Scotland has a target of becoming tobacco-free by reducing the smoking rate to five per cent by 2034. As most smokers started as children, and most say that they want to stop, I think of this as a society where the only people smoking are the small number of adults who choose to do so.
Key to meeting this goal, and taking a huge step towards losing our “sick man of Europe” image, is for our children to grow up free from tobacco. So I applaud moves by Edinburgh City Council to create smoke-free children’s play parks.
Smoke-free indoor public spaces have been highly successful, removing the health risk from second-hand smoke and changing the culture in pubs, cafes, restaurants and offices to one where smoke-free air is normal. Few political moves have been as popular.
The benefits of this culture change provide an argument for making some outdoor areas smoke-free, even if exposure to tobacco smoke is not an issue. Children’s play parks present the easiest case. We know that children who grow up surrounded by smoking behaviours are far more likely to become smokers themselves. So it makes sense to ask that these small spaces that belong mainly to children be kept smoke-free.
Gone are the days of regular patrols by park keepers. There will not be rigorous enforcement of these rules. But this decision sends an important message that smoking has no place in the few public spaces that children can confidently consider theirs.
The usual voices will cry that this is an attack on smokers. It is not. Play parks in Edinburgh already display signs saying “no dogs”. This is not an attack on dog owners, who are as welcome as anyone. It is simply a request that they don’t bring their dogs into these particular spaces because of the impact on children in a space in which their priorities should come first.
We are still learning about the effects of electronic cigarettes (e-cigs), but the a current estimate is that tobacco cigarettes are about 20 times more harmful than the electronic devices. The dangers of tobacco must not be underestimated.
The concern is to reduce the presence of smoking behaviours around our children and help protect them from a lethal addictive substance that has claimed so many lives. On this basis there are strong arguments for the ban including e-cigarettes which look like tobacco cigarettes.
Sheila Duffy is chief executive of Ash Scotland.