People living in the United Kingdom are the second least free in Europe in terms of access and freedom to enjoy tobacco, alcohol, and sugary food and drink, according to a new study which records increasing regulation on such items across the continent.
Britain is second only to Finland in Europe for paternalistic overregulation, “lifestyle regulations”, and “nannying”, coming ahead even of nations like Sweden where access to bought alcohol outside of bars and restaurants is limited to strictly controlled, and highly taxed government owned stores.
The Nanny State Index, compiled by the free-market focused European Policy Information Centre, found the 2016 survey year saw widespread crackdowns on vaping, or e-cigarettes, with bans and taxes on vaping fluid being introduced in a number of nations.
Criticising the motivations of governments who moved to tax e-cigarettes, the report said: “Although some governments have been slow to recognise the health benefits of safer nicotine products, they have been quick to see their potential for raising revenue.”
The report also noted the introduction of wide-ranging anti-tobacco laws by the European Union, which amongst other changes banned ten-packs of cigarettes, flavoured cigarettes, and made health warnings mandatory. The United Kingdom and France went beyond the letter of the new EU law, also forcing cigarettes to be sold in plain packaging, a move that has been called on to be expanded to alcoholic drinks and foods.
Whilst taxation levied on tobacco, alcohol, and sugary drinks are often justified to voters through the health benefits of artificially increasing prices, the Nanny State Index showed there appeared to be diminishing returns from ever-more restrictive laws and taxes. Rating the propensity to overregulate on a scale of 1 to 100 and comparing the place of nations on the Nanny State score to average life expectancy, the survey showed there was no correlation between high regulation and health.
By contrast, the European nations with the highest life expectancies were among the lowest scoring on the Index — these nations included Germany and the Czech Republic.
Quoting historian A.J.P. Taylor on the old default of British liberty before the Great War: “Until August 1914 a sensible, law-abiding Englishman could pass through life and hardly notice the existence of the state”, the report is highly critical of Britain’s modern position on regulating the minutiae of daily life of residents.
Commenting on the “rising tide of lifestyle regulations”, the paper notes:”The UK has some particularly punitive sin taxes. It has the highest taxes on cigarettes and wine in the EU and the second highest taxes on beer” and that “Anti-smoking policies are now being rolled out to food and soft drinks.”
Despite the very poor rating of being the second least free nation for lifestyle choices in the EU, the report notes the rating given to Britain actually makes it seem more liberal than it really is, given the scope of the study does not encompass “the food reformulation scheme which has led to chocolate bars shrinking and food products becoming less tasty as Public Health England pushes food manufacturers towards reducing sugar, salt and fat content. Although this scheme is technically voluntary, it is backed up with the threat of legislation.”
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