Unfulfilled ministerial promises on health ‘costs thousands of deaths a year’

THOUSANDS of deaths a year could have been avoided if Scots ministers acted on public health commitments to tackle the use of tobacco, alcohol and unhealthy food and drink, leading charities have suggested.

Non-communicable diseases (NCDs), such as heart disease, cancer, diabetes, stroke, liver disease and lung disease are the leading cause of death and disability in Scotland.

In 2020, these NCDs were responsible for more than 40,000 deaths, in excess of 62% of all deaths.

And ten health charities have said that high levels of smoking, alcohol consumption and obesity are in part to blame for Scotland having one of the lowest healthy life expectancies in Western Europe.

They have joined forces to campaign for action saying that one in five of these deaths were preventable through public health action.

British Heart Foundation Scotland’s analysis of National Records of Scotland statistics says that each year around 7,800 of these deaths could have been prevented through public health interventions to reduce consumption of health harming products such as alcohol, tobacco and unhealthy food.

And the  charities, which includes Alcohol Focus Scotland, Asthma UK, the British Lung Foundation, Cancer Research UK, ASH Scotland and Obesity Action Scotland say that commitments by the Scottish Government on all three of these issues has slowed since a launch in 2018 and further “stalled” by the Covid-19 pandemic.


Today (Monday) as a global week of action on NCDs begins, a virtual event is being held in the Scottish Parliament, organised by the campaign group and attended by MSPs from all political parties, to call on the Scottish Government to take action now on its delayed commitments.

The group said: “To ensure meaningful progress, we must continue to take bold and consistent steps to tackle the social determinants of health and the societal factors that drive the use of health harming products. It is crucial that the Scottish Parliament and the Scottish Government provide leadership on this issue and commit to evidence-based action.”

Ill-health and disability caused by tobacco, alcohol and obesity, is estimated to cost the Scottish economy between £5.6 and £9.3 billion every year.

And the charities have set out a series of proposals they say should be in place by June 2022 including bringing forward a bill to ban multi-buy offers on junk food.

They also say ministers should review and increase the minimum unit price for alcohol from 50p to at least 65p per unit.

And they called for consultation consult on regulations for restricting the domestic advertising of e-cigarettes.

Alison Douglas from Alcohol Focus Scotland, said: “Health harming products, such as alcohol, tobacco and unhealthy food and drinks are major contributors to death and ill health across Scotland. The Scottish Government has made welcome commitments to tackling the burden caused by these products, but these promises must now be fulfilled. Only last month, official figures from National Records of Scotland revealed deaths from alcohol in 2020 were at their highest level since 2008. We must act now to save and improve lives across the country and relieve pressure on our NHS.”

Research from Cancer Research UK suggests that 29% of cancer cases in Scotland could be prevented by stopping the use of tobacco products, reducing the nation’s alcohol intake and reducing levels of obesity.

And the charities say that over half of type 2 diabetes cases could be prevented, delayed or put into remission through public health interventions.

In March, research for the Scottish Grocers’ Federation (SGF) found only 24% of people agreed that access to such products, or information about them, should be restricted.

The Scottish Government has set the goal of creating a “tobacco-free generation” – with only five per cent of the adult population smoking – by 2034.

But Cancer Research UK has already warned that deadline could be missed by up to 16 years in the poorest communities. Data shows that, if current trends continue, 12% of the population will still be smoking by 2034.

David McColgan of British Heart Foundation Scotland, said: “We must do more to help people across Scotland live longer, healthier lives. Non-communicable diseases do not just cause tens of thousands of deaths in Scotland each year, they also affect quality of life and contribute to health inequalities. People in our least deprived communities can expect to have around 20 years more healthy life than those in our most deprived.


“In this global week of action, we want our politicians to commit to bold action. We need to empower people by making the healthy choice, the easier choice. Whether that is increasing services that support people to improve their health or taking steps around the availability, marketing, pricing and promotion of tobacco, alcohol and unhealthy food and drink. We must all work together to tackle Scotland’s biggest killers.”

Calls for action have grown stronger as surveys conducted during the Covid-19 pandemic showed that 36% of smokers increased the amount that they smoked in lockdown.

And some 39% of people reported eating more unhealthy, discretionary food and drink during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Other studies show that 47% of people reported that their weight increased during lockdown.

A Scottish Government spokesman said: “We are committed to ensuring that people in Scotland live long, healthy and active lives, regardless of where they come from. We are focused on continuing our work to support individuals and local communities by delivering measures to target harmful health behaviours early and provide access to person-centred treatment when needed. We’ll be setting out our commitments in our Programme for Government for this year.”

The Herald Scotland

The Herald Scotland

The Herald is a Scottish broadsheet newspaper founded in 1783. The Herald is the longest running national newspaper in the world and is the eighth oldest daily paper in the world. The title was simplified from The Glasgow Herald in 1992