Contemporary public health advocacy promotes a ‘fifth wave of public health’: a ‘cultural’ shift wherein the public’s health becomes recognised as a common good, to be realised through concerted developments in the institutional, social, and physical environments. With reference to examples from anti-tobacco policy, in this paper I critically examine the fifth-wave agenda in England. I explore it as an approach that, in the face of liberal individualism, works through a long-game method of progressive social change. Given the political context, and a predominant concern with narrow understandings of legal coercion, I explain how efforts are made to apply what are presented as less ethically contentious framings of regulatory methods, such as are provided by ‘libertarian paternalism’ (‘nudge’). I argue that these fail as measures of legitimacy for long-game regulation: the philosophical foundations of public health laws require a greater—and more obviously contestable, but also more ambitious—critical depth.
- Bristol Population Health Science Institute