All ‘bad habits’ will soon be treated like smoking

The government wants to tax, ban or reformulate our vices.

Rob Lyons

Topics Politics UK

Slipped out in the dying days of Theresa May’s administration, the government’s consultation paper on the future of health deserves more attention than it received at the time. One of the main messages from the paper is that the methods employed to attack smokers will be applied with increasing enthusiasm to every aspect of our lifestyles.

Most widely publicised was the government’s plan to eliminate smoking by 2030. As Christopher Snowdon pointed out on spiked, the aim is much bolder than before: prohibition, rather than reduced use. The argument is as follows: if tobacco products are available for sale, a proportion of the population will want to use them. The only way to ‘eliminate’ smoking is to ban it altogether. Of course, as the experience of prohibiting various other products tells us, from alcohol in Prohibition-era America to cannabis, heroin and cocaine today, a ban on tobacco products would not actually eliminate the supply and use of these products. It would simply change the supplier from legally run shops to criminals. Indeed, the high level of taxation applied to cigarettes is, in itself, a form of prohibition. And – surprise, surprise – there is a thriving black market in cut-price baccy.

Of course, smoking rates will probably continue to decline as fashions change and people decide to quit or switch to lower-risk ways of enjoying nicotine for health reasons. But there will always be people who prefer smoking to vaping. For these people, attempts at prohibition are a direct attack on their freedom of choice. Simon Clark of the smokers’ rights group, Forest, has argued: ‘It’s great that smokers now have the option of switching to reduced-risk products like e-cigarettes, but adults have every right to smoke without being forced to quit by government and anti-smoking campaigners.’

What should worry everyone, smokers and non-smokers alike, is the way that the government consultation paper trumpets the ‘success’ of anti-smoking legislation in bringing down smoking rates. While the constant promotion of health warnings about cigarettes has probably had a significant effect on smoking rates, the effect of the most draconian measures seems much more limited. Smoking rates had already declined substantially before the indoor smoking ban came into effect in 2006 in Scotland and in 2007 in the rest of the UK. Recent declines may well have more to do with the availability of other options, like vaping, than the seemingly endless wave of illiberal laws.

But never mind their effectiveness, health campaigners love these heavy-handed laws and want to replicate them everywhere. The tobacco-control playbook works something like this: restrict advertising, introduce or increase taxes, reformulate the product to reduce harm, introduce restrictions on supply, remove branding, hide the product from display, restrict where you can use the product, and, finally, ban it altogether. We haven’t reached the final stage with tobacco yet, but it sounds like it’s in the offing. An EU-wide ban on menthol cigarettes is coming next year and could be a precursor to a wider ban.

Looking at the consultation paper, that seems to be where we are heading with a variety of unhealthy foods, for example. There are already restrictions on advertising food high in salt, sugar or fat (HFSS) during programmes aimed at children. It has long been an aim of campaigners to go further, banning such adverts completely until after the 9pm watershed when children are supposedly in bed. This is something the government seems willing to consider. The consultation paper also highlights how five ‘trailblazer’ local authorities are looking at banning HFSS adverts outside the home, in much the same way that London’s mayor, Sadiq Khan, has banned ‘junk food’ adverts on public transport.

The UK already has a sugary-drinks tax, ruining the flavour of many popular drinks, and there’s lots of pressure to extend it to sugary milk drinks. Restrictions on supply are mooted in the consultation paper by banning sales of energy drinks to children under 16. Supply restrictions are also explicitly endorsed in the paper, with talk of using ‘planning rules’. In other words, to build on the way that many local authorities ban takeaway outlets in the vicinity of schools.

When cigarettes were reformulated, that meant reducing their tar and nicotine output. Whether this actually improved health or simply led people to smoke more cigarettes is much contested. The same lack of thought is being applied to food. As a new paper by Josie Appleton for the Institute of Economic Affairs, Cooking for Bureaucrats, notes, Whitehall’s reformulation policies for food have gone mad. Targets are often contradictory, would ruin the products concerned (as we have already seen with some sugary drinks), or are impossible to meet. The men and women from the ministry think they know better than producers and consumers what food should contain or taste like.

So even if you’re not a smoker, you should worry about the crackdown on smoking, because it has legitimised government intervention on many other ‘bad habits’. Perhaps the best way to call this to a halt would be to stop the government going any further in its attacks on smokers. If you want to continue to enjoy food and alcohol, demand a bit more ‘live and let live’ when it comes to having a smoke. As Appleton has noted in another recent report, 40 Years of Hurt: The Hyper-Regulation of Smokers 1979-2019: ‘All of us, whether smokers or non-smokers, have a fundamental interest in defending personal and civic freedoms so we can live our lives as we think best, rather than as the state tells us to.’ Amen to that.

Rob Lyons is science and technology director at the Academy of Ideas and a spiked columnist.

The government consulation, Advancing our health: prevention in the 2020s, runs until Monday 14 October 2019.

Picture by: Getty Images.

