Norway's new public health minister, Sylvi Listhaug, thinks that adults don't need government lectures about what they put into their bodies - telling Norway's state broadcaster NRK that "people should be allowed to smoke, drink and eat as much red meat as they like," according to the New York Times.
"The government may provide information, but I think people in general know what is healthy and what is not," she added.
The interview - published just three days into her new role as head of the ministry, was "dotted with the kind of sharp, controversial comments Ms. Listhaug, deputy leader of the right-wing, anti-immigration Progress Party, is known for," reports the Times - which promptly goes on to disparage the conservative politician.
As immigration minister, she made headlines in 2017 with disparaging comments about Sweden, saying that Norway should not become like its neighbor, which was accepting more refugees. Last year, she resigned as justice minister after comments about terrorists she made on Facebook threatened to bring down the government.
This week, opposition politicians and health advocates promptly denounced Ms. Listhaug’s comments on habits that are major risk factors for many serious diseases. -New York Times
The secretary general of Norway's Cancer Society, Anne Lise Ryel was shocked by the comments - saying in a statement: "I fear that this will set public health efforts back for decades, and that this will compromise the general understanding among Norwegians of the health consequences of tobacco and alcohol use."
Ryel has called for Listhaug to be removed from her post, adding that "she seems to lack understanding of what public health really means and what her role as minister in that area should be."
Listhaug fired back in a Friday email to the Times, writing: "The government believes that people have to take responsibility for their own life, but the government has to make sure that everyone can make healthy and informed choices."
"The number of daily smokers has declined sharply since 2000," she added. "This confirms that the Norwegian tobacco policy and control strategy works."
According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, in 2017, 11 percent of Norwegians aged 15 or older smoked daily, one of the lowest rates among the group’s 34 member nations. Norway has also had the steepest decrease of any of the countries since 2000, when the equivalent figure was 32 percent.
The Progress Party has been a junior partner in Norway’s center-right governing coalition since 2013. Its rise to prominence created unease, coming just two years after a far-right, anti-Muslim extremist who had once belonged to the party killed 77 people in a murderous rampage.
Governments around the world have stepped up campaigns to fight unhealthy habits. France recently told people not to drink every day; a soda tax in Britain has helped lower sugar levels in some drinks, and Australia’s graphic warnings on cigarette packages, considered a success, are being copied in other countries. -New York Times
Listhaug also said that smokers in Norway are made to feel like "pariahs," and that she would not be the "moral police" in government - echoing comments made by Austria's far-right defense of freedom of choice in their oppostion of antismoking legislation.
Listhaug is a former regular smoker who told NRK that she is now just a social smoker.
"Where do we send these smokers in the end?" she asked. "Are they going to have to go into the woods or up on a mountaintop or down to the docks in order just to take a drag?"