An anti-tobacco campaigner who has played a leading role in reducing the harm caused by cigarettes in Scotland has been honoured by the Scottish Cancer Foundation.

Sheila Duffy, the chief executive of ASH Scotland, is this year’s recipient of Scottish Cancer Foundation prize which recognises individuals who have made an outstanding contribution in the fight against cancer.

Today, smoking rates in Scotland are half what they were in the 1970s and the number of young people taking up the habit is at the lowest level ever recorded. Meanwhile public support has grown for measures to regulate tobacco even further.

Sheila Duffy has been at the heart of these changes for the past 20 years. She played a prominent role in building the case in Scotland for the introduction of a smoking ban in enclosed public places in 2006 – the first part of the UK to introduce such a measure. It has been credited with changing attitudes to smoking and has been described as one of the most important public health changes of the past 100 years.

In addition Ms Duffy has campaigned successfully to move tobacco out of the reach of young people, enhance support for those who want to quit, and remove attractive branding from tobacco packaging which reduces its appeal, particularly to young people.

Professor Bob Steele, Chairman of the Scottish Cancer Foundation said: “Smoking causes or increases the risk of a range of cancers and it has been very pleasing to see the positive reductions that have taken place in tobacco use in Scotland in recent years. Sheila Duffy and the organisation she leads have been instrumental in many of these changes which will free hundreds of thousands of Scots from the fear of contracting tobacco related cancer.

“Her commitment has helped to make Scotland a healthier country and she is a very worthy winner of the Scottish Cancer Foundation prize.”

Ms Duffy said : “I am greatly honoured to receive this award, especially in 2016 as we celebrate ten years of smoke-free indoor spaces. Tobacco is the single biggest preventable cause of cancer, and working to put cigarettes out of sight, out of mind and out of fashion must be a priority going forward.”

“The national ambition is that a child born this year will grow up and reach the age of 18 smoke-free. Achieving this will prevent future cancers, and directly reduce health inequalities.”

The award comes with £10,000 prize money which is to be used to further reduce the burden of cancer in Scotland. Ms Duffy said that ASH Scotland plans to use the money on research to improve the help that can be given to people living in challenging circumstances. The smoking rate for the poorest fifth of the population is still 34%, amongst those with a long-term disability or unemployed it is nearly 50% and among prisoners it is 72%. A third of all tobacco used is by people with mental health issues.

The research will focus on factors that lead people in these groups to smoke and the barriers they face to stopping. It is hoped this will fill gaps in our current knowledge and lead to more effective measures to help them.

The Scottish Cancer Foundation prize is supported by the Grant Simpson Trust which helps organisations involved in the “advancement of health.”

The award to Ms Duffy was presented at the Scotland Against Cancer conference on November 21 at the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh.

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