Future-proofing: children’s right to smoke-free spaces

ASH ScotlandASH Scotland – Action on Smoking and Health (Scotland) – is the independent Scottish charity taking action to reduce the harm caused by tobacco. They seek to improve health and quality of life by helping to create a society which supports young people in remaining tobacco-free, helps those who want to stop smoking, protects people from second-hand smoke and challenges the inequalities resulting from tobacco use.
Connie Bennett, Development Officer at ASH Scotland, has written this guest blog on progress made to ensure smoke-free environments for children and young people. 

Scotland now has a generation of young people who have grown up with smoke-free indoor public places.  Yet while positive changes in attitudes towards smoking and health benefits have followed, there is still much to do – especially in areas of deprivation.

Many of Scotland’s children are still regularly exposed to second-hand smoke at home.  The Scottish Government’s target of reducing child exposure in the home was met 5 years early, according to a self-reported survey of households (2012 level 12%, down to 6% by 2020).  However, 12% of people still report smoking in a home where children are present.  We know most parents want to protect their children, and many parents who smoke already take some action, such as opening a window.  However, parents often do not know enough about how tobacco smoke spreads and the harm it causes and therefore it’s important to keep supporting parents and carers to find the best way to protect their families.

In the here and now, avoiding the health impacts and financial costs of smoking can greatly improve children’s life outcomes.  Reducing exposure to second hand smoke reduces the risk of childhood illnesses such as middle ear disease, lower respiratory tract infections, asthma and bacterial meningitis.  The financial burden on the average smoker is £1600 a year, so helping smokers who want to stop puts money back into family budgets.

Most people understand that smoke in the home isn’t good for children’s right to the best possible health, or for family finances, but why are smoke-free outdoor spaces important too?

Quite simply it’s about future-proofing – the more time children spend in smoke-free environments like schools, playgrounds and their homes, the less normal or expected smoking seems to them, making the choice not to smoke when they grow-up a natural one.

Last year, the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child recommended – with reference to the right of the child to rest, leisure and play – that governments need to do more to provide access to safe, inclusive, smoke-free places for play.

The seeds of change are beginning to be sown.  Following guidance from NHS Health Scotland, local authorities are extending their smoke-free policies to outdoor areas that are likely to be used by children.  In some areas, children and young people themselves have been setting this in motion — in East Dunbartonshire, children’s artwork is being used in playparks to convey the message that healthy play spaces are being driven by children themselves.  Pupils from three primary schools took part in workshops to identify some of the health and environmental concerns related to smoking.  They considered how to make their local parks smoke-free and designed new signs depicting their ideal play area.  The winning designs are displayed in twelve local parks.


Primary 7 pupils at St Nicholas Primary School in West Lothian have turned the tables by teaching their parents about the dangers of smoking.  They designed and launched their own “Breathe easy at our school gates” campaign, produced a short film, created a banner and invited parents to sign a smoke-free home pledge.

So what can we all do to support this work?

Reducing children’s exposure to second hand smoke helps deliver on the principles of the UNCRC, and anyone involved in the lives of children and young people can have a part to play.  Services working with families can promote the Take it Right Outside campaign and support families to make their homes smoke-free.

Early years organisations promote children’s wellbeing by keeping their grounds smoke-free.  In partnership with Play Scotland, ASH Scotland has created a series of fun, free resources to help services encourage people not to smoke in children’s spaces.

The Curriculum for Excellence and Getting it Right for Every Child also make it clear thatASH 2 schools have a vital role in nurturing and supporting young people as they make the transition into adulthood.  A dozen secondary schools in Lothian have been supported to develop tobacco-free policies that go beyond simply stating where people can and cannot smoke.  Teachers and pupils have worked together to find their own practical solutions to inform and help guide the choices that young people make on smoking.

“Since being involved with the Tobacco-free policy project I’ve noticed that there has been a big reduction in the amount of smoking and cigarette litter around the school” – S3 Pupil, Dunbar Grammar.


Ensuring that children play, learn and socialise in places that are free from tobacco and that young people are equipped to make informed choices about their health will help safeguard their rights and protect them from harm.  Together, along with Bruce Adamson (the Children & Young People’s Commissioner), are Champions for Scotland’s Charter for a Tobacco-free Generation – you can join them by pledging support: www.ashscotland.org.uk/charter.

For more information and ideas about how ASH Scotland can support smoke-free environments for children and young people contact us on 0131 225 4725 or enquiries@ashscotland.org.uk

Read more about children and young’s people’s right to a smoke-free environment in Together’s 2016 State of Children’s Rights report, page 126. 

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