Scotland records first rise in smoking for seven years

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Smoking in Scotland is on the rise for the first time in seven years, prompting fears over the prospect of achieving flagship plans for a “smoke-free” country by 2034.

There has also been a fall in the number of smokers trying to quit, official figures have revealed, while spending on cessation campaigns has seen a dramatic drop. Estimated smoking numbers increased from 806,817 in 2017/18 to 808,829 in 2018/19, official health service figures show. Although this is down from more than a million in 2013, the increase will worry ministers.

There has been a fall in the number of smokers trying to quit. Picture: TSPL

There has been a fall in the number of smokers trying to quit. Picture: TSPL

The Scottish Government is being urged to step up efforts to help people quit smoking, with campaigners calling for new “mass media” initiatives.

The figures come after Scotland led the way in the UK banning smoking in public spaces such as bars and restaurants in 2006. New rules on plain dark green packaging for all cigarette packs and a ban on their open display in shops has also been introduced more recently to help drive down smoking numbers.

Sheila Duffy, chief executive of Ash Scotland, said: “It’s disappointing that the overall smoking prevalence rate across Scotland has stagnated. However, what I find particularly alarming about these new figures is the reported increase in the number of smokers in Scotland’s most deprived communities – up 5 per cent since last year.

“This means that people living in the most difficult circumstances are increasingly burdened by the health and financial harms caused by tobacco.” The figures reveal spending on smoking cessation campaigns fell to £55,223 in 2018/19 – down from £552,975 the year before.

And the ongoing fall in Scots seeking to quit smoking resulted in a decrease to 50,962 last year, down from 55,322.

Smoking kills 9,000 a year across Scotland and is the main cause of early death. Treating people with smoking-related conditions costs NHS Scotland more than £200 million each year.

Ms Duffy said: “While Scotland faces many public health challenges, smoking remains the single biggest avoidable cause of death in Scotland, killing more than 9,000 people in Scotland annually.

“This is an invisible epidemic, which disproportionately affects the poorest people in society. That’s why we’ve been calling for tobacco to be recognised as the major public health epidemic that it is and for urgent action to tackle it. This must be a priority for the new Public Health body.

“As part of this, we’d like to see more funding for mass media campaigns and smoking cessation services, which have been proven to help people quit.”

Tory health spokesman Miles Briggs said: “SNP ministers are failing to make the progress needed to support people giving up smoking. In the last year the estimated number of smokers has risen, breaking the downwards trend in the number of people in Scotland who smoke. Smoking-related diseases cost Scottish taxpayers hundreds of millions of pounds each year and money spent on preventative measures is well spent.”

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “Taken in isolation these figures present a misleading picture on smoking rates, as smoking prevalence in Scotland continues to fall. As Scotland’s population size is increasing it is critical to compare figures alongside this in order to gain an accurate picture.”