European countries have become more restrictive as public health “nannies” introduce ever more regulations or bans on alcohol, fizzy drinks, eating, e-cigarettes and tobacco, a report claims today.
A Nanny State Index compiled by the European Policy Information Centre, a free market think tank, rates Britain as the second most illiberal country after Finland because of restrictions and bans, often linked to EU regulations. Europe’s most liberal nation is the Czech Republic, followed by Germany.
Most countries have seen a deterioration in their rankings due to the EU’s Tobacco Products Directive, with rules that include bans on packets of ten cigarettes and the displacement of famous branding such as Gitanes or Gauloises by graphic health warnings.
As well as at the European level, national public health regulators are stepping in, with Belgium joining Hungary, Finland and France to put a “sin tax” on sweet drinks. Ireland and Britain are preparing to join the club next year. Latvia and Lithuania have set a new precedent with alcohol-style bans on the sale of energy drinks to under-18s and France has banned free refills of fizzy drinks.
The report argues that taxes on products such as fizzy drinks that are regarded as unhealthy by regulators are regressive in terms of income distribution, with the costs falling most heavily on the poor. “Advertising bans restrict competition, raise prices and stifle innovation, and smoking bans lead to the closure of pubs and clubs,” Christopher Snowdon, the report’s author and the head of lifestyle economics at the Institute of Economic Affairs, said. “Excessive regulation creates excessive bureaucracy and drains police resources.”
The report highlights statistics showing that increased life expectancy is more closely linked to economic performance and high per capita incomes than restrictions or bans on people’s lifestyle choices.
“Health campaigners would do better to pursue economic growth than make doomed attempts to control the personal behaviour of the public through coercion,” he said.
“Too many politicians seem to think that treating their citizens like children is a matter of national pride.”
Public health officials dismissed the findings as overtaken by popular progressive regulations to protect people from passive smoking or self-harm.
“The idea that children should work in coal mines, as they did in the 19th century, is horrific,” an EU official said. “Most people are coming to the view that allowing cigarette smoke pollution is equally horrible.
“The day when public smoking is banned in all of Europe will be a great achievement for public health. Most people support that. If public health is nannying then three cheers for it.”
Finland Tax on sugary drinks, highest beer tax and alcohol duties. It has set a 2030 deadline to make the country tobacco free
UK Most draconian smoking bans, including on use of e-cigarettes, plain packaging and highest taxes on cigarettes, highest wine duty and second highest tax on alcohol
Ireland First country to ban smoking, plans for minimum pricing on alcohol and sales display bans, plans for sugar tax and highest alcohol tax
Hungary A “chips tax” on foods that are sweet, fatty or salty, illegal to place sugars or salt shakers on tables and plain packaging for cigarettes planned