Sin taxes, which are levied on items considered undesirable or harmful, such as alcohol or tobacco products, and have become increasingly popular worldwide. In their newly released Nanny State Index, European Policy Information Center (EPICENTER), an Atlas Network partner in Belgium, argues that sin taxes are frivolous and counterproductive, unfairly targeting the poor and ultimately leaving all citizens worse off. The bi-annual index highlights a European shift towards government attempts at control over personal health choices.
The results of the index, which ranks each nation based on the freedom to drink, smoke, vape, and eat, wasn’t a surprise to Chris Snowdon, the Head of Lifestyle Economics at the Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA) in London and author of the study. “In particular, vaping bans, e-cigarette taxes, and sugar taxes have become increasingly common in the past 5 years”, Snowdon explained.
The nanny state encompasses government policies that look to discourage certain behavior and habits through the guise of public health. These policies include high taxes on sugary drinks and tobacco, outright bans on consumer products such as e-cigarettes, and burdensome regulations that aim to curb public interest.
Finland is, once again, ranked as the least free European nation to eat, drink, smoke, and vape, while many countries are trending in that direction. Lithuania has seen a stark increase in nanny state policies over the past 2 years, causing the nation to shoot up 6 spots since the 2017 index; specifically, the Law and Alcohol Contract of 2018 placed the most draconian restrictions on alcohol consumption in the EU.
Not only have these nanny state policies been ineffective, but they have also resulted in a myriad of unintended consequences. “Nanny state policies result in consumers having less money and less freedom,” explains Snowdon. “When taxes are too high, black markets emerge, with all the problems they bring.”
Additionally, EPICENTER’ Index revealed absolutely no correlation whatsoever between Nanny State Index scores and life expectancy, nor between tobacco control scores and lower smoking rates.
Snowdon argues that overregulation on the pretext of public health should be a major concern of the worldwide freedom movement. “Basic elements of the free market are being dismantled. Governments are seizing the control of the price mechanism with minimum pricing, attacking free speech with advertising bans, and eroding intellectual property with plain packaging. And, on top of that, the policies aren’t even working!”
As nanny state policies become popular worldwide, Snowdon has a warning for Americans who are warming up to the idea. “Americans are already in the process of implementing tougher anti-vaping laws than anything the EU has devised,” he said. “Anti-capitalists have found a home in the public health movement, and politicians are easily hoodwinked by quack science and think-of-the-children rhetoric. Americans should run a mile.”