Few things are more vexatious than politicians telling us what is good for us. Inhabitants of prosperous countries in particular have to endure a relentless barrage of pious counsel from our governments, urging us towards cleaner, healthier, better behaviour – enough to drive any decent citizen to drink tonic wine and smash up a bus shelter.

This being the case, there’s a mild temptation to applaud the pragmatism of Russia’s finance minister, Alexei Kudrin, who has urged his people to smoke and drink more. “Those who drink, those who smoke, are doing more to help the state,” he explained, while trying to sell tax increases on alcohol and tobacco. From a purely utilitarian outlook, this is indeed the case – the revenues plump up the coffers nicely, and enthusiastic smokers and drinkers tend not to end up being a burden on the pension pot.

However, Kudrin should have realised that his countryfolk, sadly, don’t require encouragement. Sixty-five per cent of Russian men smoke, and alcohol abuse kills half a million Russians every year. Annoying though the nanny state can be, it’s probably preferable to the delinquent babysitter state.

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