An overload of warning labels desensitises the public

Does slapping a warning label on every single item we buy in the shops really make us more aware of potential risks, or are we running into an overprotection of the individual?

In an effort to protect public health, the World Health Organization (WHO) is calling for more comprehensive warning labels on things like alcohol. Numerous working documents praise the usefulness of warning labels in a society in which the risks of alcohol aren’t understood by everyone. Needless to say that EU member states are already going at it when it comes to accessibility : alcohol is hit with excise taxes, special alcohol taxes, VAT, minimum alcohol pricing, sales restrictions limited in time and place, bans on consumption in public places. In Nordic countries, the sale of alcohol is completely in government hands, and expensive to a degree that it impacts tourism.

Alcohol isn’t the only product targeted by public health activists : food products containing sugar and fat should also be hit by marketing restrictions and with health labelling, if all was going according to regulators and those pretending to know better. In France, you cannot even run an ad for crisps without the obligation to point out that salty food can be bad for you, read in the same voice and speed of a pharma-ad disclaimer. « Mind the gap », « smoking kills », « avoid sugary food and exercise » : you can’t help but wonder at what point we’ll become desensitised towards health warnings.

When it comes to labelling, public health advocates are quick to point to a number of studies proving the effectiveness of a particular health warning, be that text of picture. However, this assumes that the warning is already being looked at, which is not self-evident. Just like in the case of medicine : for a drug to be effective, it seems obvious that the patient will have to take it in the first place. Take the example of this 2018 study, which sets the amount of respondents which were actually aware of the warning labels for alcohol.

“Eye-tracking identified that 60% of participants looked at the current in market alcohol warning label […]. The current study casts doubt on dominant practices (largely self-report), which have been used to evaluate alcohol warning labels. Awareness cannot be used to assess warning label effectiveness in isolation in cases where attention does not occur 100% of the time.”

These are people who purchased the product and were actually not aware of what the warning label said. The question is of course : how can that be ? How is it possible that people ignore the warning label ?

The WHO working document “Alcohol labelling A discussion document on policy options” points towards the necessity of good design when it comes to warning labels. It says :

“There are four message components that may be considered when developing an effective health label, each serving a different purpose: (i) signal word to attract attention; (ii) identification of the problem; (iii) explanation of the consequences if exposed to the problem; and (iv) instructions for avoiding the problem. The visual impact of the label can be enhanced by using large, bold print; high contrast; colour; borders; and pictorial symbols.”

But bad design cannot be the only explanation for decreased awareness. Take the example of safety instructions on aeroplanes. Frequent flyers will know : after up to 2 flights a week, they become completely unnoticeable. An inflation of warning labels can desensitise those supposed to be aware of them, because of a lack of nuance. The messages « coffee can be bad for your health » and « smoking cigarettes can be bad for your health » don’t set a hierarchy of health hazards. In fact, sat next to each other both messages could imply that both are equally damaging. We should try not to make health warnings trivial : if they become less meaningful to consumers, we run the risk that important health warnings are actually ignored.

Originally published at https://www.europeanscientist.com/en/features/an-overload-of-warning-labels-desensitises-the-public/

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About Bill Wirtz

Bill Wirtz is policy analyst for the Consumer Choice Center, based in Brussels, Belgium. Originally from Luxembourg, his articles have appeared across the world in English, French, German, and Luxembourgish. He is Editor-in-Chief of Speak Freely, the blog of European Students for Liberty, a contributing editor for the Freedom Today Network and a regular contributor for the Foundation for Economic Education (FEE). He blogs regularly on his website in four languages.

Banning milkshakes won’t prevent obesity

Core Tip: This week, campaign group Action on Sugar has called for bans on high-sugar milkshakes, such as the Instagrammable ‘freakshakes’, but this approach won’t prevent obesity, says Maria Chaplia, Consumer Choice Center Media Associate.
This week, campaign group Action on Sugar has called for bans on high-sugar milkshakes, such as the Instagrammable ‘freakshakes’, but this approach won’t prevent obesity, says Maria Chaplia, Consumer Choice Center Media Associate.

“In case the milkshake ban proposed by the Action on Sugar receives support from the governmnent, consumers will be subjected to a yet another futile lifestyle regulation,” she says. “The evidence shows that Government-led navigation of consumer’s preferences doesn’t improve public health.

“It is undoubted that obesity is a pressing issue across the world. Most anti-obesity government programmes seek to reduce energy intake, but this approach hasn’t proved successful so far. Numerous evidence indicates that weight excess can be cured through the increase in energy expenditure, achieved through physical activity.”

