Monday, 26 June 2017

Virtuous divestments

I've written a short piece for City AM about the moral grandstanding of people who think they can change the world by selling their shares in companies they don't like.


Not content with the government prohibiting smoking in public places, various funds and companies have bought into the ludicrous divestment movement which seeks to bring down industries by trading their shares.

The Guardian started the divestment trend, with its apparent belief that if you get rid of your shares in fossil fuel companies, you will somehow help prevent climate change.

Now Aviva, the insurance company, has announced that it will be selling off its tobacco stock in order to “limit the damage tobacco can cause to health”.

Various universities and local councils have also loudly proclaimed their intention to abandon their investments in “sindustries” such as alcohol, coal and weapons.

This virtue signalling is the emptiest of empty gestures, and, for those whose pensions rely on sound investments, it is an expensive one.

Do have a read.

Sunday, 25 June 2017

10 years of lying about the smoking ban

The smoking ban has always sat on a throne of lies. It was promoted on the basis of junk science and has been retrospectively justified on the basis of blatant quackery.

The tenth anniversary of England's smoking ban is coming up on Saturday and so we must brace ourselves for more lies as we 'celebrate' its anniversary.

The fat cats at Public Health England have got the ball rolling with some utter tosh, as reported in the Guardian...


UK heart disease deaths fall by over 20% since indoor smoking ban


That's right, folks. It's another heart miracle, but since it's been devised by the clots at Public Health England, it's particularly amateurish.

Deaths from heart disease and strokes caused by smoking have fallen dramatically since lighting up in pubs, restaurants and other enclosed public places in England was banned 10 years ago.

New figures have shown that the number of smokers aged 35 and over dying from heart attacks and other cardiac conditions has dropped by over 20% since 2007 while fatalities from a stroke are almost 14% down.

When I first read this, it wasn't clear what the statistics pertained to. The figures appear to be about the number of smokers dying of heart disease, but it would be odd if smokers were getting a health benefit from a reduction in secondhand smoke exposure.

And yet that does seem to be what the figures are for - more or less. The implication is that the smoking ban has made lots of smokers quit. We all know that was the real reason for the ban - although it didn't actually happen in practice - and it seems that PHE have just looked at their estimates of the number of smoking-related diseases - which are guesses piled upon guesses - and applied a bit of post hoc ergo propter hoc reasoning:

Figures collected by PHE’s Local Tobacco Control Profiles network show that while there were 32,548 deaths from heart disease attributable to smoking in 2007-09, there were 25,777 between 2013 and 2015 – a fall of 20.8%. Similarly, a total of 9,743 smokers died from a stroke in 2007-09, but fewer – 8,334 – between 2013 and 2015, a drop of 14.5%.

This would be a half-arsed way of claiming that correlation equals causation at the best of times, but since the ban started in 2007, it's unclear why they are comparing 2007-09 to 2013-15. Surely you should compare the pre-ban era to the post-ban era?

This useless statistic seems to be enough for the Guardian and is probably enough for the dirty buggers who like the smoking ban because they don't have to change their clothes from day to day (I hear this a lot). It is certainly enough for PHE boss Duncan Selbie (annual salary: £200,000) who says of the smoking ban...

'Its legacy has had a phenomenally positive impact on societal attitudes to smoking. Smokers have seized the opportunity by quitting in unprecedented numbers...'

As I showed in a recent post, smokers were quitting in large numbers before 2007 but that came to an end after the smoking ban was introduced. In 2003, the smoking rate was 26%. By 2007, it had fallen to 20.9%. But five years later - after what Selbie calls 'undoubtedly the single most important public health reform in generations' - it was still at 20.4%. Only after vaping came on the scene did smoking prevalence start falling again.


So what actually happened with heart disease before and after the smoking ban? Using data from the British Heart Foundation, we can see a steep and steady decline in cardiovascular disease mortality going back decades. Did the decline accelerate after 2007? No, not at all - although it did slow down a few years later. Great success!


You can expect more of this sort of bullshit over the course of the next week because...

The statistics, which Public Health England (PHE) has shared with the Guardian, come as medical, public health and anti-tobacco groups prepare to mark the 10th anniversary next Friday of smoking being prohibited in indoor public places by Tony Blair’s Labour government on 1 July 2007.

God help us.

Selbie says:

'The smokefree legislation has been extraordinary in the way we now experience and enjoy pubs, clubs, restaurants and so many other public places.'

The only thing that has been extraordinary is how many of these places have closed down since this 'important health reform' was inflicted on us. Twenty per cent of pubs have closed since 2007. Fifty per cent of nightclubs have closed. Bingo halls, snooker clubs and working men's clubs have all taken one hell of a beating.

There is nothing to celebrate in this act of cultural vandalism. We should be having a wake.

