REVIEW #8: Watch Out: Paternalism Is Taking over Europe!

Be it alcohol, tobacco, or sugary drinks; individuals have a number of vices that they voluntarily engage in. It has been commonly accepted that we attempt to engage in these “vices” with moderation. However, over the past years, public health advocates have made it their mission to regulate people’s lifestyle directly and indirectly.

Consequently, we have seen the emergence of the so-called “Nanny State”, in which the politicians in charge of the regulatory state have deemed themselves competent to determine the right amount of consumption on all of these products. Over the past years, the pressure (and influence) drastically increased, but this has been their mission for decades. After all, British MP Iain Macleod referred to the Nanny State as early as the 1960s.

Despite being largely a phenomenon of Northern and Western Europe, the Nanny State is extending to Central and Eastern Europe, encouraged by individual states: such as the United Kingdom, the European Union, as well as international organisations like the United Nations and the World Health Organization. Citizens need to ask questions about the proper role of government when it comes to individuals’ personal freedom, ask for inquiries into the unintended consequences and the general effectiveness of these policies.

Alcohol Consumption

Alcohol may be man’s worst enemy, but the Bible says love your enemy.” Be that Frank Sinatra, as the origin of this quote,1 or the loud advocates for prohibition in the 19th and 20th century,2 governmental positions on alcohol have certainly always been ambiguous. The data displays that the prevalence of drinking has decreased over time: WHO numbers show that European total pure alcohol consumption (in litres) per capita has decreased from 12.5 litres in 1961 to above 10 litres in 1999.3

When considering global total alcohol consumption, it may be observed that there are strong fluctuations that might not necessarily explain a general trend (See Figure 1). For instance, the 1979 spike in European consumption wasn’t significant in setting a trend for its time, given the gradual decline in the following decades. This puts certain headlines about exploding rates of alcohol consumption, such as “Alcohol is the only drug epidemic we’ve got”,4 in perspective.


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1 Kahn, J.M.D. (2016) “Another New Year Another Past, Same Old Hangover?”, [in:] Huffington Post. Available [online]:

2 Engs, R. C. (2000) “Phases of Health-Reform Movements”, [in:] Clean Living Movements: American Cycles of Health Reform. Praeger Publishers.

3 WHO (2004) Global Status Report on Alcohol, Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse. Geneva, pp. 9-12.

4 McDonald, P. (2015) “Alcohol Is the Only Drug Epidemic We’ve Got. Where’s the National Task Force on That?”, [in:] The Guardian. Available [online]: