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ASH Scotland says smokers should be allowed to adopt or foster children

ASH Scotland has issued a briefing note arguing that smokers should not be banned from fostering or adopting children.

Naturally it comes with all the usual caveats about not smoking in the home plus the six key principles set out in Scotland's Charter for a Tobacco-free Generation.

Nevertheless, having been asked to comment on this issue many times over the years, I'm encouraged to read that:

ASH Scotland does not believe that kinship carers, foster carers or prospective adoptive parents should be forced to quit smoking ... Policies should therefore avoid excluding 'all smokers' from becoming kinship carers, foster carers or adoptive parents.

If that surprises you, you're not alone. Writing in the Herald today, social affairs correspondent Stephen Naysmith commented:

The smoking prevention charity is usually known for being pretty hardline and indeed it highlighted wide variations in the attitudes taken by councils in a 2014 survey, although fostering and adoption agencies usually followed guidance banning smokers from fostering or adopting babies, children under five, disabled children unable to play outside, and children with respiratory problems.

In a welcome and perhaps unexpected stance, ASH is now saying there are wider considerations to take into account. “Someone who smokes is as likely to be a good and suitable carer as anyone else and should not be excluded simply because they smoke,” the charity says ...

While Sheila Duffy, ASH Scotland chief executive, made clear that it continues to be concerned about the exposure of children in care to smoke and indeed the number of “looked after” children who smoke themselves, she said it was more important children had the best and most appropriate carers.


Interestingly, it's not a million miles from what Forest has been saying for over a decade. Invited, for example, to address The Fostering Network's annual conference in Glasgow in October 2006, I told delegates:

I do not accept that a blanket ban on carers who smoke is in the best interests of many children who desperately need a warm, loving home. The carer may have many other qualities that fit well with the particular child and the fact that they smoke should not be a major issue.

In such cases, it's up to the fostering authorities to make a judgement about whether or not the foster carer is the right match for the child, and they should look at the whole picture. In the words of the Fostering Network's Claire Dickinson, quoted in the Sunday Times (April 2000): "Being a good foster carer is about much more than whether or not you smoke."

Full speech here.

The following year, reacting to a recommendation that smokers should be banned from fostering children under five, we said:

"They are risking removing thousands of excellent foster parents from the system for the simple reason that they smoke."

In 2008, when South Lanarkshire Council did indeed ban smokers from adopting or fostering children under five, the Glasgow Evening Times wrote:

Forest ... alleges that commonsense is conspicuous by its absence in the thinking behind the ban, and argues that it could deprive a child of a caring home at a time when the UK is short of 20,000 foster carers.

Likewise, reacting to a decision by a London borough council to ban smokers from fostering any child, whatever their age, we said:

"This discriminates against people who would have made excellent foster carers, so it is damaging not only for them but also for the children they would have fostered."

Curiously I don't recall any comment from ASH or ASH Scotland in response to these reports so you'll forgive me if I'm a trifle cynical about ASH Scotland's briefing note, not to mention this quote, reported by Stephen Naysmith:

“We don’t want to stigmatise smokers, most aren’t smoking out of choice,” information officer Allison Brisbane told me.

Aside from the 'most smokers are addicts and don't choose to smoke' line, the suggestion that ASH Scotland don't want to stigmatise smokers is so preposterous I had to laugh.

In fact I think Naysmith unwittingly hit the nail on the head when he wrote, "The smoking prevention charity is usually known for being pretty hardline."

Precisely. What we're seeing here is a subtle rebrand.

For years ASH Scotland has outdone almost everyone for its puritanical approach to smoking. Led by CEO Sheila Duffy (who always brings to mind the PG Wodehouse quote, "It has never been hard to tell the difference between a Scotsman with a grievance and a ray of sunshine"), ASH Scotland is the epitome of the censorious bully state.

Suddenly, and belatedly, they're embracing e-cigarettes and arguing that smokers shouldn't be banned from adopting or fostering children.

Why? Who knows, but I suspect it's tactical (and, no, I'm not a conspiracy theorist!). The fact is, ASH Scotland's "hardline" approach was wearing thin, even in Scotland.

But don't be fooled. It's only a passing phase. Normal service will be resumed soon.

PS. According to Scotland's Charter for a Tobacco-free Generation, "Every child has the right to effective education that equips them to make informed positive choices on tobacco and health."

Not "informed choices" but "informed positive choices". What happens if you make an informed "negative" choice – is that allowed?

See Helping children and young people who are 'looked after' to grow up free from tobacco (ASH Scotland).

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Reader Comments (7)

Antismokers studied the effects of stigmatisation upon aids sufferers in the 1980s and then looked at how that stigma could be applied to smokers so frankly, I don't,t believe ASH's change of heart. Denormalising smokers or smoking is just the polite word for stigmatisation however much those bullies want to now distance themselves from the hate campaign they have waged against us these last 20 years.

If they are singing a softer tune it is because somewhere along the line they've been told that their funding is at risk if they don't.

Until they accept that i am a citizen too who should have the right to be left alone to socialise with others like me inside then I will never believe they are anything other than nasty, abusive, and discriminatory thugs.

Monday, March 20, 2017 at 13:13 | Unregistered Commenterpat nurse

Is this one of those cases where a policy is going to be a policy anyway, so they can pretend they are against it in order to look like the good guys?

Monday, March 20, 2017 at 13:52 | Unregistered CommenterBucko

So, they are short of foster parents. Like the shortage of fatal car crashes means 47% of lungs transplanted in the UK come from smokers.

Yet many maintain smokers shouldn't be given organ transplants.

Monday, March 20, 2017 at 17:47 | Unregistered CommenterJonathan Bagley

It only took them ten years to at least begin to acknowledge some of the harms they've caused.

I wonder if all the children who suffered from NOT having foster homes over the years because of a smoke ban policy could get together a nice class-action suit against the Antismoking organizations? Certainly a nice lot o' money there to attract the lawyers...


Monday, March 20, 2017 at 18:39 | Unregistered CommenterMichael J McFadden

I don't trust 'em for one second. It simply isn't possible for an organisation that had no heart in the first place to have a change of one!

I suspect some kind of damage limitation exercise here - they're canny enough to realise that this particular "unforeseen consequence" of their War on Smokers might come back to bite them on the proverbial, because holding fast to their hard line will quite obviously cause considerably more harm to "the cheeldren" that they profess to care so much about than the occasional whiff of tobacco smoke will. And that runs the risk of exposing their true colours - and they certainly don't want that!

Tuesday, March 21, 2017 at 1:31 | Unregistered CommenterMisty

Well, if they're insisting that the smoker shouldn't smoke in the home then they're not really softening their stance, are they? In effect, they're saying that smokers can become foster parents if they become non-smokers or stand in the middle of the back garden (remember all that second hand smoke that billows back into the kitchen from the doorway?) in all weathers. The only thing they're conceding is that children aren't going to die from third-hand smoke.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017 at 7:22 | Unregistered CommenterJay

What is most likely to happen: a child adopted by smokers who decides not to smoke being de-adopted for it or a child adopted by raving anti-smokers who decides to start smoking being send back to the orphanage. Think of the childreeen...

Tuesday, March 21, 2017 at 10:52 | Unregistered CommenterLuc Van Daele

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