Finland tops Europe’s first-ever ‘Nanny State’ index

Sleeping, with a beer. Helsinki, 2009. [Chris Brown/Flickr]

Finland is the most heavily regulated country in Europe when it comes to alcohol, food and drinks, e-cigarettes and tobacco laws, followed by Sweden, the UK and Ireland, according to a new Nanny State Index published on Tuesday (5 April).

The Nordic country is the “worst place in the EU to eat, drink and vape”, says Epicenter which published its Nanny State Index for the first time.

The Czech Republic was found to be the least regulated in these areas, next to Germany, Luxembourg and the Netherlands.

Epicenter is an initiative by free-market think tanks such as the European Policy Information Centre and  the Institute of Economic Affairs, which focus on economic policies.

The Nanny State Index came out of concern with policies seen as harmful for consumers’ purchasing power. These can take the form of additional taxes, limitations to advertisement for some products or policies aimed at ‘stigmatising’ consumers.

Finland came on top in the index, as the country has a wide range of food and drink taxes, for example special taxes on fizzy drinks, confectionery, chocolate and ice cream. It also has an effective ban on e-cigarette sales.

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The policy analysts ranked Sweden second, mainly due to its alcohol policies, being the only country in the EU next to Finland which has a state-run off licence monopoly, the highest spirits duty, and bans on alcohol advertising on TV and radio. They also claimed that Sweden has a special reputation for paternalism.

Backing legislation

The Index does not, however, measure whether these policies are effective in improving the population’s general health and well-being.

Lauri Beekmann, secretary general at the Nordic Alcohol and Drug Policy (NordAN), pointed out that alcohol policies in Finland and Sweden are working.

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While Finns and Swedes older than 15 years consume 11.1 litres and 9.4 litres of alcohol per year per capita respectively, the populations in the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Portugal consume 13 litres.

Beekmann also slammed Epicenter for failing to mention that the populations in Finland and Sweden back their countries’ strict alcohol policies.

“The Nanny State Index could be useful for bachelor parties which search for a cheap and easy locations to have limitless fun, but it doesn’t say anything useful for countries that are struggling with alcohol, smoking and obesity and which haven’t found the political will to do much about it,” Beekmann said.

The health advocate mentioned that tax and health-related policies are closely linked to Nordic countries’ welfare model. Sweden and Finland top other indexes focusing on happiness, economic well-being, life expectancy, women’s and children’s health, and quality of life, she said.

Over the past decades, member states have experimented with different kinds of taxes in order to prevent diabetes and other lifestyle diseases among citizens. Some of the countries, which have introduced sugar and fat taxes on food products, include France, Hungary, Finland and Denmark.

Most recently, the UK government published its child obesity strategy which includes a tax on sugar. The Scottish government has set a minimum pricing unit on alcohol, but whether or not this is in breach with EU single market laws will be decided by the High Court in Edinburgh this spring.

  • Spring 2016: Court of Session in Edinburgh to decide whether the Scottish government is allowed to put a minimum price on alcohol in the country.

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