By Prof John Coggon, Professor of Law (University of Bristol Law School)
Debates on alcohol policy are necessarily complex and controversial, and a complete consensus on how we should regulate this area will not be achieved. Like other lawful but regulated products, alcohol presents benefits and harms that may be understood from ranging perspectives. These include views based in cultural, economic, ethical, historical, legal, medical, population-based, religious, and social understandings. Of necessity, outlooks on alcohol policy and the role of regulation therefore vary both within and across such differing sources of critique. The values—positive and negative—of alcohol at individual, familial, community, commercial, and population levels thus call for careful, reasoned, and respectful public debates.
Even within the context of public health analysis, we cannot just look to scientific studies to inform and determine policy: we are required to consider forms of ‘evidence’ from different disciplines and sectors. This is well explained in a recent publication by the Health Foundation, with papers applied to child obesity but with lessons that are generalisable across health policy. However, for many working in public health, or members of wider communities who have interests in what makes good health policy, challenges emerge in relation to the conduct of public debates: often care, reason, and respect are replaced by simplistic slurs and assertions. And in this context, accusations of nanny statism are a key and persistent example. (more…)