Why the Baltic States Should Reject the Nanny State

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Bill Wirtz

About Bill Wirtz

Bill Wirtz is a policy analyst for the Consumer Choice Center.

In a joint statement issued in mid-December, the three Baltic nations of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania promised to pursue policies promoting healthy lifestyles. Lithuanian Minister of Health Aurelijus Veryga, Latvian Minister of Health Anda Čakša and Estonian Minister of Health and Labour Jevgeni Ossinovski signed a memorandum of intent on cooperation in reducing alcohol consumption, smoking and malnutrition.

Largely inspired and plausibly politically motivated by EU players such as France, which are keen on cracking down even more on the lifestyle choices of consumers, the Baltic nations would be very unreasonable to copy Western European policy-making on these key health topics. There is, and always will be, an ideological debate on lifestyle regulations. The proponents of consumer choice know that those who buy should be in charge of their consumption and personal behaviour no matter what. There are, however, also very notable policy-related problems with lifestyle regulations.

Tobacco

On tobacco policy, a multitude of countries have attempted to beat each other on being the most virtuous in restricting the consumption of cigarettes. France, the United Kingdom and Ireland stand out with particularly aggressive anti-tobacco policies, to the extent that the République now also considers banning smoking in films. Plain packaging, large usage restrictions and severe price increases are inflicting quasi-prohibition on the European consumers, with worrying consequences: 15 per cent of the French tobacco market is dominated by the black market, which profits off low-income tobacco consumers who cannot afford the extortionary taxes anymore.

Some might be tempted to dismiss this problem, especially since the cigarettes taste, more or less, the same. However, the French press has repeatedly reported on the additional health and environmental hazards associated with fake cigarettes.

For instance, so-called fake cigarettes use paper that doesn’t stop burning when the consumer stops smoking, increasing the risk of fire in case the lit cigarette is left somewhere.

More dangerous than these environmental hazards are the ingredients themselves: counterfeit cigarettes use three times more cadmium —which can cause renal failure or injuries to the liver —and arsenic, which has been proven to cause lung cancer. These cigarettes have also been found to contain hair, cement, and mouse faeces.

UK estimates released by the Local Government Association have put the level of cadmium in counterfeit cigarettes at around 500 per cent higher than ordinary brands, making them considerably more dangerous to consume.

Alcohol

On alcohol policy, the Baltic states would be ill-advised to follow the example of governments such as Scotland and Ireland, which deal with similar excess drinking problems, but which intend to tackle the situation through minimum alcohol pricing. This means that retailers have to sell alcohol at a certain minimum price per unit, effectively raising the price of a low-prices bottle of whiskey in Scotland to 14 GBP (15.80 euros).

While minimum prices aim to prevent consumers from pivoting to lower-quality products, we need to realise that funds are fungible. Nothing prevents consumers from spending less money on healthy food in order to afford their consumption of liquor. History, most notably the prohibition age in the United States, has shown that people are very difficult to keep away from alcohol, no matter what restrictive measures the government puts in place.

Not only is minimum pricing problematic for consumers overall; it is downright unfair to low-income households, who will have to make different choices in expenditures in order to afford their favourite spirits. It can hardly be the intention of the Scottish government to incentivise parents to spend less money on their children or healthy food, just because they don’t want to pass on the pleasure of having a drink on the weekend.

Sin Taxes

On other sin taxes, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania shouldn’t follow the examples of Western European paternalism. Take the case of Denmark, which introduced a special fat tax on consumption goods, only to repeal the bill (with the same majority) 15 months later. What had happened? Not only was the tax an additional burden on people with low incomes, it also incentivised consumers to downgrade to cheaper products in the supermarket (while maintaining their consumption of fats), leading to no impact on health and minor impact on consumption overall.

Before the Baltic nations drown themselves in an avalanche of paternalistic lifestyle regulations, they should consult their own populous about the changes they want to introduce. Enabling responsible behaviour with tobacco, alcohol and nutrition is something that only develops through education, not through a top-down method of disconnected politicians.

