Recently I had the pleasure of presenting at the Friedman 17 conference on the creep of the nanny state into our lives. Regular readers will know my view on the importance of the individual being responsible for their health. And how much of the advice we get from public health is wrong, especially when it comes to diet.

It was certainly interesting to share a platform with a former minister in the Keating Labour government and a former senior policy advisor to former Prime Minister Tony Abbott. If nothing else this shows that concern about the nanny state stretches the political divide.

There was also a session on reducing harm by the use of e-cigarettes with two very well respected and knowledgeable doctors who specialize on drug addiction and harm prevention. It was highlighted how Australia is out of step with Europe the UK, NZ Canada and the USA is when it comes to e-cigarettes.

A disproportionate number of smokers are homeless, in prison, indigenous or have mental health problems. Nicotine (which is not a carcinogen) is thought to alleviate some symptoms in those with schizophrenia. These people are neither interested in arguments about “normalizing” smoking nor care that tobacco companies may make e-cigarettes. They are also unlikely to want a medical solution to smoking.

Sadly ideology has trumped science in Australia.

And so much of what is promoted as being “good for us” is often plain wrong, which is another reason why regulation is not the answer. Just last week it emerged that the NSW government is going to ban butter in school canteens. This is driven by the ongoing misguided belief that saturated fats are the driver of obesity. They are not.

Quite aside the fact that bans are not the answer, if they wanted to ban a more likely culprit it would be the bread not the butter. And what might be used instead of butter – likely margarine. Yet the worst types of fats in the diet are trans fats. These are used to make vegetable oils solid at room temperature and are often found in non-butter oil spreads.

New findings are showing us that everything we have been told about salt is wrong. The recommended levels of intake (which most people sensibly ignore) are too low and can be as bad for us as too much (which very few people consume).

And to round it off, it has been discovered that fruit juice has a lot of sugar and is now not recommended for those under the age of one. What magically happens at age one is not explained? Yes it is good to eat some fruit but better to eat a piece of fruit and have a glass of water than to have a glass of fruit juice – at any age.

Other sessions at the conference covered politics, economics, and subjects very close to my heart, free speech and identity politics.

Most of us tend to travel in the same circles so it is very invigorating to go to a conference where you know virtually nobody and where much of the discussion is on topics that you do not deal with day to day.

The notion of authentic happiness includes fun, challenge and purpose. It is too easy in these days of social media to live in echo chambers and never hear views other than our own. Some have become so frightened of words they disagree with that they need trigger warnings and safe spaces.

We learn and grow by hearing new ideas and being challenged. Humanity advances by thinking outside the current box. This is good for us as individuals and for society as a whole.