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Scotland takes big stick to smokers

Substantial fines for lighting up in public

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Scotland looks set to follow in the footsteps of New York and Dublin by banning smoking in public places, the BBC reports. First Minister Jack McConnell told the Scottish Parliament that by 2006 any business or individual defying a "comprehensive ban" would be fined.

McConnell declared: "Health rates are lamentable because of a lack of exercise, drugs abuse, excessive drinking and over-eating. They all make us one of the most unhealthy countries in Europe, and too many smoke. It is clear that Scotland must not be held back by poor public health - the single biggest contribution devolved government can make is to reduce the toll of preventable death caused by smoking." He also insisted: "The health arguments far outweighed lingering public disquiet about a complete ban and claims by the licensed trade that jobs would be lost."

Reaction to the plan - already approved by the Scottish Executive - has been largely positive. The Scottish National Party welcomed the ban but asked that the public be consulted before it comes into force. A Scottish Green Party spokeswoman described her mood as "pleased", while the only spanner in the works came from Scottish Conservative Party leader, David McLetchie, who asked if prison inmates would be exempt from the ban with the rather droll: "Would it not be ironic and perhaps entirely typical of the first minister's brave new Scotland that the criminals can be smokers but the smokers will become criminals?"

McLetchie had obviously not considered the possibility of hardened smokers persistently lighting up in pubs, then refusing to pay the maximum fine of £1,000 simply to get banged up so that they could enjoy a gasper in peace and quiet. And if a grand sound like a lot of wonga for matching a cancer stick, then consider the penalties for miscreant licencees or employers - £2,500 fine and, in the case of the former, possible loss of liquor licence as the "ultimate sanction".

What is even more disappointing than the draconian clampdown envisaged by the Scots is McConnell's failure to apply the same life-saving argument to the Scottish diet. Although he acknowledges "over-eating" as a root cause of Scotland's "lamentable" health rates, we do not think that there is the immediate prospect of an appearence before the Sheriff for anyone serving battered and deep-fried pizza suppers containing enough fat to kill three grown men dead on the spot. There is, then, the suspicion that the Scottish parliament is simply jumping on the anti-smoking bandwagon of self-rightwous moral indignation and outrage.

And quite right too. Those who agree wholeheartedly with Jack McConnell are invited to support his cause by buying a Rockall Times anti-smoking jihad t-shirt, one of which rather bluntly declares that "Smoking leads to heroin addiction, paedophilia and suicide bombing". So now you know. ®

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