Giving up smoking is the single best thing anyone can do to improve their health.
Every year 56,000 people are admitted to Scottish Hospitals as a result of tobacco use, and smoking contributes to 13,000 deaths.
That’s why I was so encouraged by today’s official figures, reported in the Evening News, which show large numbers of people are trying to give up the habit.
The statistics tell us that 124,734 people gave up smoking for at least a month between 2011 and 2014. This is way beyond the official Scottish Government target of 80,000.
Even more encouraging are the numbers in our most deprived communities. In these areas we set a target for 48,000 people to quit for a month. The actual figure was 70,162. To build on the success of our one-month target, NHS Boards are now working towards a new target of supporting people in our poorest areas to quit smoking for at least three months.
But why is it so important to help people to give up smoking in these deprived areas? The simple fact is that tobacco use is much more common in poorer communities. That makes it one of the main drivers of the health inequalities that still plague our society.
I think it’s a scandal that a baby born in a more deprived household will, on average, die younger than one born into a more affluent household.
That’s something we want to change, and tackling the disproportionate number of people from deprived backgrounds who smoke is a key way of achieving that.
But it’s not just the people who smoke who are affected by the health impact of tobacco. We’re also worried about the effects on children who are exposed to second-hand smoke.
Recent Scottish research shows that harmful chemicals from tobacco can linger in a room for up to five hours. And if you think that leaning out of the window or smoking at the back door helps matters, it doesn’t.
The harmful toxins will still pass from room to room, and be breathed in by your loved ones.
That’s why we recently launched our campaign called Take it Right Outside. The message to smokers, particularly parents, is that if they must smoke they should really be going right outside and closing the door.
So what help is actually available for people who want to quit? The good news is, there is plenty of help available.
You GP will be able to give some expert advice, and direct you to a range of local services on your doorstep.
Another good option is your pharmacist. Many people are now using this route as a convenient frontline NHS smoking cessation service. There are over 1200 pharmacies across Scotland. They can provide smoking cessation products to help you to quit, and ongoing advice and follow-up support.
You can also call Smokeline on 0800 84 84 84 or visit www.canstopsmoking.com for more information.
Nobody says giving up smoking is easy, but as more and more people are finding out, there’s plenty of support to help you kick the habit.
• Michael Matheson MSP is the Public Health Minister for the Scottish Government