Deborah Arnott feels that regulation is essential alongside a 'nudge' approach. But nudge seems to be what Health Secretary Andrew Lansley seems to be interested in. Claiming to discard the nanny state, he wants to hand responsibility for public health to local councils and encourage them to compete on performance levels and hand out vouchers for walking to school. It may be a matter of semantics, but this kind of nudging seems a bit nannyish to me.
Tim Lang, professor of food policy at City University London said: 'Firstly, the hype around "nudge" as the best way to change behaviour should be treated warily. It's an individualised approach to what ought to be addressed at a population, society-wide level. The term nudge is in fashion, but no substitute for public policy. There is a danger that the nudge will become a fudge.'The wish to change people's behaviour seems to dominate everyone in public life – effectively there is no difference between nudge and the nanny state. Politicians understand 'nudge' as imposing a smoking ban, a display ban, the imposition of plain packaging and the banning of vending machines simply because none of these measures actually amounts to a prohibition of smoking. They simply have no concept or concern for the impact of their little nudges on traders, any more than they are concerned about the consequences of denormalisation. Christopher Snowdon was right when he said on The Moral Maze last week that in the smokers' world, nudge went out years ago: all these restrictions amount to 'shove', rather than nudge.
What will the Health Secretary do about the tobacco display ban? Deborah Arnott says the matter of stopping people from smoking is too important to be left to 'nudge' and needs regulation (at least she acknowledges that regulations are more serious than 'nudge'). Supporters of the legislation clearly feel that Lansley will let them down and bow to tobacco interests. Local shopkeepers point out that both Coalition parties opposed the legislation before the General Election, and criticise continued delay in a policy announcement, as well as the announcement that plain packaging might be on its way:
Minister[s] must act now to provide reassurance to retailers. We remain convinced that the best option is to abandon plans for a display ban, and there is now an unanswerable case for an immediate freeze on the projected compliance deadlines.Their demands seem fairly reasonable to me:
Ken Parsons, chief executive of the Rural Shops Alliance (RSA), said, “This is an area where actions really need to be based on evidence. Suddenly this [plain packaging] proposal has come out of the woodwork, with no evidence to back it up one way or the other.
Retailers are being left without any guidance as how this might affect the tobacco ‘going dark’ issue. At the very least, if the minister needs longer to reach a decision, then he must postpone the proposed timetable for implementing display restrictions. It is the retail industry being kept in the dark, not tobacco.I don't envy Lansley.