How do you feel when you are told what to do, especially when it comes to decisions related to your health?
I suspect most of us think we should be left to make our own decisions (and our own mistakes).
But I also think most of us would accept that there are areas where the government should intervene and regulate. It’s a tricky balance: if you get it wrong, no one will like you.
So I was surprised to learn that Prime Minister Rishi Sunak – someone I would have thought of more as a person who says no to the nanny state – is now thinking of following New Zealand’s example. , which has one of the toughest anti-smoking policies in the world.
Under rules introduced there last year, it is now illegal to sell tobacco to anyone born on or after January 1, 2009.
A YouGov poll found that banning junk food ads before 9pm is supported by 62 per cent and opposed by just 17 per cent.
If we were to copy that here, it would mean that anyone now aged 14 or under would never be able to legally smoke in the UK. And that’s a pretty extraordinary idea.
As well as being tough on teenage smokers, there is a lot of pressure on the UK government to ban disposable vapes; a recent YouGov poll shows that 77 per cent of people are in favor of doing so.
I hate smoking and would appreciate more restrictions. I would also love to see other measures implemented to help improve the country’s health, such as finding ways to reduce the increasing sales of ultra-processed foods.
But are bans the answer and what are the alternatives?
There is a long history of health-related bans that have been spectacular successes and some that have been dismal failures.
In 1921, for example, a chemical engineer named Thomas Midgley, working for General Motors, discovered that adding a chemical called tetraethyl lead to gasoline made engines run better.
The main drawback, known then, is that lead is poisonous and especially harmful to children’s brains. Despite the very obvious dangers, leaded fuel was not finally banned worldwide until 2021, 100 years after its introduction.
This is an example of a health ban that I am sure we would all support.
But around the same time Midgley was working on his discovery, which would kill and harm millions of children, U.S. politicians were passing laws aimed at protecting Americans from another extremely popular toxin: alcohol.
The Volstead Act of 1920 banned the manufacture, transportation, and sale of all “intoxicating liquors” and led to the era now known as Prohibition.
Prohibition led to dramatic drops in deaths from liver cirrhosis and alcohol-related admissions to psychiatric hospitals, as well as arrests for public drunkenness and disorderly conduct. But a lot of people love to drink, so it also led to the sale of large quantities of illegal liquor, the rise of organized crime, and Al Capone. The law was finally repealed in 1933.
Rishi Sunak plans to follow the example of New Zealand, which has one of the toughest anti-smoking policies in the world.
Today, governments generally prefer a combination of taxes and restrictions on advertising, rather than outright bans. And that approach can be very effective. Fifty years ago, when I was a teenager, half the country smoked; now it is only 14 percent. This is partly because successive governments made it more expensive (cigarettes cost around £13, 80 per cent of that tax) and partly because banning smoking in pubs and public places made smoking much less sociable. . It also caused some dramatic drops in rates of conditions such as heart disease.
Unfortunately, the decline in these diseases has been reversed, thanks to rising rates of obesity, which now kills more people than smoking (note to the Prime Minister). There is no way to prohibit people from eating junk food; Not only is it everywhere but you also have to make sure there are affordable alternatives.
But there are many things that could be done to improve our behaviour, many of which Boris Johnson planned to introduce before he fell from power.
These include an end to BOGOF (Buy One Get One Free) sales of foods high in fat and sugar; After all, their main goal is to make you eat more junk food. You rarely see BOGOF deals on fresh vegetables or fish.
Other plans included banning ads for junk food and sweets aimed at children, online and before 9pm on television. These measures are popular (a YouGov poll found that banning junk food ads before 9 p.m. is supported by 62 percent and opposed by just 17 percent), but almost all strategies against obesity that Boris noisily promoted have been sidelined.
With one in five children now overweight or obese by the time they reach primary school, and the number of obese adults expected to soon surpass those of healthy weight in the next five years, there is a desperate need for action. Yes, prohibit smoking among young people, but we must also think about diet.
Waiting and doing nothing is not the answer.