This week ASH Scotland launched Beyond Smoke-free, an ambitious, far-reaching set of proposals for a strategic approach to continuing to reduce tobacco harm in Scotland. These recommendations were formed after consultation with academics, NHS workers, service users and with inputs from an expert advisory group. They take account of research findings and international strategic thinking. Funding from Cancer Research UK made it possible for us to undertake this work, and to highlight the fact that tobacco is the largest preventable killer we face in Scotland. It is an epidemic we cannot afford to ignore.
Beyond Smoke-free covers smoking prevention, cessation, reducing exposure to tobacco smoke, and makes recommendations on Government, society and industry. There are 33 robust yet achievable proposals for the short and medium term, with a longer term vision for progress. I hope that all our political parties will use these to inform their thinking about Scotland’s future public health, and commit to a new comprehensive strategic approach to tackling tobacco.
One of the recommendations – to support speedy progress towards EU standards for fire safer cigarettes while ensuring the negotiations are not exploited by tobacco companies – seems especially relevant this month as new statistics were released on fire deaths in Scotland. Of the 49 fatal casualties in accidental dwellings fires in 2008-09, smoking materials were the cause of 22 of the deaths. Those most at risk of fire deaths tend to be older people living alone. Alcohol or drugs can be a factor, making it less likely that people will react in time to the danger. In many cases, fire investigators find warning signs that could have alerted people to the potential for tragedy, such as burn marks on carpets, furniture or clothes.
Fire safer cigarettes (or RIP, reduced ignition propensity) cigarettes are designed to go out rather than keep smouldering when not being puffed. They were first introduced nationally in Canada, and in 2010 were mandated throughout America, in Finland and Australia. Undoubtedly they save lives but like any other tobacco control measure this is not something that can be done in isolation. They reduce but cannot completely prevent fires. They do nothing to prevent the diseases caused by tobacco. So we also need accessible smoking cessation services, targets to reduce illicit tobacco, work to engage young people with smoke-free choices, and a continuing vigilance towards tobacco industry promotional activities. We need a new ambitious and comprehensive national tobacco control strategy and a commitment to continuing Scotland’s success in acting to reduce the impacts of tobacco on our nation’s health and prosperity.