The views expressed in this opinion editorial are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Emerging Europe’s editorial policy. 

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Go East

Kaczyński Defends PiS Record

Ukraine’s Anti-Corruption Boss Survives, For Now

Artem Sytnyk

Georgia’s Great Potential

The highland agriculture lands in Gudauri with the herd of sheep grazing here Georgia.

Bulgaria: Real Estate’s New Frontier?

Continental Launch Largest Ever Lithuanian Greenfield Investment

kaunas lithuania

China Agrees to Build High-Tech Business Park in Serbia

BELGRADE SERBIA - SEPTEMBER 29 2016: View on the city center and the junction of Rivers Sava and Danube in Belgrade Serbia.

Not All Quiet on the Eastern Front

Czech Republic Renaming Has Real Economic Costs

Business Standards Are High in SEE But Vary Widely

Aerial view of The Cathedral of the Assumption in Varna

China Eyes Moldovan Trade Agreement

CRICOVA MOLDOVA July 24 2017 :Underground wine cellar with collection of bottles in niches. Winery with 120 km of underground passages for wine storage

Czech Land Prices Continue to Increase

farm land

Poland Fails to Spend Billions of Euros in EU Funds

euro banknotes

Valga and Valka – Where Estonia and Latvia Work Together

Valga valka emerging europe

New Political Crisis Hits Moldova

Vladimir_Putin_and_Igor_Dodon_(2017-01-17)_01

Emerging Europe Key to China’s Belt & Road Plans

freight, ship, trade

CEE — Do We Need a Launch Pad For Our On-Site Tech Intelligence in the Silicon Valley

The Peculiar Growth of Poland

KRAKOW POLAND - JUNE 2017: logo of Galeria Krakowska shopping center.

Azerbaijan: The Rich Get Richer and the Poor Get Nothing

Baku

Georgia’s Growth Continues

Batumi, Adjara, Georgia - May 27, 2016: Batumi, Adjara, Georgia. Gogebashvili Street Road And Marine Station Or Maritime Station Building Batumi On Background

Emerging Europe Looking Good in Best-Performing Cities Index

Budapest, Hungary. Aerial view of the old city Budapest, Hungary with river and Parliament Building with cloudy blue sky

Romanian Economy Grows Fast in 2017

Brasov cityscape panoramic and aerial view over medieval architecture of Brasov town, in Transylvania Romania

EU: Consumption Still Driving Growth

Derek Chollet: There Is a Resurgence of Supporters of the Transatlantic Relationship

white house

Serbia’s New PM Is Cut From a Familiar Cloth

Serbian flag emerging europe

Why is Armenia Borrowing Another 100 Million US Dollars From Russia?

Measuring Growth of Societies with GDP Alone Shows an Incomplete Picture

Is the CEE Region About to Steal the Outsourcing Crown From India?

Amazing view on the Taj Mahal in sunset light with reflection in water. The Taj Mahal is an ivory-white marble mausoleum on the south bank of the Yamuna river. Agra Uttar Pradesh India.

Under Promise, Over Deliver: Prospects for the EU’s Eastern Partnership in 2018

Eastern partnership

Romanian Cabinet Reshuffled as New Splits Emerge in Ruling Party

BUCHAREST ROMANIA - MAY 25 2014: The Victoria Palace. Victoria Square.

How Will Trump’s Visit Affect Polish Politics?

Donald trump

NATO Opens New Moldova Office

NATO Moldova

Latvian Deputy Prime Minister Highlights Riga’s Potential

riga

The Voice of European Business Must Be Heard Loud and Clear by Brexit Negotiators

Sarajevo Stock Exchange Connected to SEE Link

sarajevo stock exchange

Will Poland Leave the European Union?

polexit

Lithuania Wants to Bring Home its Skilled Workers

VILNIUS - FEBRUARY 25: Many people choose books at the indoor book

HSBC Opens Warsaw China Desk

Azerbaijan Showcases ICT Potential

BAKU AZERBAIJAN - SEPTEMBER 25: People goes by the seafront of Baku on September 25 2016. Baku is a capital and largest city of Azerbaijan.

