Health Experiments

One interesting aspect of Scottish devolution is the different path charted in health policy.  Residents of Scotland have long had a shorter life expectancy than other parts of the United Kingdom, which is partly a function of greater smoking prevalence and poorer diet (amongst other deleterious health behaviours).  Greater alcohol (mis)use is another major problem area, and it is interesting to see some of the trailblazing public-health policies in recent years for alcohol and tobacco:

One obvious initiative  increasing the tax on alcohol, tobacco and cigarettes is not open to the Scottish Government as these are tax matters reserved for Westminster under the Scotland Act 1998.  However, the Scottish Government managed to circumvent this for alcohol by banning bulk discounting and introducing a minimum alcohol price.  This has just been taken further with the introduction of a higher business rate for large stores selling alcohol and tobacco. As a result, a national supermarket chain announced that six of its Scottish stores would cease selling tobacco.

Where Scotland leads, the rest of the UK appears to follow: England & Wales later followed Scotland's ban on smoking in public places, and legislation was mooted for a minimum price for alcohol (albeit at a slightly lower than the Scottish minimum, and the legislation hasn't yet been laid before the UK Parliament).  Even if the impact is only modest, bans on smoking in public places and controls on alcohol pricing are cheap for the government to implement, while the extra taxes and business rates may actually generate additional revenues in the short term. For these reasons there are probably more initiatives to come here — the latest is a UK-wide ban on displaying tobacco products.  It will be particularly interesting to see how these public-health measures feed through into mortality statistics, and thus future mortality improvements, especially when these measures are combined with other technological changes in smoking habits.




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Stephen Richards
Stephen Richards is the Managing Director of Longevitas