Sheila Duffy, Chief Executive, ASH Scotland
In November 2016 I was delighted to be honoured by the Scottish Cancer Foundation (SCF) with their annual prize, marked by the Evans Forrest Medal and a grant of £10,000 towards our work.
The prize is awarded to the person who in the opinion of the Scottish Cancer Foundation Board has made the most significant contribution to reducing the burden of cancer in Scotland.
2016 was a special year for those of us working on reducing tobacco harm. In March, we celebrated ten years of the successful implementation of smoke-free enclosed public places and noted the measurable health improvements that have followed on from this legislation. In May, the phased introduction of standardised tobacco packaging throughout the UK began, and this measure should be fully in place by the end of May 2017. In November, the Scottish Health Survey reported a marked reduction in children’s exposure to tobacco smoke in the home, an issue that has been the focus of national mass media campaigns encouraging smokers to ‘Take it right outside’ for the past few years. These campaigns have helped to remind people of the harms from breathing tobacco smoke, and helped pave the way for the prohibition of smoking in vehicles with under 18s present which was implemented in early December.
Last year was of course seismic in many other ways, including the election of a new Scottish Parliament in May and the UK vote to leave the European Union in June. Confident predictions here and abroad were often overturned, and the phrase ‘post-truth’ frequently used.
ASH Scotland’s campaigns and policy stances are built on research evidence which we present in debates to help frame the issues and assess proposed solutions. In this approach we have seen success in persuading policy makers and the general public that action is justified. The tobacco industry and its allies such as FOREST have cast doubt on the research and tried to muddy the very definition of evidence, but the debates in Scotland have largely centred around measurable facts and reasonable assumptions.
In the recent ‘post-truth’ era, perception and success in catching public support seem often to be driven by appeals to emotion rather than by facts or expert opinions. But some truths resonate. With the SCF prize money, which is supported by the Grant Simpson Trust, I want to try to address a gap in current knowledge by seeking out the views of ex-smokers and smokers living in challenging circumstances where smoking rates are high, and to find out more about their experiences of using and quitting tobacco. Around two thirds of those who quit smoking succeed without support and about half say they found it easier than they had expected. Learning more from their experiences will help us to engage more effectively with communities most at risk from tobacco related harm. As Dr Margaret Chan, Director-General of the WHO recently said: “Every death from tobacco is an avoidable tragedy”. In a world full of so many new and old threats, tackling tobacco offers a sure opportunity to save lives.