Scots saved from ‘half a tonne of toxins’ since smoking ban

The smoking ban came into force a decade ago. Picture: Greg Macvean
The smoking ban came into force a decade ago. Picture: Greg Macvean
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The smoking ban which came into force ten years ago today has saved Scots from breathing in more than half a tonne of toxic material, according to new research.

Health campaigners joined researchers to look at what a decade of smoke-free pubs and restaurants, and other public places, has meant for the adult population.

Action on Smoking and Health (Ash) Scotland worked with academics at the University of Aberdeen on the calculations.

They said second-hand smoke contains more than 4,000 chemical compounds, at least 250 of which are known to be toxic or to cause cancer. Of particular concern are the smallest particles, called PM2.5, which are invisible to the human eye but can linger in the air for hours and travel deep into the lungs.

Detailed measurements showed these levels inside pubs decreased by 86 per cent when smoking was moved outside.

The team said that using existing knowledge of how much air adults breathe and how much time they spend in a pub, this means the change in the amount of PM2.5 breathed in can be totalled over ten years.

The researchers said that, taken as a whole, the adult Scottish population has inhaled at least 600kg less of these tiny toxic particles because of smoke-free pubs.

Dr Sean Semple, of the Scottish Centre for Indoor Air at the University of Aberdeen, said: “Scotland’s introduction of smoke-free public spaces was one of the most closely-studied pieces of public-health legislation ever, allowing us to look very carefully at the impact it had.

“We have known for many years that second-hand smoke is harmful, but I don’t think anyone predicted just how much benefit smoke-free places would deliver.

“This calculation shows that over half a tonne of toxic material would have been inhaled by the population over the past ten years if Scotland had not taken this bold step.

“This is a cautious estimate that takes account of the slow improvement in air quality that may have occurred if the law had not been introduced. And of course the benefits will have been substantially greater for bar workers or waiting staff, who may spend 40 hours a week in such environments.”