This is the first edition of the Nanny State Index, a league table of the worst places in the European Union to eat, drink, smoke and vape. The Nanny State Index is an initiative from the European Policy Information Center (EPICENTER).
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).
Sweden has a reputation for paternalism and that is reflected in its position at number two in the Nanny State Index. Sweden has the highest spirits duty in the EU and one of the highest rates of beer and wine duty. It has a state-run off licence monopoly and bans alcohol advertising completely on television and radio, although TV channels broadcast from other countries are able to circumvent this. Outdoor alcohol advertising is also prohibited.
There has been some liberalisation in recent decades, reflected in a fivefold increase in the number of restaurants serving alcohol, and longer opening hours. State monopolies in the manufacture, import and export of alcohol have been scrapped, and state-run off licence stores boast a greater selection of products.
All television advertising that is perceived to be aimed at children is illegal, including some food commercials.
Although second only to Finland in our league table, Sweden’s tobacco regulation is more liberal than that of many European countries. Cigarette advertising is banned outright but snus, a smokeless tobacco product, can be marketed and is taxed at a lower rate. Sweden is the only EU country in which snus can be bought thanks to an exemption it negotiated when joining the EU in 1995.
Sweden’s smoking ban is extensive but does allow for separate, ventilated smoking rooms. There is no ban on cigarette vending machines, no graphic warnings and no retail display ban. Sweden has the lowest smoking rate in Europe.
In contrast with Sweden’s successful use of snus as a reduced harm nicotine product, e-cigarettes (and e-cigarette advertising) are effectively banned because they are currently classified as medical products. However, in February 2016 Sweden’s Supreme Administrative Court ruled that e-cigarettes are not medical products, thereby preventing the Medical Product Agency’s ability to ban them.
The current administration has set out to tighten the regulation on tobacco, snus and e-cigarettes. A government report recently suggested retail display bans for all kinds of tobacco and bans on smoking and e-cigarette use in certain public places.