Smoking: Another nail in the coffin of our No'‰1 killer

It was once a fug which hung in the air wherever we went, a near universal scent of everyday life so commonplace as to be unnoticed or ignored.

Smoking in a car with children will now attract a minimum fine of £100. Picture: John Devlin
Smoking in a car with children will now attract a minimum fine of £100. Picture: John Devlin

The paraphernalia of smoking was also ubiquitous – from advertising hoardings and displays in shops to discarded fag ends and matches.

Remarkably, after more than a century of the mass consumption of tobacco, all that has largely disappeared within a generation, hastened by Scotland’s trailblazing smoking ban ten years ago.

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Smoking advertising has been consigned to media archives and branded cigarette packets to design museums, while their anonymous successors lie hidden away on shuttered shelves.

Although one in three people still smoke in Scotland’s most deprived areas, the rate has fallen to just 9 per cent in the country’s most prosperous neighbourhoods. The habit is even falling out fashion among teenagers, with fewer than one in ten 15-year-olds smoking compared with 29 per cent 20 years ago.

However, smoking remains Scotland’s biggest preventable killer, accounting for one in five deaths, 128,000 annual hospital admissions and a drain of up to £500 million on the NHS every year.

Tomorrow, health campaigners hope the downward trend will continue when smoking is banned in cars with children – and that it will encourage a change in habits at home too.

Jim Hume, the former Scottish Liberal Democrat MSP and party health spokesman, who spearheaded the new law, said today: “Thanks to all those in support of this measure, we have taken a huge step in the right direction to having a healthier Scotland for all.”

Alex Cole-Hamilton, who now speaks on health for the party, added: “A shocking 60,000 children each week are exposed to second-hand smoke in vehicles. This change is about guaranteeing those children can have the freedom to lead healthy lives.”

Such a sea change in personal habits and the attitudes of society as a whole would have been almost unimaginable 70 years ago.

Bad old days

In the 1940s, smoking was a way of life.

Men who didn’t light up were in a minority, the earliest official figures from that decade show, with just one in three abstaining. More than 40 per cent of women also smoked, and there were few havens for those who didn’t like to puff away.

Smoking’s popularity was generated by the huge marketing developed after the mass production of cigarettes was made possible by the first rolling machine in the 1880s. It ensnared young and old, with thousands of sets of cigarette cards inside packs attracting a fanatical following.

The post-war era was a time of lavish tobacco promotion, with catchphrases like “You’re Never Alone With a Strand” advertising cigarettes. Newspaper readers could fill in a coupon for a free pack.

From the 1950s the rugged Marlboro Man cowboy began to beckon smokers to “Come to Where the Flavor Is”, while tobacco even appeared to have been given the official seal of approval with slogans such as “More doctors smoke Camels than any other cigarette”.

However, such endorsements also showed the industry’s need to reassure a public which was beginning to have concerns in the face of the first firm evidence of the impact on their health.

Health warnings

By the 1950s, the first biological link between smoking and cancer had been established by American scientist Dr Ernst Wynder, who used cigarette tar to create tumours on the backs of mice, although there had been warnings about the dangers of tobacco for nearly as long as people had been smoking.

James VI of Scotland and I of England massively hiked import taxes to try to stamp out the “loathsome, hateful and dangerous custom” back in 1604 – less than 40 years after the product had first come to England.

The year 1962 saw a key turning point with a Royal College of Physicians report which concluded that smoking caused lung cancer and bronchitis, and also probably contributed to coronary heart disease. It triggered a fall in cigarette sales for the first time in a decade.

The study recommended increased taxation, restrictions on cigarette sales to children and smoking in public places, more information about the tar and nicotine content of cigarettes and curbs on tobacco advertising.


Advertising of cigarettes ended on British television in 1965, but commercials for cigars continued until 1991, with “Happiness is a cigar called Hamlet” among the genre’s most memorable slogans.

Cinema advertising continued until 1975 for U certificate films and Marlboro Man voluntarily rode off into the sunset the following year, but it was not until 1986 that cigarette commercials disappeared from the big screen altogether.

After prolonged court battles and challenges to legislation, tobacco advertising was banned in stages, starting with billboards, newspapers and magazines in 2003. Nine years later, tobacco started disappearing from view in shops, first in supermarkets and other large stores, and then in smaller stores in 2015.

Cigarettes were also consigned to screened-off areas of airport duty free shops, as Scotland on Sunday revealed three years ago. Sponsorship of sport was ended in 2005, including the tobacco industry’s favourite of Formula One motor racing. While racing drivers were unlikely to light up at the wheel, attention had turned to others smoking on the move.