She added: “According to Public Health England, physical activity in the UK declined by 24 per cent since the 1960s. The average energy consumption followed and has recently dropped too.

“If a 300-calorie ‘grotesquely sugary’ milkshake is unavailable on the market, consumers will opt for a couple of Cadbury’s chocolate bars, 230 calories each. Government is incapable of stopping consumers from making harmful choices through coercion, it can focus on encouraging healthy attitudes though.

“The UK nanny state primarily targets food, tobacco and alcohol and has been recognised as one of the most meddlesome in Europe. Step by step, it has been taking over the freedom to choose and imposing its lifestyle preferences on consumers.

“NHS Christmas dinner guidelines, a sugar levy and now a suggested ban on milkshakes are not only ineffective nutrition regulations, they are warning signs of further interventions.”

Banning milkshakes won’t prevent obesity, says consumer specialist

This week, campaign group Action on Sugar has called for bans on high-sugar milkshakes, such as the Instagrammable ‘freakshakes’, but this approach won’t prevent obesity, says Maria Chaplia, Consumer Choice Center Media Associate.

“In case the milkshake ban proposed by the Action on Sugar receives support from the government, consumers will be subjected to a yet another futile lifestyle regulation,” she says. “The evidence shows that Government-led navigation of consumer’s preferences doesn’t improve public health.

“It is undoubted that obesity is a pressing issue across the world. Most anti-obesity government programmes seek to reduce energy intake, but this approach hasn’t proved successful so far. Numerous evidence indicates that weight excess can be cured through the increase in energy expenditure, achieved through physical activity.”

She added: “According to Public Health England, physical activity in the UK declined by 24 per cent since the 1960s. The average energy consumption followed and has recently dropped too.

“If a 300-calorie ‘grotesquely sugary’ milkshake is unavailable on the market, consumers will opt for a couple of Cadbury’s chocolate bars, 230 calories each. Government is incapable of stopping consumers from making harmful choices through coercion, it can focus on encouraging healthy attitudes though.

“The UK nanny state primarily targets food, tobacco and alcohol and has been recognised as one of the most meddlesome in Europe. Step by step, it has been taking over the freedom to choose and imposing its lifestyle preferences on consumers.

“NHS Christmas dinner guidelines, a sugar levy and now a suggested ban on milkshakes are not only ineffective nutrition regulations, they are warning signs of further interventions.”

Originally published at https://fdiforum.net/mag/banning-milkshakes-wont-prevent-obesity/

‘Freakshakes’ are not an issue of Public Health, but of Parental Responsibility

‘Freakshakes’ are not an issue of Public Health, but of Parental Responsibility
by Richard Mason – Research Fellow at Consumer Choice Center

I’m probably about to lose a fair bit of my rep with the classical liberal community: I don’t necessarily see it as an issue for the state to take an interest in public health. If we accept the classical Smithian idea of a state limited to three simple roles (namely the provision of defense, justice, and basic public goods), then certainly a government action to prevent the spread of deadly diseases can be justified, so long as that action does not infringe on basic freedoms.

There is a crucial defining point in this argument for state interest in public health; the diseases must be able to spread, i.e. they must be communicable. Since none (or, at least, very few) would consent to being infected with a potentially fatal illness, nor would they necessarily even know about it, or how to prevent it, there is room here for some kind of measure against its spread.

Sadly, however, this is not the role the government takes when it comes to public health. Rather than focusing on the fight against communicable disease, the state instead decides to clamp down on personal choice and bodily autonomy.

Under the banner of public health, the UK government has long seen it appropriate to place further and further restrictions on what we can and can’t eat, drink, or smoke. We are deemed unable and unfit to make these decisions for ourselves, or to fully grasp the damage certain goods do to our bodies.

We have progressed so far down this path that the UK now boasts the second least-free nanny state in Europe, beaten out only by Finland for laws, restrictions, and sin-taxes on tobacco, alcohol, and other such goods. Sadly, this shows no signs of reversing any time soon.

The most recent nail hammered into the coffin of British consumer choice is the proposal to ban ‘freakshakes’, milkshakes stuffed and adorned with chocolates, cakes, marshmallows, sauces, and other goodies that significantly ram-up the treat-drink’s calorie and sugar content.

