Scots smoking ban PR offensive launched as opposition stiffened

A national public relations offensive to get "as many voices as possible" behind Scotland’s groundbreaking smoking ban was mobilised as growing opposition was relayed to ministers, it has emerged.

Smoking in pubs came to an end when the ban was introduced
Smoking in pubs came to an end when the ban was introduced

The then First Minister Jack McConnell staged a formal reception on the smoke-free legislation to target Scots who had the potential to "become important opinion formers" in favour of the change, according to newly released Scottish cabinet papers 15 years on from the change.

Scotland was the first part of the UK to introduce a smoking ban in indoor public places such as pubs and restaurants, after the legislation was passed at Holyrood in 2005, coming into force a year later. But it faced widespread opposition at the time, particularly from the pub trade.

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The cabinet papers show the extent of the public relations drive undertaken by ministers to ensure Scottish opinion was supportive of the change.

Andy Kerr, who was health Secretary at the time, told a cabinet meeting in March 2005 that a new "publicans" political party had been launched the previous month to oppose the change.

PR firm Media House had also launched a petition aimed at the licensed trade through the trade press, the cabinet also heard, while bingo giant Carlton was also lobbying ministers and had submitted its own petition.

The smoking ban has since become widely regarded as one of the major successes of devolution, with the rest of the UK later following the example set by Scotland.

Mr Kerr advised his fellow ministers to learn from the example of a similar ban which had already been introduced in Ireland a year previously.

"The Irish experience stresses the importance of keeping the health message consistent and insistent and deploying as many voices as possible in support," Mr Kerr stated in a paper presented to cabinet.

"This should be the focus of all communications activity from now on."

A co-ordinated plan for promotional activity in support of the ban was undertaken by ministers. This included plans for Mr Kerr, himself a former smoker, to run the Scotland Race in New York's Central Park wearing a Smoke Free Scotland t-shirt.

A "Clearing the Air" website was also launched by ministers, with a package of activity co-ordinated around 'National No Smoking Day' on March 9 that year.

The First Minister also staged a reception in April for potential supporters of the legislation.

This was described as an "opportunity for informal discussion between those who are supporters for purely personal or professional reasons and those who have the potential to become important opinion formers."

There was also a joint working initiative launched by the Scotland CAN (Scottish Coalition on tobacco: Clean Air Now) communications group which included Ash Scotland, the BMA and charities along with NHS press teams.

A local PR week was also launched aimed at local newspapers and health boards, with MSPs encouraged to get involved with this. The Government also sought to maximise "good news stories" from the first anniversary of the smokinng ban in Ireland in late March that year to stress the positive impact of the legislation.

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