George Osborne’s decision to put a sin tax on fizzy drinks confirmed that there is no escape from the nanny state in Britain, but if the increasingly meddlesome tendencies of our politicians makes you want to emigrate, where should you go?
Today’s publication of the first ever Nanny State Index suggests that Luxembourg, Germany or the Czech Republic might be more to your liking.
The Nanny State Index compares all 28 EU member states on a wide variety of criteria related to food, drink, tobacco and vaping, and finds significant differences in regulation of life’s small pleasures.
The UK comes third in the league table, just behind Sweden and Finland – the latter has the dubious honour of being officially the EU’s most nannying of nanny states.
Scandinavian countries have a reputation for high taxes and big government but almost the only thing that puts them ahead of Britain in the Nanny State Index is their draconian approach to e-cigarettes (they are essentially banned in both countries).
The UK has higher taxes on wine and tobacco than any other EU country, as well as the most extensive smoking ban. With a sugar tax and plain packaging on the way, we will soon be giving the Nordic paternalists a run for their money.
At the other end of the table sits Luxembourg, Germany and – best of all – the Czech Republic.
None of these countries have sin taxes on wine or food, and the Czechs have the EU’s lowest rate of beer duty. By European standards, they all have a liberal approach to smoking and a free market in e-cigarettes.
Most nanny state policies, including Osborne’s sugar tax, are ostensibly designed to improve people’s health and yet it is notable that countries which score high on the index are not healthier than those with low scores.
You might expect strict drinking laws and high alcohol taxes to result in lower rates of alcohol consumption, but that is not borne out by the evidence in the index. Nor do tough anti-smoking laws and high tobacco taxes correlate with lower smoking rates.
The index reveals a wide range of government policies on lifestyle habits but none of it seems to make much difference to behaviour or outcomes.
The Nanny State Index has been six months in the making and has only been possible thanks to the efforts of a network of think tanks across Europe who have helped to track down and verify the data. Our intention is to provide annual updates so that we can track the growth – or, if hell freezes over, the decline – of paternalistic legislation in the EU.
Future editions will have to be expanded to take account of whatever new schemes nanny dreams up to regulate the behaviour of adult citizens. In the meantime, the Nanny State Index is a snapshot of lifestyle regulation in 2016.