Tuesday, 13 October 2015

That twenty per cent tax on soft drinks

Further to my previous post, scholars of the slippery slope won't be surprised by this, but those who think a twenty per cent tax on fizzy drinks will be the end of the matter should heed Graham MacGregor's words from today's health select committee:

Graham MacGregor (Action on Sugar): "Most countries see this as an escalating tax. They start off at ten per cent. Mexico now wants to go to twenty per cent. France has gradually increased it. Finland last year was blocked by the food industry - everywhere you see the power of the food industry trying to block these moves [nurse! - CJS] - but like alcohol and cigarettes, once you'ved started you gradually screw it up [he means racket it up - CJS] . It becomes like cigarettes. There's something like an 800 per cent tax on cigarettes now and yet we're quite happy with that."

Don't say you weren't warned.

And if you think diet drinks (ie. sugar-free drinks) will escape, MacGregor wants to tax those as well because they give people the taste for sweetness. The word 'fanatic' hardly suffices. I really recommend you watch this mad bugger in action to see what liberals are up against. It always amazes me how we can scoff at the Carrie Nations and Mary Whitehouses of the past without seeing them in our own time.

Health Select Committee on Childhood Obesity

I appeared before the Health Select Committee on Childhood Obesity this morning. I'd like to believe that I was asked because I'm the voice of reason but I suspect it was to be the grit in the oyster.

The 'childhood' part is just framing. I think I was the only person to mention children at all. As far as I can see, the aim of the committee is to send a message from the wingnut end of the 'public health' movement about obesity to act as ballast to whatever the government comes out with in its forthcoming obesity strategy.

Perhaps I'm being unfair, but the guest list for this committee suggests not. They've got two Action on Sugar loons (Capewell and MacGregor) plus their puppet Malcolm Clark (Children's Food Campaign) and useful idiot Jamie Oliver. Oliver has a whole session to himself next Monday in which he can promote his business interests present his scientific data.

I haven't watched the opening session with MacGregor, Clark and some authoritarian from the British Meddling Association, but the snippets I've seen from the BBC coverage are hilarious. Take this insane wibble, for example...

If a sugar tax were combined with a "reformulation" of foods to remove fat as well as a ban on all advertising of unhealthy food, the UK "would prevent childhood and adult obesity" and end type-2 diabetes in the UK, Prof MacGregor says.

So he doesn't just want to reduce sugar and salt (he is also chairman of Consensus Action on Salt and Health), he also wants to 'remove' fat. And he thinks this will eliminate all forms obesity and Type-2 diabetes. People like MacGregor are the libertarians' best hope. Even the small group of newly elected doctors and teachers in the committee must have found this a bit hard to take.

And then there's this in The Guardian...

“He put the food industry in charge of public health,” said MacGregor. “He actually made the food industry responsible for policing themselves. It’s unbelievable. I have had many meetings with him and shouted at him, but he was absolutely impossible to persuade.”

Do these self-important, unelected monomaniacs ever consider that shouting at ministers might not be the best way to win hearts and minds?

Anyway, I'm going to off to watch the whole thing. Please do likewise. (The session I was involved in was delayed by 15 minutes because MacGregor et al. were droning on so we got 45 minutes while they got one and a quarter hours.)

PS. I was also on Channel 4 News last night with Sarah Wollaston. The item is quite brief because she wouldn't say either of the things they wanted her to, ie. that Jeremy Hunt had suppressed an evidence review and that Britain should have a sugar tax. You can watch the clip here.

Monday, 12 October 2015

The clouds are gathering for e-cigarettes in Europe

The golden age of vaping is coming to end thanks for EU regulation - and most vapers don't even know it's happening.

That's what I'm saying in my latest post for Spectator Health. Have a read.

Friday, 9 October 2015

Lame reasons to ban stuff

A couple of case studies of desperate self-justification by trigger happy prohibitionists grabbed my attention this week.

First there was this from (you guessed it) Australia...

Alert and ready for action: why it’s time to ban energy drinks for under-18s

Energy drinks are highly sweetened, caffeinated beverages that are packaged in brightly coloured, slimline containers. They’re sold virtually everywhere.

Here we go again with the 'glitzy packaging' guff. And note the implication that their popularity is the result of widespread availability rather than vice versa.

Energy drinks may pose serious harm for people aged 18 years or younger. Research with young adults indicates the stimulant effects can cause headaches, sleeping difficulties and heart palpitations. These side-effects are generally attributed to the primary ingredient, caffeine.

