SCOTLAND introduced a ban on smoking in workplaces and public spaces ahead of the rest of the UK in 2006.
The TUC and trade unions put weight behind the campaign for similar arrangements to be introduced here in large part because there is a direct, causal link between smoking at work and deaths caused by second-hand smoke inhalation. It would be quite clearly unfair and unacceptable for one worker to deliberately expose another worker to a known harmful substance. The case for the ban was obvious.
An expected side-effect was that there would be a general reduction in smoking. Smokers faced with the challenge of going through the working day without being able to light up, in large numbers, decided that it was a better option just to stop smoking altogether.
This contributed to the North East seeing the largest fall in smoking rates in the UK - although rates here, especially among young women, are higher than in most other areas. As Scotland took the lead, we are now seeing additional research coming out based on the evidence of the health experiences of adults since their smoking restrictions were introduced.
Since 2006, there has been a fall in the percentage of mothers-to-be who smoke, from 25% to 19%.
That has led to a direct benefit in the form of a reduction in the numbers of premature births and low-birth weight babies by 10%; meaning lots more babies are getting a much better start in life and will be much more likely to avoid a whole series of health related problems in their developing years.
Given that young women are the single group in the North East that are among those most likely to smoke, it is critical that we continue to press the case for smoking cessation, for limiting the availability of and access to cigarettes, and that the industry takes more responsibility in these areas.
In the latter case, it is the opposite that is happening as tobacco firms find more and more creative means to promote and market cigarettes, specifically targeted at young women.
The health benefits of preventing smoking are clear. The health risks to young women and particularly to their babies if they smoke during pregnancy are increasingly evidenced too, yet this is the group that are being specifically targeted by the tobacco industry.
Effective regulation of the marketing and promotion of tobacco products must be an essential part of the health response to these risks. A further, serious challenge is also that of the illegal tobacco trade, activity that has grown due the rightfully high pricing of cigarettes.
‘Fresh NE’ has done a fantastic job in supporting smoking cessation, and has dramatically improved health in the region in doing so.
:: Kevin Rowan, regional secretary, Northern TUC