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« Happiness and the nanny state | Main | The Nanny State Index »

Do nanny state initiatives actually work?

The anti-smoking group Tobacco Free Futures yesterday re-launched itself as Healthier Futures.

As I revealed on Tuesday, Healthier Futures is expanding its remit to address not only smoking but other public health issues such as alcohol misuse and obesity.

The question is, why?

According to their most recent annual report (2014/15) Tobacco Free Futures received an income of over £857,265, up from £764,113 the previous year (2013/14).

Funding is credited to "councils across the North West" which seems extraordinary in this era of so-called austerity.

If I was a councillor in the North West I'd want to know exactly what Tobacco Free Futures has achieved in return for these annual injections of taxpayers' money.

Glossy brochures highlighting a number of PR initiatives are all well and good but, like Smokefree South West before them, can TFF really claim credit for the decline in the number of smokers in their region?

I find it odd too that many of TFF's 'partners' are councils outside the region (Essex, Hull and Cambridgeshire, for example). What's that all about?

No, if I was a councillor in Blackpool, Blackburn, Manchester, Liverpool or wherever, I'd be asking a lot of questions – chiefly, what is the point of Healthier Futures?

I don't have the answer but I suspect the new initiative is an attempt to broaden the group's appeal to quizzical councillors who must be asking the very same questions.

I'm not convinced btw (and neither is the general public) that local councils should be prioritising people's lifestyles when there are so many other issues to tackle.

Remember that poll we commissioned a few weeks ago? No, not the Scottish one. I'm talking about the survey that found little support for further increases in tobacco tax.

One of the other questions we asked was:

Thinking about Local Government priorities, how important ror not important do you think each of the following are:

Respondents were then given a list of ten issues:

Investing in roads and pavements
Tackling alcohol misuse
Investing in street cleanliness
Tackling smoking
Improving job prospects
Tackling obesity
Addressing crime and anti-social behaviour
Improving facilities for young people
Tackling traffic congestion
Providing sports and high street facilities 

The result was interesting.

Only 14 per cent of the public believe that tackling smoking is a very important priority for local government. The issue also came second bottom in a list of ten priorities for local government. Respondents rated tackling crime and anti-social behaviour as the highest priority. Other issues that were rated more important than tackling smoking included investing in road and pavements, improving job prospects, investing in street cleanliness, and improving facilities for young people.

Anyway, here's Forest's response to the re-branding of Tobacco Free Futures:

Forest has urged local councils in the North West to review their funding of a regional anti-tobacco campaign group.

Following the announcement (31 March) that Tobacco Free Futures, formerly Smokefree North West, is to rename itself Healthier Futures so it can address other public health issues, the smokers' group Forest has questioned the group's function and the use of public money to fund its activities.

Simon Clark, director of Forest, said: "Whatever name they use, what purpose does Healthier Futures serve?

"During a time of severe financial pressure councils cannot afford to fund yet another campaign group lecturing people about the risks of smoking, drinking and obesity, and nor should they be expected to."

The rebranding of Tobacco Free Futures follows a similar initiative by another anti-tobacco group, Smokefree South West. In November the Bristol-based group became Public Health Action. In February however the group announced that it was to close after eleven councils withdrew funding.

According to Clark: "Figures show the use of stop smoking services in England and Wales has fallen by over 50 per cent since 2010.

"Anti-smoking groups are rebranding and embracing other public health issues because they are desperate to find new reasons to justify their existence.

"But why should local councils fund regional campaign groups when we already have high profile bodies such as Action on Smoking and Health, Alcohol Concern, Cancer Research UK, the British Heart Foundation and Public Health England, to name a few?

"Councils should review their funding of Healthier Futures, and the sooner the better."

Meanwhile may I suggest politicians at all levels consider this:

As the Nanny State Index, published this week, points out, state intervention across Europe around smoking, vaping, alcohol and food has been ineffective - 'there is no correlation between nanny state regulation and higher life expectancy'. Yet these obesity figures will surely be used to justify even more interference in our lives.

Even though we are living longer than ever before - in the period covered by the report, global life expectancy at birth has increased from less than 59 years to more than 71 years - and even though the number of people who are chronically malnourished is at a historic low, the control freaks within the health community are using figures which should be a cause for celebration as an excuse for more state intervention.

See Going large on obesity scares (Action on Consumer Choice).

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