Government nannying doesn't just confuse consumers, says Philip Jenkins - it damages wholesale and retail businesses

Over the past 10 years we have seen an ever-increasing stream of legislation targeted at improving the health of the nation.

We've had the FSA's controversial traffic-light labelling scheme, which has generated huge media coverage, demonised the food industry and antagonised supermarkets - yet despite the furore, a sensible model has still not been agreed upon and consumers remain confused.

We've had rising levels of taxation on tobacco - yet the government and health lobby are still not happy and now tobacco retailers face the prospect of a display ban.

And next up there's the proposal for a 'fat tax' on chocolate. Once again, manufacturers and brand owners are in the dock because of the way products are marketed and promoted - yet can chocolate really be blamed for the obesity problem in the UK?

Ironically, some of the initiatives surrounding the sale of these products either already have failed or will fail primarily because of consumer choice. Choice is the fundamental right of a consumer in a free society and we shouldn't allow a government to tell us what we can and cannot buy.

Don't get me wrong. I am all for a healthier nation and I applaud the work the government has done in schools to educate children about the dangers of smoking, drinking and poor nutrition.

What I object to, however, is the effort put into 'nannying' the populace with a constant flow of confusing legislation that will also do serious damage to wholesale and retail businesses.

The average adult is intelligent enough to know that an apple is healthier than a Mars bar. Everyone now understands that smoking and heavy drinking are bad for you.

While there will always be those who choose to abuse their bodies, equally, most of us understand the notion of moderation. Educating the young to make sensible choices is the right route - dictating to adults is not.

Obviously I am biased. Our network of 60 delivered wholesale depots specialises in the impulse category that incorporates confectionery and tobacco.

However, in this fever to control the nation's health, I am sure MPs really do not understand the detrimental effect that existing and proposed legislation will have on both the grocery market and the individual's right to choose.

Ultimately we have to be realistic and our strategic view is that, despite the lobbying of our trade bodies, such as the FWD, the legislation may, in one form or another, be here to stay.

If politics demand that legislation is inevitable, by all means lobby parliament to make amendments where they are most needed - but it is crucial that we collectively strive to minimise its effects by seeking out the opportunities available despite the most onerous changes that legislation will bring.

So I would suggest that we regard any impending legislation as a worst-case scenario and devise a strategy in the light of its implementation. What we cannot afford to do is sit back and take the consequences.

We must take action wherever and whenever we can and exercise our right, and the right of all consumers, to make a choice.

Philip Jenkins is managing director of delivered wholesale group Sugro UK.