McConnell: smokers' number is up

JACK McConnell pledged yesterday to place mobile anti-smoking clinics outside pubs and bingo halls as part of his £11 million plan to wean Scotland off cigarettes.

The First Minister promised smokers more money to pay for the extra help in the wake of the Executive’s decision to ban smoking in enclosed public places from next year through the Smoking, Health and Social Care Bill.

However, the clinics were dismissed by publicans and bingo clubs as unworkable and Mr McConnell was accused of "headline grabbing" on No Smoking Day. The initiative was, however, welcomed by ASH, the anti-smoking lobby, which also applauded Mr McConnell’s promise to increase spending on anti-smoking projects from 3 million to 11 million.

Licensees, meanwhile, renewed their criticism of the ban, claiming figures from Ireland, where smoking is already banned, show the number of smokers has increased.

Their claim came as Mr McConnell pledged to spend 2 million on marketing Scotland as a "smoke-free country".

The mobile clinics, he added, would help reduce the number of smokers by 2 per cent - or 10,800 people - by 2010. Ministers believe the present system of locating them only in health centres and hospitals is not working and health boards are being urged to find "innovative" ways to "engage in the community".

Anti-smoking funding will be increased to 7 million by next year, rising to 9 million for 2006-7 and 11 million in 2007-8.

Mr McConnell said: "Our decision to ban smoking sent the clearest signal. Today, on No Smoking Day, we send another. We say to Scots, who want to stop smoking, that we will support you.

"The first step is the most difficult. Services in the community will make it easier."

However, there was little support at the Carlton Bingo Club, Partick, Glasgow. An estimated 72 per cent of bingo players smoke, and Frances Daly, 48, said: "If I can’t smoke, I won’t come. If I want to stop smoking I’ll get help. I don’t need Big Brother outside."

Her companion, Catherine Kane, 62, added: "There is a no-smoking area here. It’s too much when it gets to this stage. If I want a clinic, I’ll go to hospital."

Bill Wilkes, the assistant manager at the Carlton Bingo Club, said: "We average 200 a session and if almost 100 come and go to smoke, it’ll be chaos."

Peter Perrins, Carlton’s managing director, added: "I was bemused to hear the announcement to set up clinics at bingo halls. Just as the Executive has done with the ban, this initiative has been hatched without consideration to workability.

"Bingo halls could be suitable to offer health education, but not thrust upon them as a headline grabber."

Meanwhile, Paul Waterson, the chief executive of the Scottish Licensed Trade Association, said he welcomed extra money for telephone hotlines to help people quit smoking. "This is what the Executive should be doing instead of introducing a ban 80 per cent of people don’t want," he said.

Mr Waterson claimed that in Ireland, the number of men and women smokers had risen by 1-2 per cent to 37 and 38 per cent respectively. He said: "It begs the question whether bans solve health problems."

But Maureen Moore, the chief executive of ASH, said: "Extra funding means support. Thirteen thousand Scots a year die from smoking diseases."

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