Do any of these things really count as 'serious harm'? I think not. But even if you think these are significant enough problems to justify government action, it is clearly caffeine that is the issue, not a single product category that happens to contain caffeine.

The effects of energy drinks typically mimic those reported in cases of caffeine intoxication, such as anxiety, agitation, insomnia, heart palpitations. The cardiovascular effects of caffeine, such as higher blood pressure, may be contributing to increased disease.

'May be'. These are weasel words. Evidence or shut up.

Young people have a lower caffeine tolerance and are therefore more vulnerable to the negative effects of caffeine.

OK, so you want to ban kids from buying caffeinated products then, right? Starting with the most popular caffeinated product in the world, coffee?

The Australia New Zealand Food Standards Code specifies that energy drinks may contain a maximum of 80 milligrams of caffeine per standard 250 millilitre energy drink. This is equivalent to the amount of caffeine in a cup of instant coffee (77.5mg/250ml).

Wow, a whole cup of coffee, imagine that! And that's the maximum permitted in an energy drink, though not the maximum permitted in a cup of coffee. So we're banning coffee, right?

Standards for the package labelling mean manufacturers must provide a maximum recommended daily intake, and warn against consumption by pregnant women, those who are sensitive to caffeine and children.

Nothing more should be required in a free society.

In practice, labelling is typically of poor visibility (located near nutrition information in indistinct text colour and size), with no specific age limit for children.

If that is so, campaign for these technical issues to be resolved. Don't campaign for a ban.

Research suggests energy drink users often exceed recommended maximum daily intakes.

So what? It's only a recommendation. What has been the result of this? Are bodies piling up in the streets? Are hospitals filled with teenage heart attack victims?

There is a lack of evidence showing energy drinks are safe. 

That's not how it works, sunshine. They've been on the market for more than twenty years. If there was evidence that they were dangerous, it would have surfaced by now. You're the plonkers demanding a ban. You provide the evidence.

So as a precautionary measure, governments should ban their sale to anyone under the age of 18 years.

Ha! No dice. The precautionary principle is what prohibitionists resort to when they have no evidence so it's no surprise to see it invoked by these cockwombles. However, it's a bit late for precautionary measures. These drinks have been consumed for long enough for any deleterious effects to make themselves known. Moreover, coffee - which contains as much, if not more, caffeine per drink - has been consumed for centuries without any real problem. In Britain, for example, coffee has been wildly popular since the 17th century so you're about 400 years too late for the precautionary approach. The data are in. You've lost.

Such a ban could be lifted if, down the track, the evidence shows they are indeed safe.

Like that would ever happen.

As with many products that are commercially available and can adversely affect health, the industry associated is extremely powerful. It has sophisticated marketing techniques to groom children and ten-year strategies to engage and coerce governments. Their sole motive is profit.

Yawn. The clichés are coming thick and fast in this article. I don't know how these people don't bore themselves. The article is published at The Conversation, however - a state-funded propaganda site where words like 'profit', 'industry' and 'sophisticated marketing' are dog whistles (not to mention the absurd and offensive use of the term 'groom children').

Speaking of children - and when do prohibitionists do anything else? - I saw this in the Guardian on Wednesday...

Payday loan commercials could face curbs on TV advertising after the body responsible for setting the UK advertising rules announced a public consultation on the issue.

The Broadcast Committee of Advertising Practice (Bcap) - the code-setting body for all TV and radio advertising, has launched a consultation assess whether campaigns by payday loan companies such as Wonga should be given “scheduling restrictions” barring them from airing in shows when large numbers of children are watching.

Wh..wh..what? Since when did children take out payday loans?

Bcap has launched the consultation after receiving submissions from campaigning groups including the Children’s Society.

Yet another state-funded charity lobbying the government (the Children's Society gets £14,000,0000 from the taxpayer). What's rattled their cage?

“We are pleased that regulators appear to be listening to the many parents who share our concerns about the damaging impact of adverts for high-interest loans on their children,” said Matthew Reed, chief executive of the Children’s Society. 

 And what the hell is this 'damaging impact'?

“Commercials with singing satsumas, Christmas presents and catchy jingles make borrowing money seem easy and fun to children, which increases the pressure on parents to take out high-interest loans."

In what universe has this ever happened? The only thing more pathetic than parents demanding that the government protects them from their own children is a sock puppet charity doing it for them. 'Pester power' is the single lamest justification for advertising bans anyone could ever make. It's feeble when talking about breakfast cereals and football shirts, but payday loans? Are you kidding me?

