While many of a country’s citizens will support any piece of legislation which aims to increase their healthiness and livelihood, at what point do we allow ourselves to give up our own freedoms, liberties, and rights for such a boon? A pertinent question we must ask ourselves, especially when we don’t know if it’s going to be an even trade – the new laws may not even tackle the problem!
This issue comes rushing back to the forthright of my brain with the announcement that even more laws targeted at smoking cigarettes have been announced which aim to make it more difficult for people, especially younger people, to afford the privilege. Now, the day-to-day implications of these new laws won’t even affect me very much personally (I’m not a smoker), however, I believe this type of constant restriction of what we put into our own bodies is epidemic of the out of control nanny-state the United Kingdom has developed into over a matter of decades.
General Health & Wellbeing Versus Happiness & Freedom of Choice
When we look at the big picture in the UK, we can see that these types and pieces of legislation are passed and put into effect all the time. From the constant further restrictions on smoking and the sugar tax taking our fizzy drinks further away from our reach, to the blocking of certain websites and resources on the internet. Now, we all tend to understand that these laws are supposed to do, – in theory, at least – make our physical and psychological wellbeing better by making it harder for certain types of people and groups to access things affecting their health negatively. Sounds reasonable at first, but this hides a terrible underbelly of repercussions that the public just isn’t thinking about.
We’ve Forgotten to Balance Happiness with Health
A lot of people won’t take me too seriously when I say this, but why should the government stop some people from enjoying certain aspects of their life which are (or may be) detrimental to their health? If Joe Bloggs wants to go out, buy 100 cigarettes, and smoke them all in one day then who are you, me, or anyone else to tell him he can’t? Our education system should be advanced and effective enough at this point, as leaders in modern Western world, that everyone should know and understand the health and wellbeing problems associated with this type of behaviour.
If we still have well-educated people who know the risks of doing something negative, like smoking 100 cigarettes a day, and they still want to do it, then, by all means, let them! They are their own individual person capable of deciding what is right and wrong for them. It’s not our business, or the government’s business for that matter, to dictate what we can and can’t enjoy – assuming we’re not hurting anyone else of course.
Correct me if I’m wrong, but surely trading away our happiness and general life enjoyment for a chance at increasing the quality of our health is not always the best decision? Our governments should start looking at measuring quality of life in terms of overall happiness and contentment, not just life expectancy and number of yearly NHS visits. Giving people freedom of choice and genuine autonomy, and the abolition of obstacles in front of what people want is the direction I would like to see the UK go.
We’re Punishing the Poor for being Poor
No matter how you try to sugarcoat it, things like higher cigarette and fizzy drink prices are only going to affect the poor and make their lives harder and less happy. The richer middle and upper classes will barely notice any change in their outgoings because that extra cost, while a lot of money to the poor, is inconsequential to the better off.
We not only hit the poor in the pocket with legislation like this, we also insult their ways of living and intelligence by pretending the government knows what is best for them. “Don’t worry peasants, the nanny-state will make sure you don’t even have the choice to be unhealthy anymore, aren’t we great? says the nanny. The problem here is that, with a few minor exceptions, everyone knows that things like smoking are bad for them nowadays so you’re taking enjoyable things away from people even though they already know it’s not great for their body. Despite them making the informed choice to do something, we’re taking away their means to do it through almost enforcing inequality.
It’s briefly worth visiting the argument that these types of laws will help in stopping children from trying things like cigarettes because they tend to have less money than most people across all economic classes. While this may help in some cases, I actually think it may be counterproductive in others. My two main reasonings are:
- Children and young adults will try drugs, cigarettes, booze, and more regardless of how restricted or even illegal it is. Whether they manage to buy these things themselves or are given to from someone older, it will happen eventually anyway.
- Making a bigger deal out of something than it actually is, with new laws and the like, may just encourage more children and young adults to seek out such things. The more you forbid something, the more they’ll want to disobey you.
With these points in mind, I echo my main point about education I made previously. A good solid education is the best way of approaching topics like these. Make sure everyone fully understands the costs and benefits associated with using or doing something, then let them come to their own decision.
We’re Becoming Complacent to What We’re Allowed to do with Our Lives
Perhaps the most worrying thing about all of this is that it has now become the norm. When new rules come into force which affects what we can buy, what we can do where, and what arbitrary minimum pricing we must deal with, we grumble for a few days then sit down and take it. People don’t get angry enough to do much of anything and then once the initial media frenzy has passed by, they don’t even remember anything having happened.
It could be that another problem is the fear of being called out for criticising legislation that, apparently, aims to improve our wellbeing. That somehow there is never any reason to doubt the motivation behind such laws or whether the new regulations will actually even work or not. People need to make more noise and call out these assaults on individual freedoms which affect us all regardless of whether we even use or perform any of the things that these types of laws restrict.
I can’t actually put all the blame on the general public for the somber lack of outcry about this as what would we even do to curb it? No party seems to represent those who want to put up a fight. I think the UK needs to step back away from being the ‘nanny-state’ it is so often referred to as and focus more on the rights of the people to live their lives as they see fit. We should shift the focus on things like the war on drugs and pressuring tobacco companies to meet our demands and, instead, make our education system one that competes with the very best in the world. In this way, we’ll have a strongly educated people who can make good and positive decisions that will naturally prevent many of them from using things that are bad for them and they’ll know the value of taking everything in moderation.
Happiness and enjoyment are the core reason anybody does anything in life, whatever the goal is, happiness and contentment are always the ultimate milestone in the background. So why are they sacrificing our happiness for potential health benefits without a second thought?
Libertarianism in the UK
With a negative stance on the nanny-state which tries to prevent people from doing things that they want to do, I think the advent of a legitimately strong and understanding Libertarian party would be most welcome in the UK. A party which stands for pulling away governmental control from certain aspects of people’s lives, from their private family life to their legal habits of enjoyment. A group which would allow the free market to decide the value of products, services, and types of work while ensuring that everyone, no matter their background, has the choice and opportunities required to succeed. The Libertarian Party of the United Kingdom already exists, however, I think a better contender with similar ideals would need to step forward for any real change to happen.
I don’t think people can’t be legitimately happy when they’re not given to choice to live the way they want to. We should be making it easier for people to do what they like and enjoy a happier day-to-day life, not harder.
Do you think these kinds of laws are justified? Do you think the UK’s nanny-state is a problem?