10 November 2004

Statement & Debate: Smoking

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Murray Tosh): The next item of business is a statement by Jack McConnell on smoking. The First Minister will take questions at the end of his statement, therefore there should be no interventions.... ... ...

The Deputy Presiding Officer: That concludes questions. My regrets go to the seven members whom I have not been able to call, but I must go to the next item, which is a debate on the ministerial statement on smoking. No question will be put at the end of the debate.

... ... ...

Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): To seek an improvement in the health of Scotland's people is to seek something that no one in the chamber opposes. If there is any surprise in public life, it is that generations of politicians have dithered before engaging with the single measure that can deliver an unambiguous uplift in the quality of life of our people.

We lost more people to smoking in the 20th century than we did to all the wars of that century—more than a million people died from smoking. A successful public health policy would deliver a Scotland prepared for a competitive 21st century. The elimination of smoking in the long term is the single biggest gift that we can bequeath to future generations of Scots.

Helping those who have become trapped by their nicotine addiction is a health challenge. Protecting those who remain free from the scourge of that addiction is a moral imperative. Therefore, even if the Executive has taken a significant step today—and it deserves the heartiest congratulations on its announcement—it is but the first major step on a long and difficult journey.

Being a monarch need not separate the individual from common sense, intellectual achievement or scientific endeavour. Some 400 years ago, Scotland's James VI illustrated that well. For example, he said that because some smokers suffered no visible ill-effects from tobacco use, the illnesses of the majority could not therefore be due to smoking. He made his case through logic then; today we can examine the scientific evidence.

There are 400 separate chemicals in tobacco smoke, including—I inform Mike Rumbles—polonium-210, or radon. In 1989, the surgeon general of the United States identified more than 40 of those chemicals as carcinogens, and the number is rising. Few of the remaining chemicals have ever been demonstrated to be safe in the way that they are used; they have merely not yet been shown to be unsafe.

The effects of the chemicals are various. Besides the 40 or more carcinogens, there are many mutagens—substances that promote genetic changes in cells. Others are developmental toxicants—substances that interfere with normal cell development. The taking of that potent mixture has uncertain specific effects in individuals but a catastrophic effect on the population as a whole.

The debate is primarily about environmental tobacco smoke, half of which comes from the smoke of cigarettes left to smoulder between puffs and half from exhaled air. Let us be clear: we can each choose our own personal road to hell. Smokers are held captive by their addiction and they must not be personally stigmatised. As James VI said, man

"by custome is piece and piece allured".

We must support smokers' efforts to break free from the best efforts of the evil parasites that are today's tobacco companies.

The inhaler of smoke by accident must also be protected. David Davidson asked for evidence. He has obviously never put the arguments into the Google search engine. If he did so, he would find more than 1 million hits on the subject. I choose but a single example, from the United States. In 1986, a study was carried out there that unanimously had the scientists, who had been appointed by the US Government, deciding that second-hand smoke was a group A carcinogen.

We must do what we can. That does not mean that we are saying that we are not doing enough, although we have to do more. Rather, it is a reflection of the fact that we can legislate on the matter in the Scottish Parliament, and therefore we must.

There will be no Tory gerrymandering of the proposal, because we will not let them do that. The illusion of choice is actually the denial of choice for those whose health is being affected by second-hand smoke.

James VI ends "A Counter-blaste to Tobacco" in a way that remains appropriate 400 years later. He said that smoking was

"A custome lothsome to the eye, hatefull to the Nose, harmefull to the braine, dangerous to the Lungs, and in the blacke stinking fume thereof, neerest resembling the horrible Stigian smoke of the pit that is bottomlesse."

We must end the scourge of smoking now.


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