But wait, the Children's Society have a kicker to go with this non-argument...

"Children should learn about borrowing and debt from their school and family, not from irresponsible payday loan advertising.”

The key word here is 'irresponsible' because it tells us what's really going on in the minds of the Children's Society. Like many a left-wing puritan, they don't like Wonga and they don't like payday loans. This has got nothing to do with children or education. It's about limiting adults' exposure to services which these people think are immoral.

However, campaigners look set to face an uphill battle to get any TV ad ban introduced on advertisers in the sector, officially known as high-cost short-term credit ads, with Bcap stating that evidence-gathering to date has not convinced it.

Good. Thank God there are still a few regulators holding out against the hysterics of the twenty-first century.

Wednesday, 7 October 2015

Tax-sponging temperance quacks

The Global Alcohol Policy Alliance's temperance conference is underway in Edinburgh at the moment. Sessions include:

'Building Support for Protecting Children’s Right to Grow Up Free from Alcohol Marketing' (there is no such 'right')

'Alcohol Marketing: The Need for Radical Action' (with the certifiable Gerard Hastings)

'Public Health vs Big Alcohol in the World Cup of Alcohol Marketing' (ooh, "Big Alcohol")

'Building Effective Advocacy For Effective Policy' (ie. lobbying)

'From Evidence To Action - Using Harm To Others Evidence To Build Support For Whole Population Approaches To Reducing Alcohol Harm' (ie. lobbying, propaganda and dogma)

'Alcohol Sports Sponsorship: Is It Time To Cut The Tie?' (the speaker is from the UK Temperance Alliance so the answer will be yes).

This is a tiny selection of the vast number of presentations and panel discussions that are being held at the conference this week. As with tobacco control conferences circa 1983 (when the anti-smoking movement became explicitly neo-prohibitionist) the main themes are advertising, price and advocacy (ie. lobbying).

You only need to look at the list of speakers to see that there will be no meaningful debate. Aside from the aforementioned Gerard Hastings - who has declared 'war' on alcohol - there is Eric Carlin, various members of the Institute of Alcohol Studies (AKA UK Temperance Alliance), Robin Room, Jim McCambridge and various state-funded temperance nags like Colin Shevills from the still not yet de-funded Balance North East.

The opening addresses were given by Derek Rutherford and Nicola Sturgeon. This tells you everything you need to know about the unholy alliance between gospel temperance and the Scottish state. I have written about Rutherford's extraordinary network of booze-hating organisations before. Most, if not all, are taxpayer-funded and this week's conference is taxpayer-funded via the Scottish government, the NHS and the WHO.

I can't think of anything worse than spending three days rubbing shoulders with these lemon-sucking cranks, but since it is a publicly funded conference any member of the public should be entitled to attend.

Not so, however. Mark Baird is a taxpayer, he is Scottish and he works for the alcohol company Diageo. He is, therefore, quite obviously a stakeholder in a taxpayer-funded event about 'global alcohol policy' and yet when he registered to attend, he received the following reply (which I reproduce with his permission)...

Dear Mark Baird,

Global Alcohol Policy Conference (GAPC) 7th – 9th October 2015, EICC

Thank you for registering for the GAPC conference, however, on reviewing your registration we note that you work in/are affiliated to the alcohol industry.

Unfortunately, as stated in the conference terms and conditions members of the alcohol industry are not permitted to attend this event since The Global Alcohol Policy Alliance is a network of non-governmental organisations and people working in public health agencies who share information on alcohol issues and advocate evidence-based alcohol policies, “free from commercial interests.” 

A full copy of these conditions can be found on the GAPC website: http://www.gapc2015.com/terms-and-conditions
If you have already paid for your booking a refund will be arranged and sent to you in due course.

We hope you will understand our position on this but should you have any questions please do not hesitate to get in touch at gapc2015@shscevents.co.uk

Kind regards

The GAPC Conference Team

Kind regards, my eye. Whatever happened to 'nothing about us without us'? It's bad enough that we are forced to pay for a Methodist teetotaller to hold a three-day crusade against the demon drink without them doing it in secret. If these people thought that their agenda was defensible, they would have industry spokespeople on the stage debating them, not banned from attending.

What a shameful, paranoid, tax-sponging, parasitic bunch of charlatans the 'public health' racketeers are.


I've seen the BBC's typically fawning account of this pretend public health conference.

'Political courage' on drink pricing policy praised

The Scottish government has been praised for its "political courage" in attempting to introduce a minimum unit price for alcohol.

