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Scottish general election: prevent it

Sadly, there are currently no cures for long-term respiratory illnesses; instead patients are prescribed treatment and medication to manage their symptoms or slow down the progression of their lung disease, which makes prevention all the more important.

When people think about how best to prevent lung disease, stopping smoking is often seen as the number one measure people can take. However, reducing smoking alone will not prevent all lung disease. The homes we live in, the air we breathe, the jobs we do and our access to exercise all have an important part to play in preventing poor lung health. 

Outdoor air pollution kills: Scottish lungs shouldn’t pay

There is no safe level of air pollution. An air pollutant is any substance in the air that could harm people. Particulate matter (known as PM), and nitrogen dioxide are particularly damaging.

When people are exposed to high pollution levels , for example on a busy road or during a high pollution episode, they breathe in these toxic materials to their lungs. Many people initially experience immediate symptoms such as irritated airways, feeling out of breath and coughing.

People with a lung condition suffer further with high levels of air pollution, which can dangerously exacerbate symptoms, leading to an asthma attack or a COPD flare-up. People with asthma may notice that they need to use their reliever (blue) inhaler more than normal when pollution is high.

Poor air quality has been linked to several conditions, with growing emerging evidence that highlights the high levels of air pollution impacting every level of society by increasing the chances of:

  • Lung cancer
  • Childhood asthma
  • Miscarriage
  • Premature birth/low birth weight
  • Heart disease
  • Dementia
  • Mental health issues
  • Obesity and many other conditions. 


Air pollution is the biggest environmental threat to public health. At a cost of £1.1bn per year to the NHS, air pollution is draining our resources, straining our health system and cutting short over 2,500 lives a year in Scotland, making air pollution a public health crisis.  In order to deal with air pollution, we welcome the introduction of the Transport (Scotland) Act 2019 commitment to have four Low Emission Zones across Edinburgh, Glasgow, Aberdeen and Dundee. However, we want to ensure councils are using their new powers in the most ambitious way possible.

Stop pollution at its source

Tackling air pollution isn’t limited to reducing vehicle emissions.

We have consistently urged the four Low Emission Zones (LEZs) planned for Aberdeen, Edinburgh, Dundee and Glasgow to be expanded to include cars as well as commercial vehicles and buses. However, this is not yet the case in all of the cities with a LEZ as they have all opted for different models, but none have yet included private cars.

In order to further address the impact of air pollution on lung health in Scotland we need to make an invisible threat visible. We believe that with better and more accurate air pollution monitoring reported in an easy to understand way we can alert people with lung conditions when pollution is high and drive the behaviour change that we all need to see to reduce our reliance on cars.

Schools should all have at the very least outside air quality monitors so that parents, pupils, students and staff can all see the pollution levels outside their school. This would be particularly important in recording the levels at drop-off and pick-up. If this invisible threat was made visible it is anticipated that parents would ditch the car in favour of less harmful forms of transport for the school run. We believe that the same would be true for our health and care settings such as hospitals and care homes.

Asthma + Lung UK Scotland are calling for:

  • Scotland to be first country in the UK to promote a ban on new sales of diesel cars by at least 2025 and subject the most polluting vehicles in Scotland to an emissions charge in all major towns and cities.
  • Greater investment in public transport and active travel.
  • An ambitious plan to be in place to increase the electric car charging network and review alternative methods of fuel such as hydrogen.
  • A comprehensive scrappage scheme to help people replace polluting diesel and petrol cars with cleaner methods of transport.
  • Action to tackle vehicle idling. Councils were granted extra powers in 2003 to stop motorists from running their engines unnecessarily but only Glasgow has used them – and on average less than once a year.
  • Car-free zones around schools where significant percentages of journeys are made to school by car.
  • Low Emission Zones to be rolled out in larger towns and not just four cities across Scotland. Operating LEZs that include cars in our larger towns will provide the change of clean air to thousands of people as sadly we know that air pollution is not something that just affects our cities.
  • Improved public transport options for travelling to and from hospital and care settings.
  • A ban on both the sale of inefficient wood burners and the most polluting domestic fuels.
  • A Public Health Awareness Campaign to help the public make positive choices not only for their health but for the health of others, our planet and future generations.
  • Increased monitoring of air pollution that can be communicated as health alerts to people with lung conditions.

Asthma + Lung UK Scotland are seeking cross-party support in 2021 to fight and legislate to reduce and eventually stop this public health crisis. We are therefore calling candidates of the 2021 Scottish General Election to support the below pledge:

The next Scottish Government must roll out Low Emission Zones across Scotland

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Supporting Scotland to be smoke free by 2034

The single largest causes of preventable ill health and a significant cause of health inequality in Scotland is smoking tobacco products. Tobacco dependency is directly and indirectly linked to millions of deaths. Not all lung conditions are caused by smoking, but smoking can make all lung conditions worse.

It is very encouraging that the current government has an ambitious tobacco control action plan. However, whilst we are pleased by the efforts and cross-party support for smoking cessation programmes, we want to see all parties being more ambitious in their efforts to reduce the huge impact smoking has on health inequalities in Scotland moving towards a smoke-free generation

E-cigarettes can be a helpful smoking cessation tool, so it's important that people who smoke, as well as health care professionals, have access to evidence-based information about e-cigarettes and how they can be used as a quitting tool. We continue to look at the long-term health effects of e-cigarettes and would recommend that people use them for as short a time as possible to help them give up smoking.  However, regulations on how e-cigarettes can be advertised need to be fully enforced, particularly ensuring products cannot appeal to young people.

Asthma + Lung UK Scotland are calling for:

  • Greater investment in targeted smoking cessation programmes and mass media campaigns to achieve the 2034 target of less than 5% of people smoking.
  • A ban on smoking around schools, playgrounds and other locations used by children. This would be an important step in creating more smoke-free spaces in the hope that Scotland is smoke free by 2034.
  • A ban on public smoking in high streets across Scotland.
  • The minimum legal age to purchase tobacco products in Scotland to be raised to 21.
  • A review into the compliance and enforcement of current tobacco advertising and prohibiting laws, to seek tougher financial penalties for companies in breach of advertising laws around tobacco products. This is to reduce the impact of selling tobacco products in our most deprived communities.
  • All healthcare professionals to be trained in offering very brief advice on smoking cessation.
  • Legislation to ban smoking in common stairwells.
  • More research into the impact of long-term use of e-cigarettes on the lungs of people with lung conditions, particularly asthma.

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