Tuesday, 12 August 2014

Drink labelling and minimum pricing - we should educate, not legislate

Do Libertarians who oppose labeling orders also think signs like this should be removed?
As a Libertarian I tend to eschew any form of government social activism, especially the imposition of 'bureaucratic do-goodery' on matters of personal choice.

I recoiled from the nanny statism of Labour's "cook your turkey" and "don't eat more than 28g of salt per day" advertising campaigns and I am equally suspicious of labeling legislation, minimum pricing policies and attempts to control opening times of fast food shops.

Like most people, my political positions have come from a partial adherence to a pre-defined ideology softened by personal circumstances and life.

In my earlier years I think it is fair to say that I was a bit of a boozer and a heavy smoker. I am not proud of it, but not ashamed either. It formed part of my personal development and my experiences shaped and informed who I now am. Pubs and nightclubs were part of growing-up; where I relaxed after work, met my friends and a far better alternative than going home to an empty house.

Cigarettes are another matter. Through my teens and early twenties I was always anti-smoking, but I remember precisely the time and day when I had my first cigarette. It was the 1992 General Election, I was sitting at my desk - it was D-3 (ie the Monday of polling week) and anticipating the arrival of Angela Rumbold for yet another ministerial walkabout. Our YC Chairman had left his Marlboro Lights on my desk. I called out, "can I have one of your fags" and the next thing I knew I was on 40 Rothmans a day!

So there I was, far from well-off financially, I hope of at least average intelligence and fully and painfully aware of the health risks. Both of my grandparents, my mother and several uncles had died far too young from smoking related heart and respiratory disease. I even had good reason not to drink as my favourite uncle and my Godfather had both been alcoholics and died of cirrhosis of the liver. If ever there was someone who really should know better, it was me. But still I did.

"Why" is harder to answer. I couldn't really afford it, I knew and feared the health consequences and I hated myself for being addicted. I suppose I smoked as it was sociable, all my friends smoked - peer pressure and acceptance. And yes, there was a degree of self-indulgence. And no amount of health warnings or scaremongering would force me to stop, if anything, being lectured made me more stubborn and determined to do what I wanted to do. And in that I suspect I am far from alone. I simply do not believe that anyone who smokes can be in any doubt of the likely health-related consequences. 

And that is the root of my opposition. I don't like the 'nanny state' but my principle opposition to such schemes is I genuinely don't believe they work. People who smoke, drink or eat too many chips and burgers know the risks, but I suspect they either don't care or their addiction is such they simply cannot quit.

But does that mean the government doesn't have the right to try?

This is where I will differ from many of my Libertarian friends and colleagues. Libertarianism applied in its pure text book simplicity and without any filter through the reality of human endeavour is not realistic. If we take a purely "mind your own business" approach to the human condition and say "people must be allowed to make their own decisions and live with the consequences", shouldn't that be applied equally across life. 

For example, would any Libertarian seriously suggest that we should abolish workplace safety legislation, allowing employers to send people onto building sites without protective clothing or encourage workers in heavy manufacturing to wear carpet slippers? After all, people know the risks!

Should we allow Network Rail to remove all fencing from railway lines, take down the danger signage and remove barriers and warning lights from rail crossings? After all, people should know the danger of the railway - why legislate for signage and fencing to keep them safe?
And what about food hygiene regulations? If the government has no right trying to legislate to keep people safe from tobacco and alcohol poisoning why should they keep people safe from food poisoning. 

I stopped smoking after 10 years not because of legislation or for financial incentive but because my life circumstances had changed. I had met Steve and moved to Kent. Our circle of friends and focus of my life had changed. Suddenly smoking was socially unacceptable and barely tolerated. I had gone from a circle of friends where smoking was de rigueur to a group where often I was the only smoker. It stopped being big, sophisticated, sociable and clever (not that it every was). When the 'fun' went out of it, that's when I stopped. 

In conclusion; I oppose labeling and pricing controls because I do not believe they work. Having said that, nor do I believe the government should wash its hands on this matter any more than it should allow poisoned meet to be sold in restaurants. History has taught us that prohibitions do not work; the answer is education not legislation. 

No comments:

Post a Comment