A guest post by Nisakiman
I was reading in a blog just recently that this coming May the 2017 update of the `Nanny State Index’ will be published.
This data sheet lists all the European countries according to the freedoms enjoyed by the population, and is compiled by a number of institutions and edited by Chris Snowden, an assiduous and honest researcher who spends a lot of time debunking the torrents of junk science emanating from `Public Health’.
Last year was the first of the `Nanny State Index’ data sheets, for 2016, and it was with great interest that I cast my eye over it. However, it didn’t come up with the results I had expected at all. When I questioned Chris about some of the findings, he said that the exercise was based on the policies and laws pertaining to that country, and not the extent to which those laws and policies were applied. This is fair enough, as anything else by necessity has to be anecdotal, and thus potentially unreliable.
It also means that the study is essentially worthless, as it gives no true indication of which countries are, in reality the best in terms of freedom; it just tells us what laws they have.
Take for instance my adopted country, Greece. I’ve lived here for the past fifteen years, and a couple of times prior to that for 18 months or so each time, so I’m pretty familiar with the way of life here.
According to the `Nanny State Index’, Greece is one of the most restrictive countries in Europe, based on the laws concerning cigarettes / e-cigs, alcohol and food. It ranks number six (starting with the most restrictive), only three places behind UK, which is in the top three (just pipped by Finland and Sweden), and way above the hedonistic Germany, which is down with the libertines in the number twenty seven spot.
I have a few issues with this ranking of Greece, particularly as many people will read the index and believe that it is a true reflection of the countries concerned.
Certainly with regards to Greece, it’s not a true reflection. It bears no relation to the Greece I know.
“Greece has no wine duty but its beer and spirits taxes are relatively high. Alcohol advertising is mostly unrestricted although it cannot be broadcast on TV or radio until 7pm.”
The tax on beer and spirits (and tobacco) has indeed rocketed over the past few years, not because of any nannying tendencies on the part of the Greek authorities, but because thanks to the demands for `austerity’ from the EU Troika, everything is being taxed to the hilt, and of course alcohol and tobacco are dependable revenue sources. The price of fuel has risen at the same rate and for the same reasons. Wine, as stated, is still free of duty though, and the table wine I buy, which is a very drinkable Merlot, 2014 vintage produced close to where I live costs me less than €20 for a 10 litre box.
I’ve never seen or heard any `Government Guidelines’ on how many units per week you are allowed, nor have I seen any news reports of a hectoring public health condemning us all for `binge drinking’. In fact the Greek government is singularly uninterested in what or how much people drink, apart from counting the revenue stream that flows from it.
“Tobacco retail displays are banned with the exception of specialist tobacco outlets such as kiosks and duty-free shops. The sale of cigarettes in vending machines was banned in 2009.”
Apart from the fact that most people buy their cigarettes and tobacco from kiosks (which are everywhere) and specially tobacconists, I have never, ever seen anywhere in this country any attempt to conceal a retail display of tobacco products. They are always on open display, wherever you buy from. And I don’t ever remember seeing a cigarette vending machine here – many bars keep a couple of cartons of cigs under the counter, so the need never arises.
“Smoking is prohibited in workplaces, bars and restaurants. There is an exemption for casinos and bars larger than 300 square metres which allows smoking in designated areas no larger than half of the total area of the establishment. Smoking in taxis and public transport is forbidden as well as in private vehicles if there is a passenger under 12 years old.”
As far as workplaces are concerned, it varies. People (including staff) seem not to smoke in banks and supermarkets. However, it’s common to see people smoking in private businesses like insurance brokers, lawyers, small shops etc. And in many public offices too. Police stations, post offices etc.
Some bars and restaurants have banned smoking, but they are very much in the minority. Most bars and restaurants will happily provide you with an ashtray at your table or at the bar.
People don’t smoke on trains or buses (except the driver, who seems to think it’s ok for him to smoke even though the passengers can’t), but in cars, people smoke all the time, regardless of the age of any passengers.
“Greece’s e-cigarette laws are even less liberal. Nicotine-containing refills cannot be sold or advertised and vaping is banned in all the places where smoking is banned.”
There are e-cig shops everywhere, and they all sell e-liquid with varying amounts of nicotine. And people vape everywhere, even in supermarkets and on public transport, which are about the only places people don’t smoke.
“Since 1971, there have been mandatory limits on the amount of salt that can be put in manufactured bread, tomato juice and tomato concentrates.”
That may well be true – I have no idea. What I do know, though, is that if you order a meal in a restaurant / grill room, they will nearly always throw a handful of salt on the food before it is served. In fact one time I actually sent a meal back because it was so salty it was inedible. And I like salty food.
“Until August 2014, Greek law stated that bread must be sold in pieces of 250, 350, 500, 750 or 1000 grams, but that rule has been replaced by a law dictating that each piece of bread must be weighed for the consumer to pay the exact amount according to the per kilo price.”
Greek bread has always been, and still is sold in loaves at « kilo, 1 kilo or whatever. Nothing has changed on that level since I was first here in 1967. Nobody weighs bread when you buy it. Life’s too short.
So the `Nanny State Index’, learned and erudite as it might seem, doesn’t actually reflect the reality in any way, shape or form.
I won’t go into how seatbelts in cars are considered an unnecessary option, or how crash helmets are used by less than half the riders, or how you see fourteen year olds riding motor scooters. These are just normal life in Greece.
Greece the sixth most nannying state in Europe? I think not. Greece is probably less of a nanny state than Germany, in 27th place.
The laws have mostly been passed down from the faceless ones in Brussels, and doubtless some eager junior minister has gold-plated them in an attempt to make a name for himself. But those who are tasked with enforcing these pointless diktats have very little enthusiasm for doing so. And the Greek people, who are basically honest and law abiding, see no merit in adhering to laws which they view as intrusive and illiberal and confer no overall benefits.
For the `Nanny State Index’ to have any relevance, I think the researchers MUST take into account how the rules and regulations they have so carefully compiled are actually applied in the countries concerned. Because as I have pointed out here, the Greece described in the `Nanny State Index’ is a million miles away from the Greece I know.
This is not to be construed as a criticism of the work of Chris Snowdon, for whom I have a great deal of admiration and whose blog is for me an essential daily read. It is meant to be more of a `heads-up’ on the limitations of the index, and why I think it needs expanding from the current dry statistics to include some real-world, down-on-the-street facts. I can only relate my impressions of the country I know, but I’m sure there are people in the other European countries who can clarify how the laws are applied in their own country. Including these facts would then make the `Nanny State Index’ a useful, accurate and useable tool.