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Tobacco use: key points

Public health implications

  • Smoking is the most important preventable cause of ill-health and premature death in Scotland. There are around 10,000 smoking-related deaths every year in Scotland.
  • The risk of developing smoking-related diseases increases with how long and how much someone has smoked. These risks fall substantially if smoking is stopped, even for long-term smokers.

Tobacco policy

  • The Smoking, Health and Social Care (Scotland) Act came into force on 26 March 2006, banning smoking in enclosed public places such as workplaces, pubs and restaurants.
  • In Oct 2007, the minimum age of sale for tobacco was increased from 16 to 18 in both Scotland and England & Wales, and it also became illegal for under 18s to purchase cigarettes.
  • In 2010, the Tobacco and Primary Medical Services (Scotland) Act 2010 was passed by the Scottish Parliament. This includes legislation to ban the display of cigarettes in shops and supermarkets in Scotland, which came into force in April 2013.
  • The current tobacco strategy, Creating a Tobacco-Free Generation: A Tobacco Control Strategy for Scotland, was published in March 2013 and set out a five year plan for action across the key themes of health inequalities, prevention, protection and cessation.
  • The Health (Tobacco, Nicotine etc. and Care) (Scotland) Bill was passed at Stage 3 in March 2016. The Bill introduces the following provisions:
    • the introduction of a minimum age of 18 for the sale of Nicotine Vapour Products (NVPs).
    • a prohibition on the sale of NVPs from vending machines.
    • a ban on the purchase of NVPs on behalf of an under 18 - 'proxy purchase'.
    • the introduction of mandatory registration for the sale of NVPs.
    • bans on certain forms of domestic advertising and promotion of NVPs.
    • the introduction of an age verification policy for sales of tobacco and NVPs by under 18s ('Challenge 25').
    • a ban on unauthorised sales of tobacco and NVPs by under 18s.
    • the introduction of statutory smoke-free perimeters around buildings on NHS hospital sites.
  • On 15 December 2014, a member’s bill was proposed - Smoking Prohibition (Children in Motor Vehicles) (Scotland) Bill – and was passed at Stage 3 on 17 December 2015 and received Royal Assent on 21 January 2016. The ban was introduced in December 2016.

Adult smoking

    • In 2015, 21% of adults (22% of men and 20% of women) aged 16 years and over were cigarette smokers in Scotland.

  • Over the past 40 years, smoking prevalence among adults has declined across Great Britain, but has generally been higher in Scotland than in both England and Wales.

  • Scotland compares favourably to other European Union countries in terms of male adult smoking prevalence, but the position in relation to females is less favourable.

Maternal smoking

  • 16% of pregnant women reported that they were current smokers at their first antenatal booking appointment in 2015/16.

Young people smoking

  • The proportion of 13 and 15 year olds in Scotland who reported being regular smokers in 2013 was the lowest since the data series began in 1982 (2% of 13 year olds and 7% of 15 year olds).

  • Scotland compares favourably to other European Union countries in terms of smoking prevalence among 15-year-old boys. The picture is less favourable for 15-year-old girls.


Section updates:

  • The last major update of this section was completed in November 2016.
  • The next major update is due to be carried out by end December 2017.
Page last updated: 12 September 2017

© Scottish Public Health Observatory 2014