The results of a poll commissioned by ASH Scotland and conducted by YouGov (whose president, Peter Kelner, is on the board of trustees at ASH London) has been published today.
I got a sneak preview of it yesterday, just as I was sitting down for coffee and a brownie at the Old Bicycle Shop in Cambridge.
The headline of ASH Scotland's press release stated, 'Scottish government action on smoking backed by both smokers and non-smokers'.
The full press release read:
The results from a new YouGov survey suggest people in Scotland continue to support government action on smoking, with smokers themselves indicating approval for recent government initiatives.
The survey results, released today by charity Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) Scotland, showed strong backing for recent legislation, with 91% of smokers agreeing with the ban on smoking in cars with children present. This was even higher than the 88% support amongst non-smokers.
At the same time 70% of Scottish adults (42% of smokers) support the ban on tobacco displays in shops, while only 9% (24% of smokers) are against.
Only on the introduction of plain, standardised packaging for tobacco products did the strong public support (60% support, 11% oppose) mask a balanced view amongst smokers (30% support, 35% oppose, 35% don’t know).
The Scottish public also indicated a strong appetite for further government action on tobacco and health. 87% of Scottish adults, including 85% of smokers, would support increased penalties for selling tobacco to children. 74% of adults, including 62% of smokers, would support requiring businesses to have a licence before they can sell tobacco.
Sheila Duffy, Chief Executive of ASH Scotland, said:
“When asked about specific government actions to tackle smoking both smokers and non-smokers tend to indicate support. This should encourage politicians that action to reduce the harm and inequality caused by smoking isn’t just effective, it is popular too.”
I'm trying to locate the full poll results, including questions, that YouGov are compelled to publish online.
It's interesting there was no reference to extending the smoking ban to outdoor areas, which is the one issue smokers would react most strongly against, the current level of tobacco duty or the bans on smaller pack sizes.
In contrast to the ASH Scotland/YouGov poll you may recall that last year a Forest/Populus poll found that a majority of adults in Scotland would allow smoking rooms in pubs and clubs.
In addition 61% thought that government policies to reduce smoking rates had gone far enough (44%) or too far (17%). Only 35% thought they had not gone far enough.
Anyway, Forest's response to ASH Scotland's survey, which was written during the 20 minutes I was waiting for my coffee (I like the Old Bicycle Shop but they do make you wait), read:
"The results of other polls conducted throughout the United Kingdom over the last 18 months suggest the public does not believe tackling smoking is priority for government.
"Smoking has consistently rated the lowest in a list of government priorities for the NHS, behind even obesity and alcohol issues.
"A Populus survey conducted in Scotland last year even found that 54 per cent of the public would allow well-ventilated smoking rooms in pubs and private members' clubs, with only 40 per cent opposed to the idea.
"There is no justification for further tobacco control measures until there has been a truly independent review of the impact of recent legislation including the display ban, plain packaging, the ban on ten packs and larger health warnings.
"Tobacco control measures have to be evidence-based and so far there is no evidence that any of these policies have had an impact on smoking rates.
"The most significant factor in the recent fall in the number of smokers would appear to be smokers switching to e-cigarettes. Vaping provides a free market solution to smoking cessation that no government policy can match.
"Instead of trying to force smokers to quit the Scottish Government should embrace the concept of choice and encourage smokers to switch to alternative nicotine products like e-cigarettes.
"It's important too that ministers engage with smokers, not nag or bully them to quit. Tobacco is a legal product and if adults choose to smoke that choice must be respected."
I knew only one or two sentences would be used but I wasn't sure how the media would report the poll so in terms of our response I had to give them several options.
To date, as far as I can tell, only one newspaper – the Herald – has covered the poll and their report was headlined 'Recent ban on smoking in cars with children receives backing from majority of Scottish smokers'.
Had I anticipated that I would have added:
"It's hardly surprising smokers support the ban on smoking in cars carrying children.
"Long before the ban smokers knew it was inconsiderate to smoke in a car with kids and the overwhelming majority didn't do it. The legislation was patronising and completely unnecessary."
Instead they quoted me as follows:
Simon Clark, director of the smokers' rights group Forest, said that the results of other polls in the UK in the last 18 months suggested the public does not believe tackling smoking is a priority for government.
He said, "Tobacco control measures have to be evidence-based and so far there is no evidence that any of these policies have had an impact on smoking rates."
Anyway, I know the cost of Scotland-only polls (they're not cheap) so a single report hardly represents good value for the taxpayer who funds ASH Scotland to the tune of £800,000 a year.
CEO Sheila Duffy will no doubt calculate that the real value of the poll will be the copies that land on the desks of MSPs including Scottish Government ministers.
Some might describe that as government lobbying government but I couldn't possibly comment.
Meanwhile you may recall Deborah Arnott's sniffy response to the poll Forest commissioned in Wales last month.
Commenting on the news that 58% of respondents would allow well-ventilated smoking rooms in pubs and private members' clubs, she said:
"The benefits of smoke-free laws are not a matter of public opinion."
In the crazy world of tobacco control opinion polls are fine when you get the result you want but when they are less conducive they must be dismissed and ignored.