Thursday, 2 December 2010

Department of Health delays display ban decision while ASH says nudge isn't enough

In a Channel 4 News interview (below), Deborah Arnott of the English Action on Smoking and Health says that nudge is not enough when it comes to children's health. Regulation was necessary to bring in the smoking ban, a necessary law that everyone likes. Her opponent in the debate Nadhim Zahawi MP supports the 'nudge' doctrine but since he considers the smoking ban a form of 'nudge', a benevolent way to present issues in order to persuade people to make the 'right choices'. Does this man have constituents?

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.


Anonymous said...

Nadhim Zahawi is the Conservative MP for Stratford-on-Avon.

JJ said...

Nudge, fudge.

(at least she acknowledges that regulations are more serious than 'nudge') Quite right Belinda.

That’s the whole point. She’s afraid that ‘nudge’ will nudge further legislation out of the way. This new buzz word is of no threat whilst it remains just rhetoric. It’s when it solidifies into legislation that it becomes a problem.

I think Arnott is afraid that local councils may want to abandon further restrictions on smoking, because if responsibility for health measures such as smoking is devolved to local councils then they may well be punished at council elections…so perhaps they will think of treading carefully. These new policies will effectively let Lansley off the hook particularly with regard to the smoking ban – since it will be no longer part of his remit.

Not all council authorities will approach health issues in the same way…and I suspect ASH will have to fight fires on several fronts since they will no longer be able to go to the head of the snake (the government) to influence policy.

This kind of diffusion should make life difficult for ASH.

Interesting times lie ahead…especially if some local authorities can be persuaded that businesses in their area that have been affected by the smoking ban…should be allowed to decide for themselves whether to have a smoking ban or not.

It would be for local chambers of commerce to mount their own challenge and petition their local councils.

Things could change because of 'nudge'.

Anonymous said...

N - National
U - Unit for
D - Dissemination of
G - Government
E - Edicts

Belinda said...

For a moment I thought that was E for Ethics ...

Anonymous said...


They have no ethics, anything goes in pursuit of Tobacco Control policies.

Anonymous said...

I've emailed Zahawi to tell him that the smoking ban is not an example of the application of the Nudge principle as explained in the recent book. The more emails the better.