Freedom To Choose (Scotland): Responses to be Heard by Public Petitions Committee

A comprehensive petition submitted by Freedom To Choose (Scotland) is being debated at Holyrood on 21 September.(1)
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Sept. 18, 2009 - PRLog -- A comprehensive petition submitted by Freedom To Choose (Scotland) is being debated at Holyrood on 21 September.(1) The petition requests the Scottish Government to review the consultation ‘Achieving Smoke-free Mental Health Services in Scotland’, which ran between January and April this year, because the consultation as it stands reflects poorly on the Scottish Government.

Eddie Douthwaite, spokesperson for the pro-choice group, has cited numerous flaws in the consultation document. He complains that it has a pre-determined outcome, lacks supporting evidence and uses leading questions to misguide the public and mental health service users.

He says, “Our petition states that the consultation document failed to put the issue of removing the smoking ban exemption from mental health wards and hospitals fairly before the public.”

Freedom To Choose (Scotland) shows that factual inaccuracies have been used by both ASH (Scotland) and the Scottish Government in their claims – many of which claims are hotly disputed(2),(3) within scientific circles. The consultation document, for example, quotes the claim that the smoking ban caused a 17 per cent drop in heart attack admissions in Scotland, an assertion that was widely ridiculed almost as soon as it hit press headlines in September 2007.(4) Because there was no reference list, the public was led to believe that the 17 per cent figure was based on fact, rather than being the result of a single study that was contradicted by official discharge statistics, and that contained important methodological errors.

“In defending the 17 per cent and other claims, neither Ms Duffy (ASH Scotland) nor Ms Cuthbert (tobacco control department) has addressed the inherent bias in the whole document towards a service that does not tolerate any smoking. They should have designed an open consultation in which all policy options were given equal weight,” continues Eddie Douthwaite.

“ASH also claims that the omission of references does not make any of the evidence less robust. How can the robustness of evidence be judged without the provision of references? This is absurd.”

Comments from the Royal Edinburgh Hospital Patients’ Council(5) corroborate the petitioners’ position that limited efforts were made to inform service users of the consultation, with restrictions being placed on the number of information packs available. Feedback from the Patients’ Council also confirmed that the questions were felt to be loaded, and that there was widespread feeling amongst service users that the government’s mind was made up before the consultation even began.

The petition itself raises the inadequacy of the questions, which should have been based upon the available options, namely whether to retain the exemption or not, rather than asking whether the ban should be extended to hospital grounds.

Freedom To Choose (Scotland) is confident that the public petitions committee will agree that a consultation should be based on accurate information and data, and be free of clear bias in favour of the government’s preferred outcome.

1 Petition PE1246 –
2 Sargent, Shepard, Glantz ‘Reduced incidence of admissions for myocardial infarction associated with public smoking ban: before and after study’: rapid responses: this link illustrates the controversial nature of the claims made about links between smoking and heart attacks:
3 Siegel, 9 April 2009, ‘New Study of Heart Attack Admissions And Mortality Shows No Evidence of a Link to Smoking Bans’ (includes link to the study, which is available to subscribers only).
4 See ‘The facts in the way of a good story, Michael Blastland, BBC, 14 November 2007,
5 Royal Edinburgh Hospital Patients’ Council, Promotion, Collection and Feedback on consultation (2009), p. 2.

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