are looking for a ban on cigarette packaging – and a ban on smoking in your own car is around the corner, even if you are the only one in it at the time.
In December, Sheila Duffy, the chief executive of the government-funded anti-tobacco campaign group Ash Scotland, heralded her objective of Scotland becoming a smoke-free nation within a generation. She defined “smoke free” as an adult smoking rate of less than 5 per cent, compared to the current level of 23.3 per cent. Soon, probably around the smoking ban anniversary, the Tobacco Control Plan will appear, and I would not be surprised to hear health secretary Alex Neil champion a smoke-free Scotland like he champions a UK-free Scotland.
There will be a gaggle of health professionals agreeing, charities announcing their support and the BMA will squeal with delight. They will all be talking to themselves, for if there’s anything that will make little difference to reducing smoking rates it is creating more laws, victimising smokers more and especially throwing taxpayers’ money at the problem.
Far more productive would be to treat people as adults and not an underclass by stopping the funding of the campaigners and smoke police. This might sound incredible, for it confounds the claims of an anti-smoking lobby that has grown obese on public funding, but the evidence supports axing these millions we squander.
The bald truth is that smoking rates have been coming down gradually for years – but all the efforts of the tobacco haters of this world have made no perceptible impact. They might well have not bothered.
Before I continue, let me explain that I write not as a smoker in the traditional sense, as my parents’ smoking put me off cigarettes for life. I do, however, enjoy a good cigar once a week and even find, rather strangely, that I smoke possibly more now than I did before the ban. So I write, not out of any personal agenda for 20-a-day smokers, but simply because I believe that those who seek to control our lifestyles not only have no right but, even if they did, are in fact going about it the wrong way.
I should also say that my father, a genuine smoker, died from secondary cancer following the lung cancer that he had recovered from. So I know all about the risks, realities and pain – but he, like me, would never have thought he had the right to tell people what personal lifestyle choices they should make.
I fully appreciate that smoking tobacco carries health risks, but I also recognise that if some 70 per cent of smokers say they would like to give up then some 30 per cent of smokers don’t. Even if all of those who want to quit were to do so, it would still leave at least 7 per cent of adults smoking.
But that’s not going to happen, because the large numbers of those who want to quit, possibly the majority, have shown an amazing resistance to doing as they’re told.
Following some freedom of information requests by Freedom to Choose Scotland, an entirely voluntary body with no funding from big tobacco, big pharmaceutical companies or big government, we can now see that spending on tobacco control in Scotland has increased an amazing 15-fold since 1999 from £1.45 million to £22m – to little or no effect.
Since devolution in 1999 the smoking rate among adults in Scotland has declined every year but one, by around half a percentage point each year. There is no evidence, no spike in the statistics, that shows the advertising ban, the smoking in public places ban or the general stigmatising of smokers has had any significant effect on a trend of falling smoking rates that began way back in the 1960s.
Counter to all the wild claims following the smoking ban, the smoking rate actually went up in 2007 and compared to the significant falls in smoking previously achieved, the fall in the smoking rate between 1999-2011 has slowed.
This suggests that we have now reached a statistical region of a hard core of smokers who are far more resistant to what politicians or society might think and are far more likely to thumb their noses at the well-meaning Sheila Duffys of this world.
Ban smoking in pubs: they’ll stand outside the pubs, no matter how cold. Ban cigarettes on display: so what, they’ll just ask for their usual. No fancy packaging to attract teenagers? Its absence never stopped youngsters buying dope, cocaine or heroin.
The evidence suggests we could cut back on all the smoking control funding and still see smoking rates fall.
Far better, we could encourage smokers to switch to e-cigarettes – a system of nicotine delivery that has been shown to reduce tobacco dependency. That pharmaceutical companies and Ash Scotland wish to have e-cigs banned tells us everything – their desire is not to reduce smoking but to control smoking to the benefit of pharma that sells cures and bureaucrats who benefit from policing the rules.
When the tobacco control plan is published it will call for more restrictions and more spending to police them, for those people behind these plans know no other way. Such a demand is nothing but blatant rent-seeking from a class of professionals that depend on ever-increasing budgets to keep them in the salaries, pensions and lifestyles that they are accustomed to.
If there’s one addiction Scotland must break, it’s from big government as the cure-all. I won’t hold my breath – in fact I’ll just comfort myself with a Cohiba.
Search for a job
Search for a car
Search for a house
Weather for Edinburgh
Thursday 23 May 2013
Temperature: 5 C to 10 C
Wind Speed: 25 mph
Wind direction: North west
Temperature: 3 C to 13 C
Wind Speed: 20 mph
Wind direction: North east