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Jerry Owen

22nd August 2019 at 6:33 pm

As government gets bigger personal liberties get smaller it is an unavoidable fact.
I have never smoked and never will , but I defend the right of those that wish to smoke to continue to do so.
I also believe that if you want to eat sugary or salty foods you should be able to do so. If you end up in hospital it may make you rethink your lifestyle.. but then again it might not.. it is called freedom of choice in my book.
Live and let live.
If they want to eat cake let them eat cake.
If they want to smoke and end up with cancer ( they may not of course ) then let them.
If they want to drink too much alcohol and get liver sclerosis let them.
Individual liberty is the sign of a free society, we are rapidly losing our freedoms in every aspect of our lives. We must all fight for the freedoms of all peoples to smoke drink and eat as they wish across the board, we need to be united .

Hana Jinks

23rd August 2019 at 12:05 am

How about we have a chat, Babydoll?

Hana Jinks

23rd August 2019 at 12:13 am

You’re so responsible, Babydoll.

Hana Jinks

23rd August 2019 at 6:00 am

Babydoll. Here’s how it’s gotta go down. Because of last night, if you don’t respond to me soon, then l is gonna have to go to next-level trolling with you.

You don’t want that, and this now applies to Peeved Gobbett’s as well.

michael savell

22nd August 2019 at 6:33 pm

They say tobacco is bad but it is not as bad as all the unpleasant things the manufacturers managed ti induce into it just in order to give a brand a certain flavour.Perhaps the new “elite” will be happy when everybody is on hard drugs because that is the way we are going.Can’t remember people on fags killing other people or being violent because of them but just have a look back at the amount of killing and violence which can be attributed to drugs and heavy drinking.Back when cigarettes were fashionable we were told that they staved off nerve complaints like parkinsons and depression which is what millions of people in the uk suffer from and which have skyrocketed since the banning of smoking.Nobody has bothered to check it all out because,although nothing has been scientifically proved, those people who have given up smoking often become obese so where is the moral outrage?

Melissa Jackson

22nd August 2019 at 2:11 pm

Honestly I think that this war on bad habits is far more concerning even than just junk food. This rationale can be used for extreme and draconian measures.

Think of all the things that the press have described as “damaging” in recent years such as social media. And preventing us from using them would improve our mental health, of course.

When we accept “it’s for your own good” then it can be used to justify literally any intrusion into your life.

Remember – The Advertising Standards Authority considers gender stereotypes to be “harmful”. That is a matter of law now. They are legally harmful. And since they are harmful, the state will be very happy to come in and stop us saying or even thinking these harmful things.

We have to resist them all.

We absolutely must adhere to the liberal principle right now and fight for all forms of freedom.

Hana Jinks

22nd August 2019 at 5:30 am

Cancer is actually a spirit, too.

H McLean

22nd August 2019 at 12:37 am

It’s important to recognise that the war on junk food is a class war that overwhelmingly targets the poor and working class. Why don’t we see campaigners complaining about the fat-rich, cream-laden food being produced in the top-price restaurants enjoyed by the middle-class and metropolitan elite. The idea of ‘junk food’ only being the sort of cheap manufactured food that poor people eat is a carefully crafted lie. Sure, eating sugary drinks, chips and take-away burgers is not conducive to a healthy lifestyle – but neither is the artery-clogging salt, sugar and fat liberally added to restaurant fare.

This is just another example of poorly-informed, weak-willed politicians being directed by zealous middle-class campaigners who think the poor too stupid to make their own choices and despise the working class they claim to campaign on behalf of. It’s a class war. No government should be involved in mandating what people are allowed to eat.

Amin Readh

22nd August 2019 at 1:05 am

Whilst I agree with you on the encroaching nanny state, I don’t think this is a class war. And such restaurants are being targeted too.

Jerry Owen

22nd August 2019 at 6:40 pm

I totally agree.
I have the odd Big Mac once a month or so on a Saturday shopping with the missus.
They have bread, lettuce, and gherkin in them in other words bread meat and veg.. a balanced meal as far as i can tell. The milkshakes admittedly are a bit sugary but they are so thick you use up so many calories sucking the stuff up through their crappy paper straws as you take in . So McDonalds milkshakes are calorie neutral.
We also fine dine and some of the dishes are so oily / fatty such as Indian and Chinese I sometimes think some fast foods are indeed healthier.

Hana Jinks

23rd August 2019 at 9:07 am

Jerry “Babydoll” Oven-Kraut.

Do you remember how l went next-level on Thomas?

Do you have any idea how Thomas got out of that?

I know you, Babydoll. And just as l know that Thomas and l are best off not talking, l also know that Thomas has my back if l get into serious trouble.

Do you remember when l went to the next-next level with Queefer Moreswill, Babydoll? I had him so forlorn as a dungeon-bitch that he was ready to call his lawyers in on me. Did you see how close he was to burning his beard off for Tibet? I’m not sure whether you missed the bit where he just kept on fronting up at me, but he did. His humanity ended up abetting his escape.

And l know you remember how l went to beyond-reason level with Steve. This was because Steve is a man, and he knew l was lying. Steve and l might have our differences, but he was within his rights to call slander against me. And l only had to go that level because l couldn’t break him with the truth.

Jerry “Babydoll” Oven-Kraut. Check the lyrics once again, and give account of your redeemable features.

Hana Jinks

23rd August 2019 at 9:22 am

Just where are you expecting to end up in this story from here?

You been driving around in ur nazi car suckin’ all my energy. And that’s not mention the energy of the likes of Linda, Winston, the brewery dude, and Jon Hen.

I guess Goebells was popular with his nazi friends at one stage, too.

Check the lyrics, Babydoll, and git ur way outta that nazi-car.

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