The nanny state and treating adults like children: Sugar, alcohol and tobacco

All things considered, liberty is a pretty simple concept. At its core is the idea that adults should be free to do as they please as long as they are not hurting others. This is known as the harm principle. And it’s the disregard for this fundamental concept that makes the public health lobby one of the greatest destroyers of liberty in the world today.

I mean it, I’m not exaggerating. The level of control that government now exercises over private business and private individuals in the name of public health has now reached such a degree that I am continually surprised that people tolerate it.

The public health lobby is motivated by two things:

  1. The desire for everyone to live as long a life as possible, no matter how enjoyable that life actually is (or is not, as the case may be).
  2. The certainty that they know what is best for everyone else, and that private individuals are basically incapable of making their own decisions.

Its tools are not complicated. Just mention cost to the economy/NHS (use wildly inaccurate figures), say ‘think of the children’ (even though the rule is being applied to adults), and then adopt a shrill voice to accuse everyone who disagrees with you as promoting cancer/death/child cruelty.

You don’t have to dig very deep to find the public health lobby’s utter contempt for the ability – and right – of individuals to make their own decisions about their own lives. The assumption is that people are blank canvasses who are powerless to avoid buying anything they see on a TV advert, and that they’re too stupid to know what happens when you eat too much, drink too much, or smoke.

Unfortunately, successive governments of all flavours have given in to their nanny state urges and collaborated with lobbyists to tell us all what we can and can’t do.

Conservatives, actual Conservative governments, have introduced plain packaging for tobacco products – a measure which evidence shows does not do what it is supposed to do – and a sugar tax for soft drinks. Conservatives have also banned advertising of ‘junk’ food on kid’s TV programmes because apparently parents cannot be trusted to say no to their children.

It. Is. Ridiculous.

Conservatives for Liberty supports the harm principle. This says that recklessness, when you endanger only yourself, is nobody else’s business, and that the freedom to make ‘bad’ choices and mistakes add up to the freedom to be human.

But public health lunatics are so obsessed with telling the rest of us what to do that they are not only prepared to violate this fundamental liberty, but they are prepared to do so with measures that don’t even work against their stated aims.

Plain packaging for tobacco products has been discredited by the experience of Australia, where smoking rates reversed their decline and started to go up after it was introduced. But why bother with real world evidence when a handful of academics say it will work?

It’s a similar story for the sugar tax. As people chose cheaper brands or exempted products to avoid price rises, in many places – including Mexico – consumption actually increased. And it stands to reason: where there are already sugar-free versions of sugary drinks, people continue to choose the sugary version because they prefer the taste.

It’s time to stop this nonsense.

  • Scrap the sugar tax.
  • Scrap plain packaging for tobacco products.
  • Reverse advertising bans and restore the right of adults to choose for themselves.
  • Reduce ‘sin taxes’ to levels that cover their cost to public services and no more (this would mean significant reductions across the board – for example, tobacco use costs the NHS £3-6 billion per year in smoking related illness, and raises £12 billion in tax).

And then let’s return public health to what it is supposed to do, the core of which are immunisation and screening programmes. But it also means education and awareness around alcohol, tobacco and junk food – providing information rather than attempting to bully and control people.