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Let people drink and smoke - Norway health minister

BBC News logo BBC News 5/7/2019
Sylvi Listhaug et al. standing in a parking lot: Sylvi Listhaug was appointed minister for public health and the elderly last week © AFP Sylvi Listhaug was appointed minister for public health and the elderly last week

Norway's newly appointed health minister has caused controversy by saying people should be allowed to eat, smoke and drink "as much as they want".

Sylvi Listhaug also said smokers were made to feel like pariahs.

A populist politician with anti-immigration views, she was appointed as the new health minister on Friday, a year after being forced to quit over a security row.

Critics say she has little understanding of what public health is.

"My starting point for this with public health is very simple. I do not plan to be the moral police, and will not tell people how to live their lives, but I intend to help people get information that forms the basis for making choices," she told Norwegian broadcaster NRK in an interview on Monday.

"People should be allowed to smoke, drink and eat as much red meat as much as they want. The authorities may like to inform, but people know pretty much what is healthy and what is not healthy, I think."

Smokers were made to feel like pariahs, Ms Listhaug, herself a former smoker, added.

"I think many smokers feel like pariahs. So they almost feel they have to hide away, and I think that's stupid. Although smoking is not good, because it is harmful, adults have to decide for themselves what they do.

"The only thing we as governments are to do is to provide information so that people can make informed choices. That is why we should, among other things, [devise] a tobacco strategy now, which will help prevent young people from starting to smoke and often want to make more adults quit."

Ms Listhaug says she only smokes rarely now, mainly on social occasions.

Norway's Cancer Society's secretary general said Ms Listhaug's comments were potentially harmful to public health.

"Many will adhere to what she says. That is to say, public health [has been] set back many decades," Anne Lise Ryel told NRK.

Ms Listhaug, whose right-wing Progress Party is part of the four-member coalition government headed by the Conservative Party, is no stranger to controversy.

Last year, she was forced to resign after accusing the Labour and the Christian Democrats parties of putting "terrorists' rights" before national security after they helped defeat a bill that would have given the state the right to strip individuals of Norwegian citizenship if they were suspected of terrorism or of joining foreign militant groups.

The Christian Democrats, who were not in the cabinet at the time, threatened to bring down the government unless she quit.

In 2016, she was ridiculed for jumping off a rescue boat into the Mediterranean to see what it is like to be a refugee.

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