All the major political parties have now published their general election manifestos. As predicted, they are mostly lacking detail on issues of 'public health'—ie. lifestyle regulation—but such detail as there is suggests that the nanny state will be thriving for at least another five years. Here are the main points from each manifesto...
Non-specific on most lifestyle issues. They claim to be "helping people to stay healthy by ending the open display of tobacco in shops, introducing plain–packaged cigarettes and funding local authority public health budgets." There is no mention of any other anti-smoking policies, presumably because they're waiting for ASH to tell them what to do.
They say they're going to "take action to reduce childhood obesity and continue to promote clear food information" but don't say how. There is a similarly vague promise to "become smarter when it comes to crime prevention, dealing with the drivers of crime such as drugs and alcohol."
And that's about it. No mention of e-cigarettes, food, soft drinks or alcohol. However, they say they will "create a blanket ban on all new psychoactive substances, protecting young people from exposure to so-called ‘legal highs’." This is very naive. Legal highs are not imported or marketed as psychoactive substances, but as pond-cleaners, plant foods and so on. If it was as simple as bringing in a "blanket ban", the government would have done it years ago.
Verdict: Disconcertingly vague. A pig in a poke.
Labour says it will "take targeted action on those high strength, low cost alcohol products that fuel problem drinking" but does not say how. Tellingly, minimum pricing is not mentioned; Ed Miliband distanced himself from it several months ago.
They will also "will set maximum permitted levels of sugar, salt and fat in foods marketed substantially to children." This could be construed as mandatory product reformulation or as an advertising ban by the backdoor. Whatever the intention, there are lots of products that cannot be reformulated so say goodbye to commercials for chocolate bars, for example, before 9pm. A bit depends on how they define "marketed substantially to children", but this is terrible idea that will be bad for consumers, bad for broadcasters and won't do a thing to reduce obesity.
There is also a mention of "a levy on tobacco firms" which amounts to arbitrary looting. The Tories consulted on this idea recently and decided that there were too many unintended consequences. Also difficult to see how they are going to tax the profits of companies that are based in Switzerland.
On gambling, Labour says it will "give new powers for communities to shape their high streets, including power over payday lenders and the number of fixed-odds betting terminals." This sounds like the "healthy high streets" fascism I wrote about last month.
Other than that, no mention of any anti-smoking or temperance policies. In fact, the entire section on "prevention and public health" only lasts one paragraph. Like the Tories, they know it's not a vote winner.
Verdict: Pretty dire, but would probably have been even worse if they listed everything they had in mind.
The Lib Dems plan to "Introduce Minimum Unit Pricing for alcohol, subject to the outcome of the legal challenge in Scotland". Like the Tories, they boast about "taking tobacco off display in shops and introducing standardised packaging", but don't seem to have come up with any other ridiculous anti-smoking policies other than introducing a "tax levy on tobacco companies" (subject to a consultation).
They also want to "Restrict the marketing of junk food to children, including restricting TV advertising before the 9pm watershed". There is no definition for 'junk food' so I assume they mean High in Fat, Salt and Sugar (HFSS) in which case say goodbye to commercials for bacon, cheese, cakes, biscuits, most soft drinks and numerous other food products before 9pm. This is just censorship. And they plan to "Encourage the traffic light labelling system for food products", although they can't mandate it because it is an EU competence.
Like Labour, they want to "Protect high streets and consumers by granting new powers to Local Authorities to reduce the proliferation of betting shops and substantially reducing the maximum stakes for Fixed Odds Betting Terminals."
The Lib Dems are the only party to explicitly mention e-cigarettes in their manifesto, saying that they will: "Carefully monitor the growing evidence base around electronic cigarettes, which appear to be a route by which many people are quitting tobacco, and ensure restrictions on marketing and use are proportionate and evidence-based. For example, we support restrictions on advertising which risks promoting tobacco or targets under 18s, such as those introduced in 2014, but would rule out a statutory ban on ‘vaping’ in public places."
Verdict: Typical Lib Dems. They might be democrats but they certainly ain't liberal.
UKIP explicitly opposes minimum pricing and will "reverse plain packaging legislation for tobacco." They will also amend the smoking ban "to give pubs and clubs the choice to open smoking rooms provided they are properly ventilated and physically separated from non-smoking areas".
As a bonus, they plan to save half a billion pounds a year by "Clamping down on so-called ‘fake charities,’ or state-funded political activism." Excellent and very relevant since the nanny state enterprise is led by state-funded 'charities'.
These sensible policies are slightly offset by a promise to "update licensing laws" by limiting the maximum stake on fixed-odds betting terminals from £100 to £2.
As they intend to hold an EU referendum, the awful e-cigarette regulations in the Tobacco Products Directive won't apply if the public votes to leave (this also applies to the Tories if Cameron keeps his promise).
No mention of food or soft drinks, presumably because they plan to leave them alone.
Verdict: Liberal in the uncorrupted sense of the word.
Bonkers from beginning to end, the Green manifesto is an orgy of bans and taxes. A ban on the sale of foie gras, a ban on fracking, a ban on hunting any animal for sport, a ban on circus animals, a ban on keeping rabbits in cages etc., etc. The main lifestyle policies are as follows:
"Put a minimum price on alcohol of 50p per unit." Yawn.
"Reduce the alcohol limit for drivers to as close to zero as is practicable." Predictable for a party that hates motoring in any form (unless it's chauffeur driven).
Increase the tax on tobacco and alcohol by £1.4 billion per year (!), equating to a roughly 10 per cent annual rise. Idiotic and illiberal.
"Extend VAT at the standard rate to less healthy foods, including sugar, but spend the money raised on subsidising around one- third of the cost of fresh fruit and vegetables." They think this will suck another £6.7 billion out of people's pockets. Perhaps it will.
They don't mention fixed odds betting terminals. This must be an oversight since I'm sure they'd like to ban them too.
They do, however, say they want "an evidence-based approach to the step-by-step regulation, starting with cannabis, of the drugs currently banned under the Misuse of Drugs Act as well as ‘legal highs’, with a view to introducing a system that reduces harms and brings the market under state control as a potential tax revenue generator." So it's not all bad. Quite.
Verdict: The perfect party for people in 'public health'—bossy, socialist and authoritarian.