The Problem With Central European City-States

Budapest Hungary - Panoramic skyline view of the famous Buda Castle Royal Palace with the Buda Hills and Matthias Church at background at sunset

Visegrád Divided

visegrad

Sunday Trading in Poland Under Renewed Threat

Swimpassing Dniester Without Prejudice To Democracy

Parliament of the republic of moldova in chisinau, national flag, stefan cel mare street, spring time with blue sky

New Start-Up and Innovation Report Names Estonia and Slovenia as Market Leaders

Tallin, Estonia - July 06,2017: Scenic view of the modern part of the city of Tallin, Estonia

Ask for Georgian Campaign Set to Expand Abroad

Traditional Georgian carpet. Carpets with typical geometrical patterns are among the most famous products of Georgia.

Budapest’s Property Boom Goes Nationwide

building

Romanian Transport Infrastructure Failures Pile Up

Cernavoda Romania - June 20 2012: Construction works at the A2 highway connecting Romania's capital Bucharest to Constanta.

Poland to Switch from Emerging to Developed Market by September 2018

warsaw stock exchange

TV Still a Star for CME

GSA Names Ukraine as UK’s Offshoring Destination of the Year

map of ukraine emerging europe

Where’s My Cheese? – The GREAT British Food Tour 2014

Cheese Shop

Only a United Opposition Can Defeat Poland’s Ruling Law and Justice Party

Classical building of Polish parliament. Warsaw in Poland.

Poland & Ukraine Should Join Outsourcing Forces

outsourcing

Bulgaria Needs a Reform-Oriented Government to Take Full Advantage of its EU Membership

bulgaria emerging europe

ICT Growth Continues to Boost Bosnian Economy

ict, it

Estcoin: Estonia’s Own Digital Currency?

1 euro coin money (EUR) currency of European Union Estonia over blue background

EU May Offer Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine Customs Union and Schengen Access

schengen

EU Triggers Article 7 Against Poland

CRACOW POLAND - JULY 23 2017: Another day in Cracow thousands of people protest against violation the constitutional law in Poland. Defense of the triad of division of power free election and independence of the highest court in Poland

Can Armenia Keep a Foot in Both Camps?

European union armenia russia emerging europe

LGBT in CEE — A New Acceptance Is Being Born From Migration

Baltics Seek Lockstep With High Tech States

Euro money: Macro view of euro coin and bill. Suitable for financial, monetary, euro or European Union concepts and ideas

Lithuania Gives Innovation a StartUp

MILAN ITALY - MAY 2: People visit Lithuania pavilion at Expo universal exposition on the theme of food on MAY 2 2015 in Milan.

EconMin: Bulgaria — Number One Outsourcing Destination And an Island of Stability in Europe

CEE Nation Brands Still Behind Western Counterparts

TALLINN ESTONIA- JUNE 17: View of the modern high rise buildings on border with an old part of the city on June 17 2012 in Tallinn Estonia

EY: Belarus’ IT Scene Is Thriving

High tech park minsk

Investment in Croatia’s Regions Key to Further Development

CAKOVEC, CROATIA - JULY 02: Parish Church of Saint Nicholas in Cakovec, Croatia, on July 02, 2016.

E-lifestyle and Cyber Security: Some Views From Estonia

Cyber Security Protection Firewall Interface Concept

Big Fish, Small Fish, Where to Fish? On the Eve of the Fourth Industrial Revolution

More EU Help for Belarus SMEs

GRODNO BELARUS - DECEMBER 13 2013: Seamstress in textile factory sewing with a industrial sewing machine .

Partnership is the Key to CEE-Indian Business

Are Labour Shortages Driving Economic Growth?

