You know those moments when you think your faculties must be failing? Like when you hear Jeremy Corbyn say he’d build a nuke but wouldn’t fire it? I had one this morning, reading the Times.

There at the top of page 7 – yes, it was a physical, paper copy – was an article reporting that ‘artificially sweetened [drinks] may lead to strokes and Alzheimer’s’. And there, immediately below it, was this headline: ‘Stop selling sweets or pay the price, hospitals warned’. (For paywall-resisters, you can find similar reports here and here.)

Where, exactly, does that leave the in-hospital retailers from whom the NHS derives a healthy income? Frankly, in a pickle. Forced by health zealots to stock low-sugar drinks, they can now look forward to the same fanatics demanding that they don’t sell them either.

What are they meant to do? Stick to bottled water (one of the biggest and most wasteful cons ever perpetrated on consumers)? The environmentalists won’t like that. Shut up shop? It wouldn’t help the NHS funding ‘crisis’. But if I were WH Smith, that’s what I’d threaten – and I’d be asking for backing from my suppliers and customers.

State-supported lifestyle regulation, based on dubious science, has gone too far. Using the template of tobacco legislation, health lobbyists seem determined to ban, plain-package or restrict access to a huge range of goods. The results are this sort of snarl-up. (Another is the Scots’ campaign to hobble their own whisky business.)

Now, these measures might be fine by the pious panjandrums battening off our taxes. But they not only irk and confuse the people who pay their salaries; they interfere with the commerce on which the whole country depends. It’s only hospital shops? It’s only fizzy drinks? Don’t you believe it. There is a class of society that genuinely thinks it knows what’s best for us. And with every imposition that we nod through, they gain in strength.

In the meantime, though, what are we to make of the Times’ report on sweetener-induced dementia? Should we drift back to the ol’ tooth-rot? Certainly not. Within its first paragraph, the article also notes that ‘sugary drinks may be shrinking your brain’. It’s enough to drive you gaga.

by Winston Smith