Coffey’s ‘ultra-libertarian’ health stance risks lives, warns former Tory minister | Therese Coffey
People could die because of Therese Coffey’s “ultra-libertarian ideological” reluctance to crack down on smoking and obesity, a former Conservative health minister has warned.
The strongly worded criticism of the health secretary came from Dr Dan Poulter, a Tory MP and NHS doctor who served as health minister in the coalition government from 2012 to 2015.
Poulter says Coffey’s “hostility to what the far right calls ‘nanny statism'” prevents him from taking strong action against the “major killers” of tobacco and unhealthy diets.
Her intervention – in an opinion piece for the Guardian – was prompted by the fact that Coffey made it clear that she opposed a ban on adults smoking in cars containing children, even though the practice was banned in 2015 and is credited with reducing young people’s exposure to second-hand smoke.
The government’s widely expected scrapping of measures to tackle obesity, such as the sugar tax and the abandonment of the tobacco control plan and the health inequalities white paper – which ministers previous Health officials promised to publish – led Poulter to call Coffey’s position “deeply alarming”.
He writes: “More smoking and more obesity means more disease, more pressure on the NHS and shorter lives, especially among the poorest in society.
“I am extremely concerned that the Health Secretary’s ideological hostility to what history shows is the government’s potentially very positive role in protecting against these serious threats to our health will exacerbate the problems they pose. already.
“At worst, such a radically different approach to public health could cost lives, as it will inevitably lead to more people smoking and becoming dangerously overweight.”
The Guardian revealed last week that Whitehall officials believed Coffey had abandoned plans to publish the tobacco control plan, which was due by the end of the year.
The Health Secretary, who is herself a smoker, has consistently voted against anti-smoking measures since becoming MP for Suffolk Coastal in 2010 and also accepted £1,100 in hospitality and gifts from the Gallaher tobacco company.
Coffey is ignoring the ‘ethical and practical’ duty of governments to tackle the ‘great scourges of our health, including smoking, unhealthy diets and excess alcohol’ and has ‘shattered’ a long-standing consensus on the state intervention that dates back to labor. -Health Secretary Norman Fowler on HIV and AIDS in the 1990s, Poulter added.
Health charities endorsed Poulter’s remarks. Deborah Arnott, executive director of Action on Smoking and Health, said: “Libertarian ideology is as inadequate for improving public health as it was for driving economic growth. Just as the government’s failed economic strategy came straight from the Institute of Economic Affairs’ playbook, so too does this visceral opposition to the so-called “nanny state” and obsession with the free market.
“It was not the free market that saw the fastest rates of smoking decline in Europe in the first two decades of this century.”
Katherine Jenner, director of the Obesity Health Alliance, a grouping of 50 health and medical organisations, said: ‘The alliance shares Dr Poulter’s serious concerns. MPs don’t want their constituents to live with a chronic disease, and the public wants it to be easier to make healthier choices. Although there was some skepticism about the tax on the soft drink industry when it was introduced by the Tories in 2018, it led to a drop in sugar consumption of 30g per household per week, without affecting sales. Today, 71% of the public want companies to remove more sugar and salt from products. »
She added: “Abandoning key obesity prevention measures unfairly puts people at risk of developing life-limiting physical and mental health conditions. Government analysis has projected that NHS costs attributable to overweight and obesity could reach £9.7billion by 2050. The Health Secretary can make progress with these health promotion policies while by creating a freer society; free from damage caused by unhealthy foods and drinks.
The Department of Health and Social Care has been approached for comment.