It came from the Global Alcohol Policy Alliance (GAPA) which aims to counter the health problems created by alcohol consumption.

The Beeb doesn't bother to ask what the Global Alcohol Policy Alliance is. Perhaps 'Taxpayer pays for international temperance shindig' wouldn't sound as good.

Derek Rutherford, who chairs GAPA, said holding its annual conference in Scotland would acknowledge the work being done there to reduce the harm caused by alcohol.

Nor does the Beeb ask who Derek Rutherford is, or why the taxpayer has to fork out for a teetotal Methodist to promote his agenda.
Dr Mac Armstrong, chair of Alcohol Focus Scotland (AFS), the national charity working to reduce alcohol harm, said: "The Scottish government's plans to introduce minimum unit pricing for alcohol will increase the price of the cheapest, strongest drinks.

Alcohol Focus Scotland gets hundreds of thousands of pounds from the Scottish government every year, but this doesn't warrant a mention.

I think I'm going to be sick
The SNP have naturally press released the praise they've received from their clients.

Sunday, 4 October 2015

The useful and the true

Propaganda requires inconvenient truths to be replaced by useful lies. For the purposes of public relations, a bald assertion made often enough is as good as a fact. For the issues covered in this blog, I've characterised this as 'we're public health, we say what we want'. So long as people believe it, that's all that matters.

There was a small example of this on the BBC website yesterday when it was reported that 'Surrey County Council has been accused of hypocrisy after running stop smoking campaigns while investing in tobacco companies.'

Although it was on the front page of the Beeb's news site, this wasn't much of a story. All that had happened was a Green party councillor had complained about the local council investing in tobacco stock, presumably for its pensions.

Mr Essex said it was hypocritical for the council to invest in the tobacco industry.

He called for it to "show some leadership and take our money out of an industry that does so much harm and costs the NHS so much".

This fellow clearly has a moral objection to certain industries and doesn't want the council associated with them. This kind of virtue signalling is central to the divestment crusade.

Fair enough, he has his view, but moral ickiness is not enough to persuade people to sacrifice money for self-righteousness (which is the trade-off required by divestment). His moral indignation is the true motivation, but it is not sufficiently useful to win the argument.

Since people invest in shares to make a profit, it would be more useful if it could be shown that tobacco stock was not very profitable. To that end, the BBC (or the press release it was working from) quoted somebody from the UK Sustainable Investment and Finance Association. I've never heard of her or her organisation but this is what she said...

"Over the long term, tobacco companies do not provide significantly higher returns than other companies."

This is the very opposite of the truth, as any serious investor will tell you. This graph from Credit Suisse shows how wrong she is...

As Credit Suisse say, every decade since the 1960s (when the health effects of smoking became well known) has seen 'tobacco companies outperforming comparable firms by over +3 percent per year.'

This - obviously - is the reason councils, universities and pension funds invest in tobacco. They pay good dividends and the share price outperforms that of nearly every other industry. Between 2000 and 2012, for example, British American Tobacco yielded a return of +669%, making it the fifth most profitable FTSE 100 company. BAT, like Imperial and the other big tobacco firms, produce 'above-average yields, and good records and prospects of dividend growth.' They have been 'some of the most reliable income generators for many years'. They are 'cash machines'.

If the BBC had approached almost any other financial analyst, this is what they would have said. It is, after all, a simple, verifiable fact that tobacco shares have been amongst the best in the world over virtually any time frame you choose to look at it. Instead, they managed to find somebody to say something that was useful but totally untrue.

Job done.

Saturday, 3 October 2015

My Manchester schedule

If you're going to the Conservative party conference and will be in the secure zone, you can come and see me speaking at the following debates:

Monday 8 am: What works in reducing obesity? Next steps in public health with Maggie Throup MP (Health Select Committee), Chris Askew (Diabetes UK), Sarah Kershaw (2020 Health). Exchange 8.

Monday 3.45 pm: E-cigarettes: setting the regulatory bar - how high is too high? with Clive Bates (Counterfactual), Christian May (City AM), David Morris MP. Techcentral.

Tuesday 11.15 am: Sock puppets: Should the state be funding pressure groups? with Paul Staines (Guido Fawkes), Sir Stuart Etherington (NCVO), Daniel Hannan (MEP). Think Tent.

Tuesday 5.45 pm: Can wellbeing usurp economic indications of success? with Dame Jil Matheson (ex-ONS), Juliet Michaelson (New Economics Foundation), Nigel Keohane (Social Market Foundation). Exchange 4-5.