About 64 percent of Europeans don’t trust the Trump administration, according to a poll by the Financial Times. Alexander Kryvosheyev, Vice President of Public Affairs for Japan Tobacco International, highlighted the poll in remarks to the FT Business Regulation Forum in Berlin last week.
There are many reasons to distrust President Trump, but when it comes to regulating lifestyle choices, Europeans ought to take a close look at the many reasons to distrust their own governments far more.
Some regulations, such as age restrictions on alcohol and tobacco, have achieved their intended goal. Since 1988, there has been a significant decline in underage drinking and driving incidents. But the unfortunate majority of the EU’s regulatory policies exist so the government can act as everyone’s parent.
When policies seek to micromanage the lives of citizens, the government should hold the burden of proof as to why the policies are absolutely vital. Almost 80 percent of those surveyed by FT agree that regulators should present clear independent evidence that their proposals will work. Despite this, 83 percent believe the EU would not make decisions based on independent evidence when it comes to these regulations on lifestyle.
Europe has already been planning and implementing policies that regulate sin categories. In recent years, the EU has banned menthols and other flavored cigarettes. The UK has forced standardized cigarette packaging despite there being little evidence of its effectiveness. Planning a party in Sweden this weekend? Make sure to prepare ahead of time because after 7 p.m. on Friday, and 3 p.m. on Saturday, citizens are not allowed to buy alcohol for home consumption.
Many other nations within the EU have followed suit: France and Germany have also standardized cigarette packaging, and Lithuania has begun raising taxes on alcohol sales in an attempt to rescind their reputation as world’s heaviest drinkers. Perhaps governments can justify these type of policies due to the unique dangers of alcohol and tobacco, but what’s coming next is cause for concern.
Almost 70 percent of FT readers surveyed believe it is inevitable that lawmakers will begin to use tobacco-style regulations on other threats to personal health such as fast food and sugary drinks. In 2011, Denmark was praised for placing a 2.3 percent tax on all goods containing saturated fats in an attempt to raise revenue and curb obesity. Only 15 months post-implementation, they decided to repeal it because the tax led to significant job loss, inflation, and cross-border shopping. Despite what revisionists would have you believe, Denmark’s “fat tax” proved to have little-to-no health benefits. This is the perfect example as to why it is imperative that citizens demand that their governments provide evidence, before implementation, that these policies will only have positive effects.
Ireland announced this month that there will be a 30 cents per liter tax on sugary beverages. In the budgeting papers, the Department of Finance explained that it “hopes” the taxes will incentivize consumers to opt for the healthier option. The Department of Health found no clear evidence that the tax will decrease population weight. It seems that Ireland has not learned from Denmark’s mistakes and has not taken into consideration the fact that nations that have implemented similar policies have seen increases in obesity. Even if these policies did prove to be effective in reducing obesity, being fat does not create harm for anyone but the consumer. Allowing the government to regulate this is a dangerous trend that should be halted.
The legislative body of Estonia passed a similar soda tax. Fortunately, the Estonian President Kersti Kaljulaid temporarily vetoed the bill saying that these attempts at controlling citizens’ decisions concerning food and drink were excessive and unconstitutional. One can even argue that it is a direct violation of human rights for a government to involve itself in the victimless lifestyle choices of its people.
If FT readers are correct, EU regulators will continue to make decisions without independent evidence and soon begin attacking food and non-alcoholic drinks. This should be especially worrisome for the one-third of the survey respondents who agree that EU regulation is detrimental to business innovation and the economy.
Despite their distrust for the Trump government, Europeans that are thinking about traveling to America can rest assured that they won’t be nannied like they are at home. Unlike the EU, the Trump administration shows no signs of pushing for federal regulations on cigarettes, alcohol, food, and drinks. As of now, America is much more likely to allow each person to use their own free will to decide what they consume.
While it’s fair to express distrust towards the Trump government, when it comes to restricting autonomy, Europeans need to take a look at their own policymakers and demand that they stop acting as the region’s nanny.
Alex Gugliuzza is a Young Voices Advocate pursuing a Masters in Public Administration at American University.
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