The right approach: Scotland’s Charter for a Tobacco-free Generation

20 July 2016

An image of cigarettes.

Connie Bennett is Development Officer at ASH Scotland. In this blog for us, she explains why protecting children from the effects second-hand smoke matters from a rights perspective.

Last month on June 9, the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child reported that whilst progress has been made, the UK and devolved nations need to do more to prioritise children's rights. The committee concluded with recommendations that need to be taken forward by the Scottish and UK government as a matter of priority.

It was encouraging to see the committee recommend – with reference to the right of the child to rest, leisure, play, recreational activities, cultural life and the arts – that governments and devolved administrations need to:

“Provide children, including those with disabilities and children in marginalised and disadvantaged situations, with safe, accessible, inclusive and smoking-free spaces for play and socialization and public transport to access such spaces.”

This advice resonates with ASH Scotland’s approach to protecting children from smoke exposure, addiction and the commercial interests of big tobacco. In particular, this is directly aligned with the third principle of Scotland’s Charter for a Tobacco-free Generation that “all children should play, learn and socialise in places that are free from tobacco.” This ambitious initiative aims to help deliver a tobacco-free generation by 2034, which would mean the children who are in nursery now can be the first generation to grow up free from the harm caused by tobacco.

Second-hand smoke in a rights-based approach

The need to protect children from second-hand smoke is central to the rights-based approach to health. Because children are more vulnerable to the harmful effects of second-hand smoke, they don’t have the autonomy to move away from smoky environments. Younger children are also often less aware of the dangers of second-hand smoke. While smoke-free public places have been a great success, it’s important to recognise that around 11% of children in Scotland are still regularly exposed to second-hand smoke in the home.

We know that the environment in which children grow up strongly influences whether they are likely to become smokers when they are older. Environments like playgrounds, schools and homes that are free from second-hand smoke encourage a tobacco-free culture for children to grow up in, making it less likely that they themselves will become smokers when they grow up.

Some progress has already been made in regard to this area. Local authorities such as Clackmannanshire and Edinburgh City Council have declared their playparks smoke-free zones, whilst Dunbartonshire, Glasgow City and West Lothian have been creating smoke-free play parks in partnership with schools and local communities. There is no legal impediment to smoking in playparks, but it is hoped the message is taken on board for the welfare of children.

Understandably, there is a reluctance within civic society to intervene in private homes— a step too far for many and a call ASH Scotland has not supported. What is needed now is public discourse in respect to:

  • a child’s right to a smoke-free environment, and
  • how a smoke-free environment can be achieved using evidence-based interventions that don’t require legislative input (such as ASH Scotland’s REFRESH Project).

We need to provide parents and carers with information to help them make empowered smoke-free choices in the best interests of their children.

Scotland’s Charter for a Tobacco-free Generation

Like the UNCRC, Scotland’s Charter for a Tobacco-free Generation seeks to encourage adults to involve children, be responsible for them, and use their power to help keep them safe, healthy and protected from harm. We’ve produced a simple information sheet that highlights the key articles of the UNCRC that link to the Charter. Organisations with an interest in children’s rights are encouraged to sign the Charter, pledge their support to protecting children from second-hand smoke and contribute to the culture change that will deliver the 2034 tobacco-free goal.

Register your support online.

Contact Connie for an informal chat about the charter.