By Barry Turner | Media Law lecturer, University of Lincoln
The population is under a deluge of information in the media, often hectoring in nature about how we should live more healthily. Some of this advice is simply a modern version of the old common sense that is now lacking in our society.
Some of it is more insidious in nature and is backed by dubious self interest groups. Some of it is even more absurd and resembles nanny’s advice to young men on how to protect their eyesight.
Young people, particularly students are a major target for the attentions of the nanny state. Campaigns against drinking in particular are likely to be directed at that age group. While no one would advocate wanton drunkenness as a life style do we really need the government and its numerous attendant agencies telling young people how to live their lives? Student life has always been associated with excess and indulgence.
Not many years ago this was the last fling before everyone had to go off and earn a living and live in the ‘real’ world. Even today with student education more directed at career development rather than ‘education’ student excess is alive and well and represents youthful exuberance rather than dangerous lifestyle.
On a weekly and sometimes daily basis we are deluged with strict avuncular instructions on what is a safe way and a responsible way to live our lives. No more than 21 units a week, no ‘happy hours’ that encourage heavy drinking, passive smoking “eat your 5 a day” and on and on and on!
What gives these ‘Healthists’ the idea that their advice is wanted, or in the main listened to? When did it become the government’s job to guide us to the ideal lifestyle?
Respect for autonomy is the first principle of ethics. It demands that we recognise an individual’s right to self determination and denies any right to coerce. Yet the Healthists would coerce and prevent and deny individuals the right to chose by extending this ‘advice’ into prohibition.
The government now wants to ban ‘happy hours’ and cheap drinks promotions allegedly on the grounds of health. Will this lead to students leading a healthy lifestyle? History tells us not. Students will continue to annoy nanny by their indulgence and irresponsibility; they will still lead and clearly enjoy ‘unhealthy’ lifestyles.
If the government achieve this latter day prohibition then it will have only one effect on student drinking habits. The practice will become very much more expensive and add to the colossal burden of student debt.
They can shift their attentions to giving young people advice on prudent financial management then. Or can’t they?