Germany is one of the most “free” countries in the EU for eating, boozing and smoking, second only to the Czech Republic, according to the Nanny State Index released on Thursday.
The index is a self-described ranking of the “worst places in the European Union to eat, drink, smoke and vape” and produced by the European Policy Information Center (EPICENTER), an independent group of think tanks that advocate free-market policies.
Nanny State Index editor and research fellow at London's Institute for Economic Affairs (IEA)Christopher Snowdon told The Local that the low score had rewarded Germany's “relaxed attitude to life's small pleasures”.
“The rest of Europe could learn a lot from the Germans,” Snowdon said.
“Taxes on wine and beer are very low by European standards and they have been reluctant to implement heavy-handed laws against smokers and vapers.”
Critics of the IEA have often pointed out that the think-tank has for decades received funding from large tobacco companies such as British American Tobacco, among its other business donors.
At the other end of the spectrum, Finland was rated the worst, followed by Sweden, the UK, Ireland and Hungary.
“Germany being so far down the table is impressive, because usually people say that only backward countries haven’t imposed those regulations yet because they aren’t as advanced,” Mattias Svensson of Swedish think tank Timbro, which collaborated on the report, told The Local.
After Germany, the Netherlands, Slovakia and Austria were also rated as being more “free” of stringent policies.
“It’s interesting that states like Germany, the Netherlands and Luxembourg do well on the list,” added Svensson. “They have few restrictions which is surprising because they are well-off countries and you don’t get terrified at the prospect of going there: they’re well-functioning societies.”
Germany second best for boozing
Germany was largely praised in the index report for its loose restrictions on alcohol, scoring the best in this category after Spain. The Bundesrepublik has one of the lowest beer taxes in Europe, no sin tax for wine and taxes on spirits are below the EU average.
Even advertising for alcohol in Germany is comparatively unrestricted and allowed in all forms, including TV adverts permitted after 6pm.
And as many who revel in the nightlife well know, there is no statutory time when bars must shut down.
For smoking, each region has its own restrictions and the report states that even where there are bans, they are “generally less draconian than those of most European countries”.
Germany’s EU-mandated cigarette warning labels are far from the graphic depictions some countries impose, commonly stating simply in bold letters that “smoking can be deadly”.
Advertisement for tobacco products is also less restrictive than in other nations, as long as it cannot be seen in other EU member states, in accordance with EU law.
'No correlation' between tough laws and longer lives
The index was developed under EPICENTER’s view that “nanny state” policies interfere with individuals’ choices and often do not work.
“Most of the taxes, laws and regulations covered in the Nanny State Index (NSI) were introduced on grounds of ‘public health’,” the report states.
The think tank groups scored each country and then compared these scores to the countries’ life expectancies. Even countries with low nanny state scores, meaning less regulation, have comparatively high life expectancies.
“The big picture is that there is no correlation between nanny state regulation and higher life expectancy,” concludes the index report.
Germany, which scored a 9 on the index, has an average life expectancy from birth of 81, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). But Finland, which scored 53.7, has a life expectancy also of 81.
Additionally, Germany does have a slightly higher average alcohol consumption rate per capita than the European average (11.3 litres to Europe's 10.9). But it also has lower rates for both alcohol dependence and alcohol use disorders than the European average as well, according to the most recent WHO data.
For tobacco consumption, 22.8 percent of Germans aged 15 and over report smoking cigarettes daily, which was one of the lowest rates of EU countries surveyed by Eurostat.
“The government should leave [these decisions] totally up to individuals. I don’t see the government as having a role to play in everyday pleasures and weekend pleasures, what we eat, drink, smoke, etc,” Svensson told The Local.
“People enjoy these things, they know it’s not healthy and we know they know that. Grown ups can handle these things, which have negative effects and these are easy to measure…. A bureaucrat can never make that decision, they can’t know the pleasure side of it and why we drink, they can’t understand that through looking at diagrams at a desk so they shouldn’t make that decision for us.
“It’s very important that people can make decisions, even the wrong decisions, for themselves, that’s what freedom is.”
Catherine Edwards contributed reporting