Scotland must keep up pioneering role with bold policies on health - Jon Roden

Scotland has been a pioneer in public health, leading the way in recent years by introducing bold policies. We were the first country in the UK to ban smoking in enclosed public places and the first in the world to introduce a minimum unit price for alcohol.

Jon Roden, Policy and Public Affairs Manager, BHF Scotland
Jon Roden, Policy and Public Affairs Manager, BHF Scotland

Both have been shown to have a positive impact on our nation’s health but with one of the lowest healthy life expectancies in Western Europe, we must do more to help people across Scotland live longer, healthier lives. 

Every year around 40,000 deaths in Scotland are caused by heart disease, cancer, stroke, chronic lung disease, liver disease and diabetes and they are among the world’s biggest killers. Known as non-communicable diseases (NCDs), their burden on our society should not be underestimated.

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NCDs do not just cause tens of thousands of deaths in Scotland each year, they also affect quality of life and contribute to health inequalities. People in our least deprived communities can expect to have around 20 years more healthy life than those in our most deprived. 

And sadly, we know that many of these deaths, and the lost healthy years of life caused by these diseases, could be avoided by addressing some of the key risk factors.

BHF Scotland analysis of National Records of Scotland data suggests that as many as 7,800 deaths in Scotland could be prevented through public health action – a key lever being the work we can do to reduce the impact of health harming products like tobacco, alcohol and unhealthy food and drink.

But commitments by the Scottish Government on all three of these issues have been paused during the Covid-19 pandemic.  We need this to change and must work together to bring about their delivery.

International evidence is clear about what countries can and should do to prevent the negative impacts of tobacco, alcohol and unhealthy food - increase prices, reduce their availability and restrict the marketing of these products. Importantly, this needs to be accompanied by person-centred treatment and support.

Over the last year, BHF Scotland has come together with Cancer Research UK, ASH Scotland, Obesity Action Scotland, Alcohol Focus Scotland, SHAAP, Asthma UK and the British Lung Foundation, Stroke Association and Diabetes Scotland, to highlight these issues and propose solutions.

Together we have set out a series of recommendations which we believe should be in place by the end of the Scottish parliamentary year in June 2022.  These include calls to bring forward a bill to ban multi-buy offers on junk food; to review and increase the minimum unit price for alcohol to at least 65p per unit; and consult on regulations on the domestic advertising of e-cigarettes.

We need to empower people by making the healthy choice, the easier choice no matter where they live. Whether that is increasing services that support people to improve their health or taking steps around the availability, marketing, pricing and promotion of tobacco, alcohol and unhealthy food and drink. We must all work together to tackle Scotland’s biggest killers.

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Since the inception of the Scottish Parliament in 1999, we have seen bold action against health harming products and we have already made significant progress in reducing some of the impact of NCDs in Scotland, through policies like the smoking ban and minimum unit pricing on alcohol.

As we emerge from the Covid-19 pandemic and look ahead, it’s imperative we all do more to save and improve lives and to help relieve pressure on the NHS.

Scotland has played a leading role in tackling the consumption of health harming products in recent times. But we can’t stop now. Working collaboratively with our partners, we must all ensure that this progress does not slow in the future.

Jon Roden, Policy and Public Affairs Manager, BHF Scotland

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