No-smoking carriages have been a feature of Britain’s railways since the 1860s, but curbs on smoking did not follow until more than a century later.

A fire at Oxford Circus tube station in 1984 that may have been caused by a cigarette led to a smoking ban on London Underground trains.

Smoking carriages were abolished by ScotRail in 1995, six years later by Virgin Trains, and in 2005 by the then east coast main line operator GNER. The same year, smokers in the lounge cars of the Caledonian Sleeper took passengers’ last puff on mainland public transport in Britain. Edward Funnell of the Association of Train Operating Companies said: “It really is goodbye to puffing billies.”

In the skies, Finnish airline Finnair claimed to have led the way with no-smoking seats in 1969, with British Airways banning smoking in 1988 on Scotland-London flights.

Designated smoking areas on the open decks of ferries such as CalMac’s are now the last resort for those wanting to light up while not travelling under their own steam.

And when smokers reached their workplaces, they were to find curbs being introduced there too.


Smoking was as familiar an activity in offices and factories 30 years ago as in many other public buildings across Britain.

One of the pioneers of legislation to protect workers from the effects of smoke was former Ayrshire Labour MP George Foulkes. His 1985 private member’s bill sought to force employers to provide separate non-smoking areas, and also to increase the number of non-smoking areas in public buildings.

He recalled: “There was an intense campaign against it, with the pub trade as well as the tobacco industry leading the charge. I was ridiculed by some of them for even suggesting it, as a threat to our way of life, as well as jobs.

“It was an uphill struggle, and seems strange now – when it is almost universally accepted, has resulted in cleaner, safer environments and a reduction in smoking-related deaths – that it was such a struggle.”

The attempt was to pave the way for the Scottish Parliament to introduce a ground-breaking smoking ban in both workplaces and public places two decades later.

Enclosed public spaces

Since the 1970s, non-smokers had been catered for – up to a point – in some public spaces.

Rank Leisure became the first major cinema chain to provide non-smoking seats in 1971, and eight years later, main post offices became smoke free.

After a series of failed attempts at Westminster for a wholesale smoking ban in public places, its introduction in Ireland in 2004 became the catalyst for the then Scottish Executive to announce, months later, that it planned to follow suit.

First Minister Jack McConnell said there was “no greater action we can take to improve the well-being of children and families in Scotland, for generations to come”.

Despite sustained opposition from the licensed trade, the proposal met with overwhelming support in the largest consultation since devolution, and was introduced in March 2006.

The far-reaching measure included lorry and train cabs, tractors and even some smoking shelters.

But there were anomalies, like informants still being able to light up in the back of police cars and suspects in interview rooms – and the law did not cover private vehicles.

Children in cars

In their last act before Christmas last year, MSPs passed a law banning smoking in cars with children.

If observed, it will prevent 60,000 children a week in Scotland from breathing in smoke in cars – the equivalent of the combined population of Dumfries, Hawick and Galashiels.

Those caught face a £100 fixed penalty or up to £1,000 if taken to court.

The legislation followed research by Aberdeen University that found lighting up in a car has a similar effect on youngsters to taking them into a smoke-filled bar. It also showed that opening a window made very little difference.

Although only about 15 per cent of people still smoke in cars, children are at particular risk because they breathe faster than adults and their immune systems are not fully developed.

The ban has been welcomed by anti-smoking group Ash Scotland, which said: “Just like with seat belts and child car seats, this law is one component of a wider campaign to keep children safe and put tobacco out of sight, out of mind and out of fashion for the next generation.”

But Simon Clark, director of smokers’ group Forest, condemned it as “patronising and unnecessary” because he said the overwhelming majority of smokers did not smoke in cars with children.

What’s next?

Former Liberal Democrat MSP Jim Hume, who introduced the car smoking ban bill, said he hoped it would make smokers change their behaviour at home too, but he was against legislation to enforce it.

Hume said e-cigarettes should be monitored to see whether they were luring people into smoking by drawing them into the nicotine habit.

From next May, cigarettes will only be sold in plain packaging – “drab” green with graphic health warnings covering two-thirds of packs. Also next year, smoking will be banned from Scottish hospital grounds, as well as buildings. There are also likely to be further moves towards making Scottish prisons smoke-free.

Ash Scotland has called for a series of further measures. Chief executive Sheila Duffy said: “I’d like to see a reduction in tobacco retail outlets – there is currently one per 90 smokers, and eight times as many as there are pharmacies.”

She also wants a “polluter pays” levy on tobacco company profits to fund the cost to the NHS of treating smoking-related diseases.