Lifestyle Economics

UK is the best country in the EU for vaping but one of the worst for interference in everything else


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Findings from the Nanny State Index 2019

Only three EU countries are worse than Britain when it comes to nanny state interference, according to the latest research. The Epicenter Nanny State Index has been tracking lifestyle regulation across the EU since 2016. In this year’s edition, Finland once again tops the table, with high scores across all categories: alcohol, e-cigarettes, food & soft drinks, and tobacco. Germany is now the freest country, with low scores across the board.

The UK’s sugar levy, introduced in April 2018, helped push Britain into third place in the league table for food and soft drinks. Overall, it drops from second to fourth after being overtaken by Lithuania and Estonia, both of which have introduced a raft of temperance policies.

Key findings from the Nanny State index:

  • A trend of rising taxation and draconian regulation in most EU member states.

  • Eleven countries tax e-cigarette fluid, up from eight in 2017.

  • Nine countries have taxes on soft drinks, up from five in 2017.

  • Fourteen countries now include vaping in their smoking bans and fifteen have a full ban on e-cigarette advertising.


Relative to average incomes, the highest taxes on alcohol are in Finland and Sweden. Ireland and the UK have the highest taxes on soft drinks. Sweden has the highest tax on e-cigarette fluid. The UK and France have the most punitive tobacco taxes.

Overall, Hungary is the worst country for excessive regulation of food and e-cigarettes. Finland is the worst country to be a drinker and the UK is the worst country to be a smoker.

The Index found only five examples of liberalisation in the EU in the last two years. They include the Italian government slashing the tax on e-cigarette fluid in January 2019 and Greece’s supreme administrative court declaring a tax on wine unlawful in September 2018.

Commenting on the findings, Christopher Snowdon, head of lifestyle economics at the Institute of Economic Affairs and editor of the Nanny State Index, said:

‘The UK’s drop from second to fourth place in the Nanny State Index is not the result of British liberalisation. Far from it. Since the last edition was published, the UK has introduced a sugar tax and plain packaging but this wasn’t enough to avoid being overtaken by Estonia and Lithuania. The government’s war on so-called junk food should help the UK to get a podium finish again next time.

The only ray of light is the UK’s approach to vaping which is as liberal as any country in Europe. In every other category it scores very badly.

We can’t blame the EU for any of the nanny state measures introduced in the last two years. The huge gap between the most liberal and least free countries is the result of national politicians choosing to treat their citizens like children.

Our analysis shows no association between nanny state policies and better health outcomes. The war on the fun is all pain and no gain.’   

Notes to editors:

To arrange an interview, please contact  Nerissa Chesterfield, Head of Communications: 07791 390 268 or Emma Revell, Communications Manager: 07931 698 246

The Nanny State Index is the only comprehensive evaluation of paternalistic lifestyle regulation in Europe. Using 35 criteria related to food, soft drinks, alcohol, tobacco and e-cigarettes, it identifies the best and worst countries to eat, drink, smoke and vape. It is a pan-European project co-ordinated by the European Policy Information Center (EPICENTER) and edited by Christopher Snowdon of the Institute of Economic Affairs.

You can download the Nanny State Index 2019 here.

EPICENTER was launched in October of 2014, by six free-market think tanks throughout the EU. Since then, it has been active in the European policy debate, providing a free-market perspective on topics including the digital economy, trade policy, energy security and competition, financial regulation, free movement and welfare, and public health.



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