Saturday, 24 June 2017

Alcohol consumption in Scotland

There has been some discussion in recent years about alcohol consumption being on the rise in Scotland. Naturally, the 'public health' lobby and the SNP have said that this makes the case for higher taxes/minimum pricing/advertising bans even stronger. For example, here's Alcohol Research UK (which has since merged with Alcohol Concern):

NHS Scotland have published updated sales figures for alcohol in Scotland. These suggest that a decline in alcohol consumption since the mid-2000s has started to reverse. Between 2005 and 2013, consumption per head of population in Scotland fell by 9.4%. Since then, however, it has risen by just under 2%. We don’t know yet if this small increase is the start of a longer upswing, but it suggests that industry efforts to stem the reduction in drinking may be starting to have an effect.

What were these 'industry efforts to stem the reduction in drinking'? Who knows, but the *ahem* totally impartial Alcohol Research UK concluded that...

...if Governments wish to make the recent downturn sustainable, then they will need to fend off growing calls from industry for further tax cuts.

The BBC reported a slight rise in alcohol consumption in August 2015, saying:

Alcohol sales in Scotland increase

Alcohol sales in Scotland increased last year, according to the latest figures.

An NHS report said the equivalent of 41 bottles of vodka or 114 bottles of wine per adult were sold in 2014.

The Scottish government said the figures reinforced the need for minimum unit pricing.

Of course they did. Indeed, the Scottish government put out its own press release saying: 'Alcohol sales increased slightly during 2014, reinforcing the need for minimum unit pricing to tackle the sale of cheap, strong alcohol.'

At least the SNP admitted that consumption had only risen 'slightly'. The Beeb didn't bother to say how much consumption had risen by, presumably because it was marginal - from 10.6 litres to 10.7 litres per capita. But when it rose slightly again the following year (to 10.8 litres), the Beeb followed up on the 'story', with the usual editorialising from pressure groups:

Adults in Scotland have increased their consumption of alcohol for the second year in a row, according to a report.

NHS Health Scotland said the trend was mainly down to more alcohol being bought in supermarkets and off-licences - particularly beer and wine.

Sales in 2015 were 20% higher in Scotland than they were in England and Wales, with each adult consuming the equivalent of 477 pints of beer.

Alcohol Focus Scotland said the country had become a "nation of home drinkers".

The Scottish government said the report supported the case for minimum pricing.

Meanwhile, Alcohol Focus Scotland called for higher alcohol prices and restricted availability because 'the downward trend in sales has now stalled' and James Morris at Alcohol Policy UK declared that 'NHS Scotland's latest report on alcohol sales data indicates an end to the downward trend in alcohol consumption.'

However, new figures published this week show that alcohol consumption in Scotland fell to 10.5 litres in 2016 and is now at its lowest level since the mid-1990s:



If a rise of 0.1 litres is enough to garner headlines, you'd think that a fall of 0.3 litres would be newsworthy, but you'd be wrong. The drop in consumption was barely mentioned by the journalists who covered the latest figures. The Scotsman didn't mention it at all in its story which was headlined 'Scots buying enough alcohol to push population over drinking guidelines'. Nor did STV, which used the headline 'Alcohol death rates six times higher in poorest areas'.

The media were taking their cue from NHS Scotland who put out a press release titled 'Scotland's alcohol problems persists' saying that per capita consumption was 10.5 litres in 2016 and comparing this to England (where consumption is always lower). The press release mainly focused on the number of people who die from excessive drinking.

The press release did mention that the 'increase in population consumption in Scotland between 2013 and 2015 did not continue, with sales per adult returning to a similar level as in 2013' (in fact, they were lower than in 2013), but only the BBC reported this, albeit only in passing...

Sales of alcohol per adult per week were 17% greater in Scotland than in England and Wales - although the rate, which had increased between 2013 and 2015, returned to a similar level as in 2013.

That was the Beeb's only reference to the trend. The rest of the article took the NHS's line...

Alcohol-linked deaths '54% higher in Scotland'

An average of 22 people a week died from alcohol-related causes in Scotland in 2015, figures show.

The figure is 54% higher than in England and Wales.


And, as always, there were plenty of column inches for anyone who wanted to rip off drinkers: 

Public Health Minister Aileen Campbell, said: "This report shows that, whilst some progress has been made in tackling alcohol misuse, we need to do more.

"Over the last few years, more than half of alcohol sold in supermarkets and off-licences was sold at less than 50p per unit and enough alcohol was sold in the off-trade alone to exceed the weekly drinking guideline by a considerable amount.

"That is why we need minimum unit pricing, which will largely impact on the off-trade and will increase the price of the cheap, high-strength alcohol."

Alcohol Focus Scotland chief executive Alison Douglas, said: "Alcohol is so cheap and widely available that it's easy to forget how it can damage our health.

