A golden chance for our young people

Olympic gold medallist Allan Wells is backing Ash Scotland's plan. Picture: Ian Rutherford
Olympic gold medallist Allan Wells is backing Ash Scotland's plan. Picture: Ian Rutherford
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The Next Generation Fund will finance the race towards creating a tobacco free Scotland in 2034, says Sheila Duffy

I’M always ready for a challenge, no matter how tough. Scotland’s goal of being tobacco-free by 2034 is a tough challenge, but one well worth aiming for.”

Not my words, but those of Scottish athletics great Allan Wells, the 100 metres champion at the 1980 Olympic Games.

Allan is a personal hero of mine and many other Scots, so I’m delighted he’s joined up to support our latest initiative – the Next Generation Fund.

It will specifically have young people in mind, so that we can get on track to reach that goal of a tobacco-free nation in the next 20 years that Allan is backing.

Our fund will support a range of charitable activities to ensure the next generation can grow up free from the harm caused by tobacco.

When it comes to young people, the tobacco industry has a 40-a-day habit in Scotland. That’s how many young Scots take up smoking every day, with both immediate and long-term impacts on their health and well-being. It’s a fresh supply of customers that Big Tobacco craves because nearly two-thirds of smokers start before they are 18 and only a few take up the habit after the age of 24.

So from now on, all donations made to ASH Scotland from our dedicated group of supporters, and those who choose to back us financially in future, will be directed into the Next Generation Fund to help young people. And we need as many people as possible to help us. As Allan Wells says: “If we join together and work hard, we can succeed in putting smoking out of fashion for the next generation.

“I remember making a health promotion film about smoking that was shown on TV in Scotland in the Eighties. It had me sprinting to the finish line, where the image froze. In big lettering on my vest was the message: ‘You won’t catch me smoking’.

“Thankfully, the number of smokers in Scotland has continued to fall in the years since then. But there’s still plenty of work to be done.”

That’s a view echoed by another great sportsman who has come on board to back the fund, and who supported smoke-free legislation for Scotland.

Scotland rugby hero Scott Hastings says: “It is time to educate people about the effects of second-hand smoke on the next generation. I appreciate that many smokers are addicted, but when I see parents and adults smoking in front of young children, it is just wrong.

“These kids do not have a say on this and so we must educate people about the effects that tobacco smoke has and its impacts on others.”

The good news is that the Scottish Government is making that happen with help from us and other public health groups.

We recently saw the launch of a massive campaign about the dangers to children of second-hand smoke in their homes. Parents and other smokers are being urged to “Take It Right Outside” and only light up in the open air, to ensure harmful tobacco smoke isn’t lurking invisibly in homes where children are living.

We have been running our own project on the same subject for a while now and have created educational materials for parents and professionals so that smokers have the very best information about how to protect little lungs from second-hand smoke.

There’s plenty more being done to help young people avoid the dangers of tobacco.

Westminster is expected to follow the Scottish Government and commit to bringing in plain, standardised packaging for tobacco products – a move we’ve been fighting for against staunch resistance from the tobacco industry.

Plain packs won’t have the glossy designs and branding of current packaging, replacing them with hard-hitting text and picture health warnings. Research shows young people will be put off starting to smoke by plain packs.

A ban on smoking in cars when children are present is another move we are supporting to protect kids from second-hand smoke. Legislation is already motoring in England and Wales and we don’t want Scotland to be left in the slow lane. A members’ bill has been introduced in the Scottish Parliament, calling for cars to be smoke-free if under-18s are on board, and we hope that will progress with the support of MSPs.

We do plenty of work directly with young people too. We provide guidance to help youth projects and services prepare and bring in comprehensive policies on tobacco use in their organisations. Our annual Youth Tobacco Action Awards offer cash prizes to young people’s groups addressing tobacco issues, and we also help them have their work recognised and accredited through Dynamic Youth Awards.

As our gold-medallist supporter Allan Wells will appreciate, the task of making Scotland tobacco-free will be a marathon, not a sprint. But, like him, we are up for the challenge.

• Sheila Duffy is chief executive of ASH Scotland www.ashscotland.org.uk


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