SCOTLAND is set to introduce plain packaging for tobacco products in efforts to meet an ambitious target to dramatically cut rates of smoking.
• The Scottish Governement has targeted a tobacco-free Scotland by 2034
• The strategy includes standardised packaging and education programmes for young people
The Scottish Government said it wanted to make the country tobacco-free, by having less than five per cent of the population smoking by 2034.
Along with the pledge to introduce standardised packaging for tobacco to help make it less attractive to young people, their strategy also commits to setting a target to reduce children’s exposure to second-hand smoke, such as in cars and at home.
And there were also pledges to improve services for those wanting to quit, as well as projects to prevent young people taking up smoking.
But there was criticism that no extra money would be put towards achieving the ambitious targets, with only a promise to maintain the tobacco control budget for the next five years.
Public Health Michael Matheson, speaking seven years after the ban on smoking in public places was introduced in Scotland, said the country had already seen huge health benefits as a result of the policy.
“Our vision of a tobacco-free generation is about reaping the health, social and economic benefits that a significant reduction in smoking would bring – it would be an achievement of which we could all be proud,” he said.
Tobacco use is linked to over 13,000 deaths a year in Scotland and 56,000 hospital admissions. The costs to the health service could possibly exceed £500 million annually.
The pledge for Scotland to become tobacco-free by 2034 makes it only the third country – after New Zealand and Finland – to set such a target.
Rates of smoking have fallen from 31 per cent in 1999 to 23.3 per cent in 2011, but remain as high as 40 per cent in the most deprived communities.
To meet the 5 per cent target, the strategy sets out a series of milestone which will see smoking reduced to 17 per cent by 2016, falling to 12 per cent in 2021 and 9 per cent by 2026.
The strategy then outlines the 46 measures to help them achieve the smoke-free goal, including a commitment to introducing plain, standardised tobacco packaging.
In December, Australia became the first country in the world to put all tobacco products in standardised packs.
A UK-wide consultation has been taking place to explore whether plain packaging, with no branding or logos and just the brand name and health warnings on products, would help public health.
The new strategy says: “Following careful consideration of the consultation responses and the available evidence, the Scottish Government has come to the view that standardised packaging has a key role to play in achieving our vision of a tobacco-free generation.”
The document said it would await the response from the UK government and other devolved nations “before deciding on the most appropriate legislative option for introducing the standardised packaging of tobacco products”.
In efforts to protect children from second-hand smoke, the strategy says that it will set a target to reduce exposure by 2020. The exact target will not be announced until the 2012 Scottish Health Survey has been published.
It also commits to an awareness campaign top highlight the risks from second-hand smoke.
But the strategy stops short of committing extra cash to the fight against tobacco, instead pledging to maintain the current £12.2 million annual tobacco control budget for the next five years.
Anti-smoking charity ASH Scotland welcomed the measures outlined in the strategy, including the commitment to plain packaging, but expressed disappointment over lack of extra funds.
Chief executive Sheila Duffy said: “Making the next generation free from tobacco is both welcome and achievable, but efforts will be hampered by the lack of new money available – maintaining the tobacco budget at current levels for five years represents a significant cut in real terms.”
There was widespread support of the measures, particularly on plain packaging, from health campaigners across Scotland.
Cancer Research UK chief executive Dr Harpal Kumar said: “Replacing glitzy, brightly coloured packs that appeal to children with standard packs displaying prominent health warnings would be a huge public health achievement and give youngsters one less reason to start smoking.”
But Simon Clark, director of the smokers’ group Forest, said while they supported education to discourage children from smoking, they did not agree with plain packaging as they doubted it would affect smoking rates.
“Plain packaging is designed to denormalise a legal product and millions of adult consumers. What next? Alcohol, fizzy drinks and fast food?,” he said.