"We need to introduce this long-delayed policy as soon as possible to improve Scotland's health, cut crime and save lives."

Unlike England, Scotland officially endorses the Whole Population Approach, a daft but convenient fantasy in which heavy drinkers magically reduce their consumption of alcohol if the rest of society drinks less. This theory has never been supported by evidence but it gives 'public health professionals' free rein to lobby for policies that hassle ordinary drinkers instead of doing the hard work of helping alcoholics.

Given Scotland's obsession with per capita alcohol consumption, it's not surprising that campaigners were eager to present a tiny upwards blip as proof that the fall in consumption had 'stalled' and, therefore, required yet more government intervention. Nor is it surprising that they have kept quiet about the latest figures.

But whatever happens to the trend in the future, it is clear that the rate of alcohol consumption is irrelevant to the neo-temperance lobby. If it rises, it shows the need for minimum pricing. If it falls, it shows the need for minimum pricing. If it rises, it's a news story. If it falls, they find another angle. There is no way for drinkers to win.

Thursday, 22 June 2017

Food and soft drink taxes in the EU

I was in Lithuania this week talking about food and soft drink taxes at the Lithuanian Free Market Institute. This is what I said...


By a bizarre coincidence, there was a big neo-temperance conference in the same hotel the following day featuring John Holmes, Robin Room and many other familiar names. Our paths did not cross.

Monday, 19 June 2017

When the chips are down

There was a story in The Telegraph last week claiming that eating chips (french fries, if you're American) 'doubles your chances of death'. The headline was obviously silly, but I'm not sure the study should be taken too seriously either.

I wrote about it for the Spectator. Have a read.

Thursday, 15 June 2017

Taxi for the gateway theory

New smoking prevalence data were published today and it was egg on face time again for the anti-vaping alarmists.

Britain's smoking rate fell by 1.7 percentage points between 2015 and 2016 and has fallen by 4.3 percentage points since vaping went mainstream in 2012. All that talk about the 'gateway effect' is looking decidedly stupid now. Taxi for Capewell and McKee please!

As this graph shows, the smoking rate was flatlining between 2007 and 2012 when ASH's neo-prohibitionist efforts were in full effect. Since then, ASH have been mainly lobbying for plain packaging, a policy that came into force this year and isn't covered by the latest ONS data. The only anti-smoking law of any note since 2012 was the display ban and that wasn't introduced until 2015. Whereas government coercion failed to reduce the smoking rate, vaping in a free market worked.


To put it another way, the smoking rate fell at an average rate of 0.1% in the five years after the smoking ban. Since 2012, it has fallen at more than 1.0% a year. Taxi for Arnott!

To put it still another way, between 2013 and 2016 the UK had vaping but did not have plain packaging and the smoking rate fell by 3.1 percentage points. In Australia, which had plain packaging but did not have vaping, the smoking rate fell by 0.6 percentage points. In fact, as the Australian government recently admitted, 'the daily smoking rate did not significantly decline' at all between 2013 and 2016. Taxi for Chapman!

Meanwhile in the good ol' US of A, new smoking figures for school students were also been released today. Was there any sign of a gateway effect in the home of anti-vaping hysteria? Not at all. Cigarette smoking prevalence is down to just 8 per cent among high school students. In 2011, the rate was 16 per cent.



That's right, the smoking rate has halved in five years 'despite' (ie. because of) e-cigarette use rocketing up. This news comes less than six months after Stanton Glantz claimed that the smoking rate among school kids is not falling faster than it did before and said:

“E-cigarettes are encouraging – not discouraging – youth to smoke and to consume nicotine, and are expanding the tobacco market.”

Taxi for Stan please!

Enough time has passed for us to close the book on the gateway hypothesis. If 'public health' was an honest enterprise, the people responsible would resign, or at least apologise. Let's not forget that they wanted to ban e-cigarettes - and probably still do.

There will be no resignations, of course. The denial and quack science will continue, but it is getting ever more more difficult to maintain this absurd scare story.

Violence in psychiatric hospitals - junk science edition

A study has been published in The Lancet looking at whether violent assaults rose or fell after a psychiatric hospital banned smoking. Here are the results (click to enlarge)...


As you can see, it made no difference at all. See you tomorrow.









No, hang on. The authors of the study have got something to tell you...

In our study in a large UK mental health organisation, there was a significant reduction in the number of physical assaults after the introduction of the comprehensive smoke-free policy, when controlling for time, seasonality, and confounders of violence.

You what?!

After adjustment for all significant confounders, the results suggest there was a 39% reduction in the number of violent assaults per month overall in the period after the introduction of the policy compared with the period before the policy was introduced.

Jeez. Stop wasting our time with this garbage.