March 24, 2006

Scotland to go smoke-free to shake “sick man” tag

By Andrew Gray

EDINBURGH (Reuters) - Scotland on Sunday becomes the first
part of Britain to ban smoking in pubs, restaurants and
workplaces, aiming to tackle the poor public health record that
has earned it the nickname "sick man of Europe."

Officials say the blanket ban on lighting up in enclosed
public spaces, inspired by similar measures in Ireland and
other countries in the past few years, will eventually stop
some 1,000 deaths a year from passive smoking.

"Scotland has a higher rate of heart disease, of cancer and
of strokes than most other European countries," said First
Minister Jack McConnell, head of the Scottish government.

"It is time for drastic action to change that situation for
future generations," he told Reuters on Friday.

Surveys show more than 60 percent of people in Scotland
support the plan. But around 30 percent of the population are
smokers and only a quarter of them favor the measure, which
comes into force at dawn on Sunday.

Critics see it as an attack on the traditional lifestyle of
the working class who formed the backbone of Scottish society.
Publicans are unhappy too, fearing their customers will opt to
stay at home once they are banned from smoking in bars.

"For a normal working man, a fag and a pint go hand in
hand," said Peter Cruikshank, landlord of the Spiders Web pub
in Edinburgh, enjoying a cigarette in his wooden-floored bar.

"In here right now I've got eight customers," he said,
looking round the smoky pub. "They're all smokers."

At the bar, John Reid, a 62-year-old former soldier
sporting green and blue tattoos on his hands and arms, said the
new measure would rob him of a highlight of his day.

"I just think it's out of order. I come down here every day
for a drink and have a smoke," he said between puffs.

"That's my only pleasure -- a drink and a smoke."


Some customers said they would visit the pub less often.
Others said they would still come but nip outside for a smoke
-- despite Scotland's often cold and rainy climate.

Legislators in England, Britain's dominant nation, voted
last month to follow Scotland's lead and introduce a similar
smoking ban next year.

Health experts in Scotland are determined to change the
lifestyle of heavy smoking and drinking, eating fatty foods and
lack of exercise which takes many Scots to an early grave.

While they hope many smokers will take the opportunity to
quit, they also say the ban is to protect people such as bar
staff from passive smoking which can cause lung cancer, heart
disease and strokes.

"It is so clearly a public health issue -- we know that it
causes ill health and it's measurable," said Sally Haw, senior
adviser at Health Scotland, the national public health agency.

"The smoke-free legislation is really the biggest public
health intervention for a generation and maybe longer," said
Haw, who will oversee eight studies to gauge its success.

People smoke more and die earlier in Scotland than
elsewhere in Britain. Scottish life expectancy is lower than
the European Union average, even though Britain is one of the
EU's richest members and the world's fourth largest economy.

Experts offer various reasons for these problems, from the
hard-living culture of the heavy industries which once thrived
in Scotland to the poverty afflicting deprived areas today.