Assaults on the Judiciary: How CEE Governments Are Trying to Restrict Judicial Independence, and Why It’s Not Working… For Now

poland romania justice system

Serbia, Belarus and Ukraine Ranked Lowly by Wharton Business School

Kyiv Ukraine - April 172017: The postal square in Kiev on Podol the Dnipro river. view of the square from the river panorama

China and Central Europe: Don’t Believe the Hype

China

Slovakia: Growth Continues But Problems Remain

Retail Rents Rise Across Emerging Europe

Na Prikope Prague

Resignation in Ukraine: War, Revolution, Crisis — Some Things Never Change

Mayor: Armenia And Its Capital Yerevan Offer Safe Investment And Tourism To a Growing World

IMF Urges Croatia to Speed Up Reform

croatia

Latvia Urged Not to Increase Expenditure As Economy Grows

Riga, Latvia - August, 2010: Panorama view from Riga cathedral on old town of Riga, Latvia

Skiing in Emerging Europe

gudauri ski georgia

Ukraine’s Economic Recovery: Good, But Slow

ukraine money

Does the Sceptre of Separatism Haunt Emerging Europe?

Szekely Land Flag

Czech PM Loses Confidence Vote

andrej Babiš

Budapest and Warsaw: Marriage of Convenience or Union of Values?

IMF: Institutions Key to Sustainable Growth

IMF

Air Passenger Volumes Reach Record High in the Baltics

airbaltic

Adam Smith’s Warning for Poland

One in Five Poles Unaware of Source of Funds for 500 Plus Programme

Moody’s: CEE Creditworthiness Holding Up

Man's hand holding pen and checking spreadsheet

CEE Playing Catch Up on R&D Spending

science, r&d

CEE Is Key to China’s Belt and Road Initiative

Shanghai skyline Panoramic view of shanghai skyline and huangpu river Shanghai China

Why Hungary’s New NGO Law Is Harmful for Business

Budapest, Hungary. Aerial view of the old city Budapest, Hungary with river and Parliament Building with cloudy blue sky

Hungary and Israel: the Collision of Past and Present

Budapest synagoge

Georgia Leads Emerging Europe in Ease of Doing Business Report

Poland Is Set To Become a Large Economic Zone

Aerial view over the building materials processing factory. View from above.

Macedonia — Stepping Out Of the Shadow Of the Balkans

Nagorno-Karabakh Conflict Moves from Frozen to Kinetic

Nagorno-Karabakh

CEE Boosted by Positive Tourism Trends Across the Region

cruise ship in Kotor Bay Montenegro. Aerial view panorama. Kotor bay Montenegro.

Polish Convenience Store Sector Booms

Mobilising Private Sector Investment in Belarus, Moldova & Ukraine

IFC

Efficient Innovation: Entrepreneurship in Bulgaria

Beautiful photos of modern buildings under blue sky. Europe, Bulgaria, Sofia.

World Bank: Brexit Hides Greater Challenges to the European Union and the CEE Region

EU-CEE Is Still Growing at a Healthy Rate

Prague emerging europe

EBRD Transition Report Highlights Financial Sector Resilience

Baku

Ukraine’s Gas Reserve Estimates Revised Upwards

Industrial concept. Liquid gas container. Gas storage in the port. Pipelines in the refinery

Outsourcing Sector Driving CEE Office & Graduate Demand

wroclaw office

Romania Cuts Income Tax, Introduces Solidarity Tax

CLUJ NAPOKA ROMANIA - OCT 2 2016: People on the central street of Cluj Napoka - the unofficial capital of Transylvania.

e-Estonia: Believe the Hype

Investigations Into the Corrupt Ukrainian Fuel and Energy Sectors

Ukrainian money hryvnia. The national currency. Corruption in Ukraine

EU to Fund New Poland-Slovakia Gas Pipeline

slovakia-poland gas pipeline

After Economic Shocks Armenia Plans for Macroeconomic Stability

yerevan armenia minister of finance

Michael: The Last King of Romania

UK Economic Growth Slows as Brexit Uncertainty Bites

flags of UK and EU combined over icons of London - Brexit concept

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