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."
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?