Minimum Price For Tobacco Could Cut Smoking And Improve Health, Experts Say

23 November 2017, 06:45

Woman Smoking

Health experts have suggested a minimum price for tobacco to cut smoking in poorer parts of Scotland.

Further steps are needed to make tobacco more expensive and less available, according to report bringing together the views of 10 specialists in the field.

The research highlighted that while the percentage of adults who smoke has dropped from 28% in 2003 to 21%, the proportion has remained static since 2013.

Smoking rates remain highest in poorer areas, with 35% of adults in the least well off parts of Scotland smoking compared with 10% in the most affluent.

A new national tobacco strategy could consider setting a minimum price for tobacco, the research said.

Other suggestions included creating incentives for retailers to not sell tobacco, raising the age for purchase to 21 or establishing a licensing system for shops.

The group of policy makers, practitioners and researchers also backed mass media campaigns focused on smoking cessation and second-hand smoke exposure.

Setting up smoke-free parks and playgrounds or "health cordons" around schools to ban sales of tobacco products could also be considered, they said.

The study was carried out by NHS Health Scotland and the Scottish Collaboration for Public Health Research and Policy (SCPHRP) at the University of Edinburgh.

Study co-author Dr Garth Reid, principal public health adviser at NHS Health Scotland, said: "Smoking causes over 10,000 deaths each year and is the biggest cause of preventable death in Scotland.

"But it's where we are born and the conditions in which we live that influence the likelihood whether or not we smoke.

"Findings from this study highlight that changing the price and availability of tobacco could contribute to reducing health inequalities."

Fellow co-author John McAteer, senior research fellow at SCPHRP, added: "Smoking rates are no longer falling; they are at a stand-still. This is a stark reminder of how much still needs to be done to tackle smoking."

Simon Clark, director of smokers' pressure group Forest, described the report as part of a "middle class war on smoking" that was "patronising and deeply offensive".

He said: "Tobacco is a legal product and if adults choose to smoke knowing the risks that choice must be respected.

"Making tobacco even more expensive would discriminate against those who are less well off. It will also fuel illicit trade by encouraging more smokers to buy tobacco illegally.

"Spending money on mass media campaigns or incentivising retailers not to sell tobacco would be gross misuse of public funds."

Public Health Minister Aileen Campbell said: "Scotland is making good progress to reduce the harm from smoking - including meeting the target to halve the number of children exposed to second hand smoke at home five years early, banning smoking in cars; new measures on tobacco advertising, packaging and displays, and providing services to help more people to quit smoking.

"We welcome this study and the independent endorsement this provides to our tobacco strategy. Our new tobacco strategy, to publish next year, will support more progress - including targeting smoking rates in communities where people find it most difficult to quit."