The smoking ban has transformed life in Scotland over the last eight years. The positive effects have been well documented, from the general health benefits enjoyed by the population as a whole to the simple pleasure of being able to enjoy a meal in a restaurant without someone else’s cigarette smoke wafting over your table.
But the ban has, predictably, created some negative results as well. The huddles of smokers around doorways was not the common sight it is today before the ban came into effect. Nowhere is the antisocial impact of that felt harder than in our hospitals.
It is bad enough that some patients, including those on cancer wards, have to put up with second-hand smoke filtering in through windows.
But the cost of clearing up after these smokers as we reveal today is staggering. The £600,000 which has been spent employing extra cleaners at the ERI since the ban was introduced in 2006 is enough to have employed three extra nurses over the same period. Alternatively, the cash could have been spent on incubators or other valuable hospital equipment.
Scotland’s hospitals will become smoke free under legislation which comes into effect next year, which means that the habit will be banned not just from hospital buildings but also their grounds.
That should help, but the problem will not simply go away because smoking in hospital grounds is forbidden. There will be those who carry on regardless and the NHS will be forced to pick up the cost of enforcement and cleaning up behind those who do not get caught.
What is needed to solve the problem is a broader change in attitudes. That is one of the main reasons why this newspaper has teamed up with NHS Lothian and Community Pharmacy Scotland to launch the Smoke Free Lothian campaign. Only when smoking outside a hospital is accepted as being as antisocial as drink-driving will the problem really start to go away.