In a speech that offers encouragement to retailers facing restrictions on tobacco displays and calls for merchandising bans on alcohol and high-calorie products, Health Minister Andrew Lansley has indicated that the government will take a less interventionist approach to public health than that of its predecessor.

He said the government would expect people to take more responsibility for the food, tobacco and alcohol they consume, and would only impose restrictions on stores if there was evidence it would reduce abuse.

The Minister said that the coalition government’s policy on improving diet, cutting smoking and reducing alcohol abuse would be driven by evidence of what worked.

“There is a risk if we constantly are lecturing people and trying to tell them what to do, we might be counterproductive in the results that we achieve,” Lansley told the British Medical Association.

He said TV chef Jamie Oliver’s attempt to improve the quality of school meals had in some places led to a reduction in the number of children eating the meals.

“Children are spending more money outside school, on buying snacks in local shops,” he said. “The net result is that somebody says the next thing we must do is ban shops near schools. Where do we end up with this?”

His comments came in the week that health watchdog NICE called on the government to consider legislation to ban television adverts for high-salt and high-fat foods before 9pm, and it urged local councils to “forbid take-aways and junk food outlets” near schools.

In the past month NICE has also suggested that the number of licensed premises should be reduced and that there should be a ban on the advertising of alcoholic drinks.

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