David Maddox: Hitting people in the pocket will not make them any healthier

AS THE world gets ready to celebrate Alex Salmond’s birthday on Hogmanay, there will be the usual round of promises made to live a healthier and more prosperous existence in 2012.

Traditionally, this will mostly revolve around drinking less alcohol, giving up smoking or going on a diet, and with a little luck at least half the population might even be able to hold out a week before breaking their pledge.

But fear not, while we may not have the mental strength to give up the things that make life more bearable, our politicians will in 2012, as they have for many years, be doing their utmost to prevent us enjoying the small pleasures of life.

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Spurred on by the powerful health lobby, which is increasingly above questioning and accountability on such matters, parliamentarians, as they partake of their subsidised booze and food in Holyrood and Westminster, will be bringing in yet more measures to tackle these three “social ills”.

So it is that, even before the old year passes, we hear David Cameron intends to ape Mr Salmond and bring in minimum pricing of alcohol, something which will happen next year in Scotland. Fast-food shops are complaining that in Scotland they will be hit by a £71 million tax because of another of John Swinney’s plans.

Meanwhile, one thing that can be guaranteed in the Budget is more tax on alcohol and fags, and politicians are looking at more regulations over what we can eat. This is before all the regulations which will be dreamed up in Brussels.

But, perhaps because the health lobby is so beyond questioning, it is rare for politicians on a morality health kick to question whether all these things they are doing are actually having the desired effect, or whether in reality they are creating greater problems through unforeseen consequences.

On minimum pricing, it is interesting to note that the so-called problem drinks, such as alcopops or Buckfast, remain unaffected. But the Tesco value whisky, the old man’s friend which a low-income pensioner gets to sip through the week, will in effect be banned. The middle classes will see their table wine go up a little, but will just treat it with mild irritation.

Smoking is far more prevalent among low-income groups. While putting up the tax rarely dissuades them from smoking, it does mean that their habit takes a much larger part of their income, which means other things are sacrificed. So all these initiatives potentially have the effect of pushing people more to illegal products – hooch or dodgy fags.

In 2011, it was reported by French authorities that alcohol smuggling to the UK had trebled, while more than half the tobacco smoked in the UK is now believed to be illicit.

As politicians prepare for a new year, perhaps it might be healthier for all concerned for them to give up on hitting people’s pockets in the vain hope it will make them healthier.