Scotland: How the ban played here

The months preceding Scotland’s smoking ban saw predictions of disaster.

While welcoming what was a major landmark in public health, many newspapers predicted widespread rebellion with punters lighting up in pubs the length and breadth of Scotland rather than venture out into the rain for a quick puff.

But just 200 fines were handed out in the first six months of the ban.

With the court cases failing to emerge in their thousands, newspapers had to start thinking of other ways to assess the impact of the ban.

It was not difficult to find those willing to hail the ban, not least the politicians responsible for it.

There were also countless doctors, anti-smoking campaigners and unions willing to sing its praises. But the socalled pro-choice lobby were also on hand to give their own take on things – why did it have to be a blanket ban?

Couldn’t some pubs have remained smoking pubs? Why were the elderly and disabled being forced into the cold to have a cigarette?

EVIDENCE

Readers were also keen to voice their support or displeasure at the ban. The most difficult job was editing down the comments which flooded in with alarming speed at the slightest whiff of a new smoking ban story.

Within days of the ban being introduced, the newsdesks of Scotland were asking whether it was having any effect. How many lives had been saved, were bar staff less wheezy, how many people had quit smoking? Numerous cries of “It’s still too early to tell” failed to appease them.

Thankfully, disgruntled pubs, clubs and bingo callers helped with some early quantitative data although not, it has to be said, peer-reviewed.

No matter, we had some figures – falling sales as smokers stayed at home, staff being laid off, bingo halls closing down.

Later we did receive some evidence of a positive effect from the smoking ban. Scientists had monitored the respiratory health of bar workers before and after the ban, and yes, they were breathing more easily.

NHS Scotland also estimated that, among non-smokers, there would be 219 fewer deaths a year from lung cancer and coronary heart disease as well as 187 fewer deaths from respiratory disease and strokes.

On the anniversary of the ban, the Scottish Executive revealed that 46,000 people had tried to quit smoking as a result of the ban. But how many of these actually kicked the habit for good has proved more difficult to assess.

Pro-choice campaigners claimed that the ban had led to children being exposed to more smoke in the home.

But backing this up with hard evidence has not been possible. Eventually this may emerge from increased visits to hospital among children suffering breathing disorders. For now, it remains a lurking concern.

One of the more unusual stories to emerge from the smoking ban was a bold claim by the country’s chief medical officer.

Harry Burns predicted that lung cancer could be almost completely wiped out within 20 years as people stop smoking and fewer are exposed to passive smoke.

Doctors wasted no time in pouring cold water on this claim. Sir Liam Donaldson, England’s CMO, may want to think twice before being quite so optimistic.

More than a year after the Scottish ban started things have calmed down, with an acceptance it is here to stay. But more stories are sure to come – hopefully backing up the much More than a year after the Scottish ban started things have calmed down, with an acceptance it is here to stay. But more stories are sure to come – hopefully backing up the much talked-about fall in death rates.

Lyndsay Moss is health Correspondent of The Scotsman.

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