The fight is far from over and it still remains one of the largest causes of preventable chronic disease in modern society, but we are starting to take the fight to cigarettes and to make a healthier society because of it. In fighting smoking, few countries have undergone as drastic a change as the United Kingdom. Particularly in Scotland, the rates of smoking are well on their way down, with several legal decisions from the government and new supports on hand making a key difference.
The stats as they stand
To understand how the UK has been slowly turning the tide in the battle against smoking, we need to understand the reality of the situation. It’s easy to feel pessimistic about many of our current societal battles, but smoking is proving a huge success story in the UK, which has now become the country with the second-lowest smoking rate in the continent of Europe. Since 2010, figures have taken a plunge, with 26% of the young population smoking being reduced to 19% in six years. From 2015 to 2016, 17.5% of adult smokers reduced to 15.8%. It’s clear there is real ground being broken, but how exactly is that happening?
Changing how we live
By far one of the greatest (and most greatly debated) changes in how the UK smokes, as a nation, is all down to the passing of one law. The “smoking ban” as it has largely become known, outlawed smoking in enclosed public spaces. Most notably, this meant that people were no longer able to smoke inside pubs and bars. In Scotland alone, researchers estimate that this has reduced the toxic material ingested by the population at large by over half a tonne. Those who benefit the most are those who work in such environments, who no longer spend 40 hours a work stuck in environments full of second-hand smoke. Since then, the ban has extended to outlaw smoking in the car with children inside, too.
— Geoff Vann (@BV_dodderer) November 17, 2016
The help on hand
The state of smoking as a public health crisis has been taken seriously within the NHS, as well. Current proposed budget cuts are expected to limit the services that hospitals and health centres in England can provide, but a huge shift in focus is most notable in healthcare institutions in Scotland. The NHS stop smoking service in Scotland is free, offering advice, coping strategies, and even nicotine replacement therapy that can save patients thousands of pounds on buying their own patches. In England alone, where the most data is available, around 600,000 people a year set a quit date with the help of these NHS programmes, with a 73% success rate verified by carbon monoxide verification testing.
Rise of the vape
It’s not all down to legislative change, either. Nicotine replacement has always been considered one of the hardest parts of weaning oneself off the addiction to cigarettes. As well as the chemical “hit” that drives many to cravings, the physical sensation of smoking has proved one of the hardest aspects of using them. The rise of vaping saw a very sudden, very noticeable change in that dynamic, however. Proving cheaper, with a much better odour and significantly less health risk, e-cigarettes and making massive waves in the battle against smoking. There is ongoing research into the health impacts of vaping, but recent studies have shown no correlation in users over two years as of yet. While it might not be 100% healthy, it has been touted as being 93% healthier than smoking cigarettes.
— Fast Forward (@fastforwardorg) July 1, 2015
Fighting the brand
The tobacco industry has always been a staunch enemy of the public and government forces attempting to fight smoking. Infamously, in the past, smoking was marketed as a healthy lifestyle choice, one of the factors that led it to become the public health crisis it now is. Since then, the marketing of cigarettes has been fought in order to reduce the appeal it has to the average consumer, with huge progress being made in recent years. At first, marketing was largely covered up by garish pictures of some of the worst effects of smoking on the body and sobering messages about diseases and mortality rates induced by smoking. Since then, cigarettes and all smoking materials are no longer allowed to be openly displayed in shops and marketing has been removed entirely in Scotland, with cigarettes only being sold in blank packs.
The collateral damage
By far, the greatest danger posed by smoking has been understood to be second-hand smoke. Not only do more people inhale second-hand smoke than first-hand smoke, it also disproportionately affects children in smoking households, causing serious health issues such as asthma, glue ear, meningitis and even cot death. This is one of the reasons that the smoking car ban was introduced. Figures from 2016 say that tens of thousands less children in Scotland inhale second-hand smoke at home in one year alone. That’s a huge drop from 2012, where one-in-five children were exposed to secondhand smoke at home.
— NHS Health Scotland (@NHS_HS) October 9, 2015
The deeper issue
Some consider smoking to be more of a symptom than a cause when it comes to societal issues at large, too. The tobacco industry and aggressive marketing might have played a large role in spreading the habit, but there’s a lot of correlation between smoking rates and socioeconomic sectors that support the theory that people in lower-income families are much more likely to end up smoking. That’s why it’s doubly important that the already-mentioned NHS Stop Smoking campaigns remain in place. They specifically target those at the greatest risk of becoming addicted by providing their services and resources for free. Smoking is largely misunderstood to be a stress-reliever too (when in reality it’s a cause of long-term stress) so people in difficult routine and manual jobs are more likely to turn to it to self-medicate, proving that the push for greater public discourse on mental health is also needed.
Smoking is still a leading cause of heart disease, chronic stress, preventable cancer, and much, much more. As long as one smoker remains, we remain a less healthy society for it. So, do what you can to support not only the smokers in your life trying to quit as well as the nationwide campaigns to end it.