09 June 2004

Subject Debate: Smoke-free Environments

Scottish Parliament

Wednesday 9 June 2004


[THE DEPUTY PRESIDING OFFICER opened the meeting at 14:30]

... ... ...

Smoke-free Environments

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Murray Tosh): The next item of business is a debate on promoting choice and good citizenship: towards more smoke-free environments. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.


... ... ...


Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): This afternoon we have heard from the moderates on the smoking issue, but there will be no more Mr Nice Guy, because I am not moderate on this subject. The Government has told us a number of things in its consultation on reducing exposure to second-hand smoke, such as that exposure to second-hand smoke is a cause of heart disease and represents a substantial public health hazard. It has also told us that exposure to second-hand smoke is a cause of lung cancer and can cause childhood asthma. However, colleagues should not imagine that those insights are anything new.

I will share with members some other quotes. First:

"smoking is dangerous to the lungs."

Secondly, it is

"hurtfull and dangerous to youth."

Thirdly, it is

"very pernicious to the heart."

Those quotations were published respectively in 1604, 1606 and 1637, by James VI, Eleazar Duncon and Tobias Venner.

James VI got it spot on when he wrote in "A Counter-blaste to Tobacco", to which my colleague Stewart Maxwell and our friend Scott Barrie referred,

"This filthy smoke makes a kitchen oftentimes in the inward parts of men, soiling and infecting them with an unctuous and oily kinde of soote, as hath bene found ... that after their death were opened."

He did not just know about the effect of smoking in theory; he went to dissections and examined the state of the inner man after exposure to this pernicious evil. Are we so short of knowledge that our deliberations must begin anew 400 years after James so correctly described smoking as "lothesome to the eye" and "hateful to the nose"?

At the heart—and lungs and brain—of the issue is addiction. I do not criticise addicts; they are captured by their addiction. As James VI said, the smoker is "piece by piece allured" until he craves it like

"a drunkard will have as great a thirst to be drunk."

However, James was wrong to compare smoking to alcohol, because drink is addictive to a small minority of its users, albeit that the abuse of alcohol is one of our most widespread social ills. By contrast, smoking is generally thought to be as addictive as heroin, which I imagine the free marketeers on the Conservatives benches would, like the SSP, liberalise and make available to anyone with the money to buy it. Like heroin, smoking captures the majority of its users in its deadly embrace.

I find it baffling that, after 400 years of knowing the evils of this wicked weed, we are still supporting the evil tobacco companies who prey on the addictive misery of our citizens. We are faced across the chamber by a Government that wants to listen rather than lead. We should be absolutely aware that, if tobacco were a new product today, there is not the faintest chance on earth that permission would be given for it to be sold freely across any counter in any shop in any country in the world. We have heard about personal choice, but the tobacco companies, with their pernicious recruitment of new generations of addicts, remove choice from the people whom they ensnare.

During the two and a half hours of this debate, five of our citizens have died as a result of tobacco addiction. Our lack of urgency does us no credit. Every day that we postpone engaging in a meaningful response to what is one of the great issues of modern times, we all share responsibility for 52 deaths. We view Iraq as a dangerous place. We see turmoil and death there nightly on our televisions. However, tobacco kills at a far higher rate in Scotland than is being experienced in Iraq, even in these dangerous and turbulent times.

James VI recognised the evils of tobacco. In 1603, when he took over from Elizabeth as the monarch in England, one of his first acts was to increase the taxation on a pound of tobacco from 2d to £6 10/. If we had the same level of taxation that James introduced to discourage the consumption of tobacco, a pound of tobacco would cost—by comparing the then average earnings with today's—between £30,000 and £40,000. In that case, price would be a bit of a discouragement. [Interruption.] As the minister has just observed, discussion of the issue of tobacco taxation is academic because we are denied the powers that a normal country has to take the action that would enable us to exercise fiscal powers to reduce the consumption of this pernicious weed. That is why I support my colleague's excellent Prohibition of Smoking in Regulated Areas (Scotland) Bill. I was delighted to see support from other members, such as Scott Barrie and Helen Eadie, and I look forward to their stage 2 amendments, which will strengthen its implementation, extend its remit and deliver cleaner air for people in Scotland.

In the 20th century, with 13,000 people dying every year as a result of tobacco addiction, we have lost—pro rata—1 million Scots to this pernicious addiction. That is more than were killed in all the wars in the millennium from 1000 to 2000. We might soon run out of tombstones for those killed by our tobacco barons. After 400 years of relative inaction, we are quite simply out of time to fail to engage meaningfully with this scourge on our society.


Stewart Stevenson
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However Google who publish for us, may do.
fios ZS is a name registered in Scotland for Stewart Stevenson

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