Nanny states and grown-up debates on alcohol policy

By Prof John Coggon, Professor of Law (University of Bristol Law School)

Photo: Flickr

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…)

Strengthening the Capacity for Ethical Public Health

By Prof John Coggon, Professor of Law and Co-Director of the Centre for Health, Law, and Society (University of Bristol Law School).  Honorary Member of the Faculty of Public Health.*

© Rookuzz..

Public health is proudly an evidence-based field. But evidence without values cannot tell us what we should do.

We need public health ethics if we are to understand and explain, by reference to the classic definition of public health advanced by Winslow, what we, as a society, ought to do to assure the conditions in which people can enjoy good health and equitable prospects for health. Using the ‘organised efforts of society’ to protect and promote health and well-being is an ethical goal—indeed, as many of us would argue, it is an ethical imperative. And to be achieved, it requires law and policy. To evaluate when threats to health warrant a public health response, scientific analyses must be complemented by matters such as the balancing of values, an assessment of the relative merits of different possible interventions, an appreciation of the likely risks and impacts of intervening, and a sensitivity to political and cultural contexts and realities. (more…)