The Nanny State Index (NSI) is a league table of the worst places in the European Union to eat, drink, smoke and vape. The initiative was launched in March 2016 and was a media hit right across Europe. It is masterminded and led by IEA’s Christopher Snowdon with partners from all over Europe. The 2017 edition of the index was revealed during a full day conference in Brussels and featured high level discussions and debates between MEPs, industry experts, think tankers and regulators about the effects of regulation on health outcomes.
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Christopher Snowdon is the head of Lifestyle Economics at the Institute of Economic Affairs. His research focuses on lifestyle freedoms, prohibition and policy-based evidence. He is a regular contributor to the Spectator Health blog and often appears on TV and radio discussing social and economic issues.
Snowdon’s work encompasses a diverse range of topics including ‘sin taxes’, state funding of charities, happiness economics, ‘public health’ regulation, gambling and the black market. Recent publications include ‘Drinking, Fast and Slow’, ‘The Proof of the Pudding: Denmark’s Fat Tax Fiasco’, ‘The Crack Cocaine of Gambling?’, ‘The Wages of Sin Taxes’, ‘Drinking in the Shadow Economy’, ‘Sock Puppets: How the government lobbies itself and why’ and ‘Closing Time: Who’s killing the British pub?’. He is also the author of ‘Selfishness, Greed and Capitalism’ (2015), ‘The Art of Suppression’ (2011), ‘The Spirit Level Delusion’ (2010) and ‘Velvet Glove, Iron Fist’ (2009).
Despite efforts by the EU to harmonise some legislation, the Nanny State Index reveals huge differences in the way governments choose to regulate their citizens’ lifestyles. The most heavy-handed countries – Finland, the UK and Ireland – all have very high taxes on alcohol and tobacco, as well as severe smoking bans, but Finland has an almost impregnable lead at the top of the table thanks to its negative approach to e-cigarettes, its tax on soft drinks and its harsh temperance laws which include a near-total ban on alcohol advertising and a state-controlled alcohol monopoly.
At the other end of the table, countries such as the Czech Republic and Germany have modest taxes on alcohol and tobacco, do not try to control their citizens’ diets, and treat vapers and smokers with respect. If you want to use the Nanny State Index as a travel guide, there are separate league tables for food, alcohol, tobacco and vaping below, so you can pick your holiday according to your preferences.
Paternalistic lifestyle policies create a number of problems and costs. ‘Sin taxes’ fall most heavily on the poor. High prices fuel the black market. Advertising bans restrict competition and stifle innovation. Smoking bans damage pubs and clubs. Excessive regulation creates excessive bureaucracy and drains police resources. Insofar as ‘public health’ campaigners acknowledge these costs, they argue that they are more than offset by the benefit to health, but the data in this Index finds little evidence of this. As Figure 1 shows below, there is no correlation between Nanny State Index scores and life expectancy.
There is also no relationship between tobacco control scores and lower smoking rates (Figure 2), or between alcohol control scores and lower rates of alcohol consumption (Figure 3). Nor is there any relationship between alcohol control scores and rates of binge-drinking among men or women (Figure 4 shows the data for men).
Indeed, the only relationship we can find between life expectancy and any other variable is economic prosperity. The statistically significant association between life expectancy and gross national income (Figure 5) suggests that health campaigners would do better to pursue economic growth than make doomed attempts to control the personal behaviour of the public through coercion.