ONCE again a set of statistics demonstrates a link between poverty, lifestyle and mortality. The results of the latest life expectancy survey should surprise no-one. Yet the regularity with which the same conclusions are reached suggests that public health messages are not getting through to those most at risk.
No civilised society should be satisfied with a situation where there are significant disparities between the time people living within a small distance of each other can expect to be alive. The very existence of such differences is reason enough, we believe, for government intervention.
There are, of course, those who disparage the interventionist approach with talk of the "nanny state". Doubtless similar pejorative terms were used when people campaigned against child labour and slavery in 19th century Britain. But a society that purports to be civilised must espouse civilised values in practice as well as in theory - and legislate accordingly.
Smoking, of course, is the greatest single lifestyle danger. The ban on smoking in public places - first proposed in the UK at our National Assembly, it should be remembered - has had some effect in reducing the risk from tobacco. But there remain far too many people who persist in smoking despite the well-proven dangers. Further progress is needed, and legislation should be introduced as a matter of urgency to tighten up on cigarette packaging.
The diet consumed by many people is also a threat to their health. Clearly it is not possible to offer absolute protection by following a legislative route - individuals are free to choose what they eat. But we believe there is scope to increase regulation in the field of processed food. Many ready meals, increasingly eaten by people with busy lives who have never acquired cooking skills, contain worryingly high levels of sugar and salt. …