Unlike the more traditional targets of paternalism, such as tobacco or alcohol, the proposed ban on freakshakes cannot be seen as anything other than an attack on personal choice. There are no externalities on anybody but the consumer themselves in this case; freakshakes don’t bring with them any secondhand-smoke or drunken violence. The only person such a ban could possibly be seeking to protect is the person drinking it.

For an adult, this is pretty inexcusable. We in the UK enjoy the right to bodily autonomy, and thus must enjoy the freedom to take as much care or to do as much damage to our own bodies as we see fit. I think most would agree that to tell a grown person they can’t drink a litre of milkshake topped with brownies, marshmallows and drenched in chocolate sauce, is a pretty hefty overreach into our personal liberties.

Those behind the proposal, however, focus more on the effects of overconsumption of sugar on children, and justify the idea of a ban this way instead. Naturally, a child is at the whims of the his or her parents for what they consume, and are therefore far less able to make decisions over their own bodily autonomy.

Graham MacGregor, Chairman of the group behind the calls for a ban Action on Sugar, argues thusly:

“These very high calorie drinks, if consumed on a daily basis, would result in children becoming obese and suffering from tooth decay – that is not acceptable.”

This immediately should set off some red flags about the argument to ban freakshakes; who exactly is going to be consuming them on a daily basis? Who is able to look at something like this and believe it to be an healthy part of a child’s daily diet?

To blame the restaurants and cafes serving these desserts for any child who became obese from consuming them would be to deflect any responsibility from the parents who buy them. The arguments to ban freakshakes seem to be another case of punishing the majority for the actions of a small group of irresponsible parents.

We can’t continue down this path of relinquishing all responsibility for our children’s and our own health to the state. In doing so, we effectively penalise the bulk of society, and deny them their right to make decisions about their own bodies, for the actions of an irresponsible few.

Let’s take the focus of public health away from the bad decisions made by individuals, and back on the stuff that matters, like preventing communicable diseases. Consumer choice and bodily autonomy is not the realm of state meddling.

Originally published at https://www.taxpayersalliance.com/_freakshakes_are_not_an_issue_of_public_health_but_of_parental_responsibility?fbclid=IwAR1zxHrI0Z4VwfxhcxlEVupq3NN2SgnbyzgvetjtiCwtdjTkSxRZVb-dhsI

OMS: buone intenzioni, cattive esecuzioni

ATLANTICO: E’ evidente che, nonostante le ottime intenzioni, l’OMS non stia percorrendo la strada giusta per risolvere i problemi legati al tabacco. Come dice Luca Bertoletti, European Affairs Manager del già citato Consumer Choice Center: “L’OMS ha perso la bussola. Deve decidere se continuare sulla cattiva strada e diventare nient’altro che l’ennesima organizzazione burocratica e paternalistica, o tornare sui suoi passi e intraprendere il giusto percorso per tutelare la salute e salvare vite umane”. Si ha l’impressione, a pochi giorni dal convegno, che le decisioni che saranno prese durante il COP8 a Ginevra, non andranno nella giusta direzione: è probabile che ne deriveranno ulteriori restrizioni e maggiori controlli. Una situazione che ci deve invitare a riflettere sul ruolo di determinate istituzioni e sul loro operato: è necessario armarsi di sano scetticismo anche nei confronti di organizzazioni che si pongono obiettivi così importanti e di carattere universale.

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About Luca Bertoletti

Luca graduated with a degree in Political Science from the University of Milan in December 2014. He worked as a Business Economics Analyst for the Italian magazine TheFielder in Milan and as Think Thank Coordinator for the Austrian Economics Center in Vienna. He is a fellow of Competere Institute in Rome, a columnist for Atlantico Quotidiano, and he sits on the scientific board of New Direction Italia. He has been featured in the New York Times, Radio RAI, RAI 1, El Economista, The National and many other newspapers.

‘No Additional Health Benefit’ Dail to vote on alcohol price hike’

SHEmazing: Bill Wirtz, Policy Analyst for the Consumer Choice Center has said that the act will have little impact on public health and an impact on the pockets of the most financially vulnerable.

‘The evidence in favour of minimum alcohol pricing is simply not here. In a 2013 review of 19 studies, only two found that found a significant and substantial reduction in drinking rates in response to alcohol price increases –and even these two showed mixed results.’

‘Earlier studies found responsiveness to prices to be close to zero,’ he said in a statement.

Wirtz also suggested that as well as there being potentially no health impact, the increased prices will disproportionately impact lower-income individuals.

‘Minimum alcohol pricing is inherently a regressive measure, as it hits low-income households the most,’ he said.

