A busy year for the 'do something' brigade

If, after Christmas, I glance in the mirror and the overhang of my stomach is a little larger, I will perhaps eat a little less. But I don’t need government to make that decision for me

Can government force us to be more healthy?
David Atherton
On 17 December 2012 17:48

This year has been an interesting one in terms of Western governments doing their best to improve our health for us. With 2013 fully in sight, now is a good time to review this centralised approach.

The good news is that we are living longer, fitter lives. Not only in Europe but worldwide. Since 1970 men have, on average, lived eleven years longer, women twelve; mainly as infectious diseases and malnutrition have greatly reduced. But those who make a living peddling public health issues will be too busy to raise a glass to celebrate the new quality and longevity of live. Here’s what’s been on their radar:

Drug legalisation

The death toll in Mexico from drug-related murder and violence has now probably exceeded 60,000 people since 2006. Many are now 'catching up', acknowledging the the prospect of a failed ‘war on drugs’, and are looking to legalisation as a means of tackling the associated-violence.

Nick Clegg has publicly disagreed with David Cameron on a Royal Commission into the possible decriminalisation of drugs, as recommended by the Commons Home Affairs Select Committee. It appears that Cameron is not in line with public opinion, but at least we are having a debate.

Meanwhile, in the United States – Washington State and Colorado to be precise – plebiscites on the legalisation of marijuana saw the anti-prohibitionists win, allowing the legal growing, distribution, and selling of marijuana for recreational purposes. We can only hope that this move is as successful as the complete drug decriminalisation in Portugal.

There are however contradictory issues at play since marijuana legalisation is in conflict with Federal Law. The Drug Enforcement Administration said: "enforcement of the Controlled Substances Act remains unchanged." Obama, to his credit, has commented that Federal enforcement is not a “top priority”, adding “We've got bigger fish to fry."

What may give state and local government a backbone is the projected revenues from legalisation. In Washington, for example, a 25 percent tax will be levied on each of the grower, retailer, and buyer. Whether that will be enough to dampen a black market remains to be seen, but taxation receipts could be as high as $500 million.

Minimum priced alcohol

Minimum priced alcohol (MPA) rumbles on with abandon.

Tory MP Dr. Sarah Wollaston forgets her epidemiological studies when she says alcohol “...is the single largest cause of mortality in young people, accounting for one in four deaths among 15 to 24-year-olds.” In fact, if you include the 25-34 year olds, the number of alcohol-related deaths is 270 against a total mortality of 8,711, or 3.1 percent. Her maths is not much better when she argues that alcohol costs “..at least £20 billion a year.” With a health budget of £100 billion that would make one in five cases a pickled liver.

But some senior Tories and Liberal Democrats have dissented and it looks as though Cameron and Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt’s pet pricing project has been poured down the sink before the European Union had the chance to block the reform. At least we have some Christmas cheer.


If you believe that people should smoke less or quit, then the banning of electronic cigarettes, partly as a result of intense lobbying by Big Pharma, will make that more difficult since it will mean that safe alternatives to tobacco will become a criminal offense. Likewise, as I have written before, the outlawing of ‘snus’ is quite disgraceful.

But that hasn’t stopped the likes of John Dalli (ex-European Commissioner) who was implicated in a case earlier this year wherein manufacuter Swedish Match alleged that “a Maltese entrepreneur had used his contacts with Mr. Dalli to try to gain financial advantages from the company in return for seeking to influence a possible future legislative proposal on to bacco products, in particular on the EU export ban on snus.” 

The trial of Dalli’s bag carrier Silvio Zammit is moving on apace in Malta and he has already put his hand up to asking for bribes. Zammit has admitted asking the European Smokeless Tobacco Council for €10 million initial payment. Telephone records show he phoned Dalli before and after the meeting.

No doubt palms of hands are being slapped on foreheads in France and California. France has had a smoking ban for four years and has seen the number of smokers rise from 31 percent to 33 percent, while in the land of the ‘smoke free’ in California the number of 18-24 year old smokers has risen from 12.3 percent to 14.6 percent.

Plain packs Australia came into existence on December 1st and it was not too long before some enterprising sole came up with the blindingly obvious idea of covering the offending packs in something more aesthetic, in this case stickers.

Fitting the pack to the millimetre, one can enjoy ladies in bikinis and some of Australia’s natural beauty. The Australian Medical Association president Steve Hambleton is outraged: "I would be confident that the government would respond very quickly to stop this defeating the intention of their legislation." So we have one ban then a request for another.

If the ban does go ahead then we have a situation where a packet of cigarettes apparently does not qualify as private property. I am sure if it came to that, outrage at the state in Australia would be overwhelming. That said, one has to snigger at the sticker company's website  reportedly crashing due to high traffic demand.

So our festive season marks the end of a busy year for the 'do something' brigade.

And if, after Christmas, I happen to glance in the mirror and the overhang of my stomach is a little larger, or I happen to have a rotten headache, I will perhaps eat a little less and consider a few dry days. But I don’t need the government to make that decision for me.

David Atherton is Chairman of Freedom2Choose, which seeks to protect the informed choices of consenting adults on the issues of smoking. Follow him on Twitter: @DaveAtherton20

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