One in five deaths caused by non-communicable diseases (NCDs) are preventable in Scotland. A group of ten of Scotland’s leading health charities, are calling for immediate and urgent action on health harming products such as alcohol, tobacco and unhealthy food and drink to prioritise public health in the Covid-19 recovery.
VHS is a signatory to the report published on 6th September:
Non-communicable diseases (NCDs), such as heart disease, cancer, diabetes, stroke and lung disease are the leading cause of death and disability in Scotland. More than 39,000 deaths were attributed to these diseases in 2019 – 67% of all deaths. National Records of Scotland figures suggest that as many as 7,800 of deaths from these NCDs could be prevented through public health initiatives. That amounts to one in five of all NCD deaths. Reducing consumption of health harming products such as alcohol, tobacco and unhealthy food and drink is one of the key ways in which we can reduce the number of lives lost to or affected by NCDs.
We know that burden of obesity, tobacco use and alcohol consumption is higher in the most deprived areas and this contributes to a 20-year gap in the healthy life expectancy between Scotland’s most and least deprived communities. In addition, this ill-health and disability caused by tobacco, alcohol and overweight and obesity, have a huge impact on Scotland’s economy. Estimates suggest that the combined economic cost of these factors is between £5.6 and £9.3 billion every year.
Covid-19 has also had a profound impact on our relationship with health harming products. Surveys conducted during the Covid-19 pandemic show that 36% of smokers increased the amount that they smoked in lockdown and that 39% of people reported eating more unhealthy food and drink since the Covid-19 pandemic began. Scotland did not go into the pandemic fighting fit and there is a real risk that habits picked up during the pandemic will persist and create significant long-term health risks for many people in Scotland.
The charities leading this call, including VHS, believe that all Scots have a right to health and that Scottish Government has a duty to protect, promote and fulfil that right. Urgent action is required to tackle by health harming products, not only to prevent NCDs but to also reduce the impact of future epidemics or disasters. As an integral part of the nation’s recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic, we call on the Scottish Parliament and Scottish Government to take meaningful action to reduce the impact of health-harming products and to build a healthier Scotland for future generations.
Where and How to Act on Health-Harming Products
Bold and decisive population-level action from the Scottish Parliament and Scottish Government is critical to tackle preventable NCD deaths from health-harming products.
The international evidence is clear about what countries can and should do to prevent the negative impacts of tobacco, alcohol, and unhealthy food and drinks: increase the price, reduce the availability and restrict the marketing of these products. This should be accompanied by person-centred treatment and support for those with existing problems.
We believe the recommendations below provide an evidence-based and realistic first step in that journey and should be achieved before this parliamentary year ends in June 2022.
These calls are the first step in our mission to change the landscape of Scotland’s health and we will call for further actions year after year. There is no quick fix, but rather many important steps towards ensuring that Scotland is the healthy and equal nation we want to see for the future.
We call on the Scottish Government, in 2021/22, to:
- Introduce regulations to Parliament on the domestic advertising of e-cigarettes following a public consultation on the measures.
- Consult on restricting the advertising and promotion of alcohol as was committed to in the 2020-2021 Programme for Government.
- Review the minimum unit price for alcohol in line with the Scottish Government commitment and uprate the minimum unit price for alcohol to at least 65p per unit.
- Introduce a bill to restrict promotion of HFSS foods.
- Publish Out of Home (healthy food choices when eating out) strategy with clear actions.
- Restore weight management, alcohol treatment and smoking cessation services as core services in the Covid-19 recovery and ensure they become part of the standard healthcare offer.