‘The measure is therefore not only failing to achieve its own objectives, it is also fundamentally unfair to a large segment of the population.’

‘While minimum prices tries to prevent consumers from pivoting to lower-quality products, we need to realise that funds are fungible.’

‘Nothing prevents consumers from spending less money on healthy food or other essential items, in order to afford their consumption of alcohol,’ says Wirtz.

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About Bill Wirtz

Bill Wirtz is policy analyst for the Consumer Choice Center, based in Brussels, Belgium. Originally from Luxembourg, his articles have appeared across the world in English, French, German, and Luxembourgish. He is Editor-in-Chief of Speak Freely, the blog of European Students for Liberty, a contributing editor for the Freedom Today Network and a regular contributor for the Foundation for Economic Education (FEE). He blogs regularly on his website in four languages.

Why Is the Nanny State so Popular?

FEE: Bans on plastic straws, soda taxes, bans on diesel cars, the crackdown on smoking, restrictions on alcohol consumption: the list of restrictions on people’s personal freedoms is steadily increasing. But why is the Nanny State so popular?

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About Bill Wirtz

Bill Wirtz is policy analyst for the Consumer Choice Center, based in Brussels, Belgium. Originally from Luxembourg, his articles have appeared across the world in English, French, German, and Luxembourgish. He is Editor-in-Chief of Speak Freely, the blog of European Students for Liberty, a contributing editor for the Freedom Today Network and a regular contributor for the Foundation for Economic Education (FEE). He blogs regularly on his website in four languages.

Plain packaging: ‘Brand-theft’ or better consumer protection?

EURACTIV: The rising trend of imposing plain packaging on unhealthy products has raised eyebrows in the industry, which fears that its brands are under threat. The World Health Organisation, on the other hand, insists that the measure provides a long-term benefit for public health.

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About Fred Roeder

Fred Roder has been working in the field of grassroots activism for over eight years. He is a Health Economist from Germany and has worked in healthcare reform and market access in North America, Europe, and several former Soviet Republics. One of his passions is to analyze how disruptive industries and technologies allow consumers more choice at a lower cost. Fred is very interested in consumer choice and regulatory trends in the following industries: FMCG, Sharing Economy, Airlines. In 2014 he organized a protest in Berlin advocating for competition in the Taxi market. Fred has traveled to 100 countries and is looking forward to visiting the other half of the world’s countries. Among many op-eds and media appearances, he has been published in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, Wirtschaftswoche, Die Welt, the BBC, SunTV, ABC Portland News, Montreal Gazette, Handelsblatt, Huffington Post Germany, CityAM. L’Agefi, and The Guardian. Since 2012 he serves as an Associated Researcher at the Montreal Economic Institute.

WHO wants to ban trans fats – that’s just one reason they should be defunded

WASHINGTON EXAMINER: Ebola recently killed 19 people in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Meanwhile, the World Health Organization is focused on their war against trans fats.

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About Fred Roeder

Fred Roder has been working in the field of grassroots activism for over eight years. He is a Health Economist from Germany and has worked in healthcare reform and market access in North America, Europe, and several former Soviet Republics. One of his passions is to analyze how disruptive industries and technologies allow consumers more choice at a lower cost. Fred is very interested in consumer choice and regulatory trends in the following industries: FMCG, Sharing Economy, Airlines. In 2014 he organized a protest in Berlin advocating for competition in the Taxi market. Fred has traveled to 100 countries and is looking forward to visiting the other half of the world’s countries. Among many op-eds and media appearances, he has been published in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, Wirtschaftswoche, Die Welt, the BBC, SunTV, ABC Portland News, Montreal Gazette, Handelsblatt, Huffington Post Germany, CityAM. L’Agefi, and The Guardian. Since 2012 he serves as an Associated Researcher at the Montreal Economic Institute.

WHO urges ban on industrial trans-fats by 2023

DAIRY REPORTER: On the other end of the spectrum, the Consumer Choice Center, which fights for consumer choice, says WHO’s call for a “worldwide ban on the use of trans fats”​ is “just another arbitrary intrusion into the lives of consumers and part of a larger trend of paternalist regulations,” according to a May 14 release.

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About David Clement

David Clement is the North American Affairs Manager for the Consumer Choice Center and is based out of Oakville, Ontario. David holds a BA in Political Science and a MA in International Relations from Wilfrid Laurier University. Previously, David was the Research Assistant to the Canada Research Chair in International Human Rights. David has been regularly featured on the CBC, Global News, The Toronto Star and various other major Canadian news outlets.