Thursday, 3 September 2015

How drinkers subsidise teetotallers

I have a new IEA report today looking at the costs and benefits to the treasury of alcohol consumption. As far as I know, this is the first study of its kind in England (or the UK). This is surprising when you consider that estimates of 'societal' or 'wider economic' costs are invariably reported as being costs to the taxpayer.

So what is the cost to public services? I've used the most recent figures and the best methodology, and it is almost certainly no higher than £3.9 billion per year. That's quite a bit of money, but nowhere near as much as the £10.4 billion paid by English drinkers in alcohol taxes. In other words, drinkers are paying more than their fair share and teetotallers are being subsidised.

The report is free to download here.

Wednesday, 2 September 2015

Jamie Oliver bingo

Bandwagon-jumping punch-magnet Jamie Oliver will be using his 'charisma' to advance the agenda of Action on Sugar tomorrow night on Channel 4. He's already said what's on his political agenda and anyone who has followed the anti-smoking and anti-drinking movements over the years will be unsurprised to hear that it involves advertising bans and sin taxes.

Oliver is the very definition of a useful idiot so we can expect Jamie's Sugar Rush to involve the usual 'public health' incantations and junk science. But how many evidence-free assertions and misrepresentations will he be able to cram in? I've devised a special bingo card so you can play along at home. Click to engorge.

Usual rules apply. Every time the fat-tongued mockney imbecile tells a porky pie—and it will be often—cross it off your card. First one to shout 'House!' wins.

I'll also be live tweeting a selection of his delicious recipes so it really should be a lorra fun.

Good luck!

Friday, 28 August 2015

The Lancet's smear campaign

The Lancet published an embarrassingly bad editorial knocking the Public Health England report on e-cigarettes today. They appear to have given their smear story as an exclusive to the Daily Mail because that's how credible scientific journals work, right?

The hatchet job focuses on the conflicts of interest of two co-authors of one of the many studies cited by PHE in their report. Both were declared at the time and one of them isn't really a conflict of interest.

Regular readers will know that I'm no fan of Public Health England, but this is pathetic. I've written about it for The Spectator so please pop over there for a moment and have a read.

Smoking ban in prison leads to usual outcome

If you could go back in a time machine to the year 2000, let alone the year 1980, what would people make of the following passage from this news story?

Dr Goodwin was on Wednesday asked in Parliament if she would reconsider the smoking ban if it proved to be a key motivation behind the siege.

She said the government would not back down.

"We're not in the business of giving in to the demands of prisoners for things and conceding that a hostage action was appropriate," she said.

"To suggest that we should now turn around and say it's all too hard and give up because the prisoners don't like it [the tobacco ban] is not realistic."

Dr Goodwin said there was no excuse for assaulting or taking a prison guard hostage.

"I am most concerned that there would be any suggestion we should just simply reverse a policy because there's been a hostage situation.

They would think that we had lost our minds, wouldn't they? And they would be right.

As usual, people who work in the prison system predicted that this would happen months ago. As usual, the 'public health' lobbyists said it wouldn't.

And let's not forget this gem from Deborah Arnott:

Deborah Arnott, chief executive of charity Action on Smoking and Health, said there was no evidence to support claims that depriving prisoners of tobacco could lead to riots.


Thursday, 27 August 2015

Aseem Malhotra still doesn't know what he's talking about

Aseem Malhotra has inexplicably been on television again today spouting his latest scientifically illiterate theories. In recent months he has been lurching ever closer towards the low carb cult and the Atkins diet. He is now telling people to eat a low carb, high fat diet while simultaneously telling them to adopt the Mediterranean diet. The latter has never been properly defined but is certainly not low carb. I can only assume that he has now read more than one diet book.

In the last year or so, Malhotra has done his best to deter people from taking statins, downplay the importance of physical activity, eat more fat and not worry about how many calories they consume - strange behaviour for a cardiologist. Perhaps, as Fergus says, he is trying to recruit new customers.

The only upside about the cretin of Croydon appearing in the media is that it stirs scientists into rebutting his drivel, so rather than fisk his eat-more-fat-and-consume-more-calories article, here are a few comments from the Science Media Centre...

... it is disappointing that this incomplete review reduces the diet to mere prescriptive nutrition: eat flaxseeds (good), eat almonds (good), eat olive oil (good), don’t eat sugar (bad) – dogma that’s exactly the opposite to the Mediterranean-style eating approach. The impression to ‘never mind the calories, feel their nutritional quality’ is in my opinion a misleading and superficial approach to a healthy eating.

I can agree with only one point made in this rather confusing editorial which seems to jump from one poorly proven hypothesis to another, undoing the work of thousands of good quality research papers and backed by years of careful research.

In my opinion, it is idiotic to suggest that calories don’t count and then advocate a high fat diet. The editorial has muddled obesity prevention with cardiovascular disease prevention.  Obesity is only prevented if energy intake is balanced by energy expenditure.

Adding fat to food is the easiest way to increase calories in food so pouring large amounts of olive oil over food or eating loads of nuts is not going to help prevent obesity!  

As I have said from the very beginning, Aseem Malhotra doesn't know what he's talking about.

Revisiting CAMRA's 'historic victory'

Last year I wrote a post about what the Campaign for Real Ale described as its 'historic victory' of breaking the beer tie.

This is actually the second time that CAMRA has successfully lobbied to break the beer tie. They first did it in the 1980s when Thatcher forced breweries to sell off thousands of pubs. The unintended, but predictable, consequence was that thousands of pubs were bought up by property management companies.

These companies (pubcos) soon became the new villains in CAMRA mythology and last year they were cut down to size when the government (or, more precisely, the opposition plus the Lib Dems) broke the modern beer tie by banning pubcos from making it a contractual obligation for tenants to buy alcohol from them at a higher-than-market rate. This is known as the Market Rent Only option and tenants of large pubcos now have a legal right to it.

Pubcos that cannot make enough money without the beer tie will increase the rent, but the government has decided to regulate pub rents as well. Therefore, the likely outcome of the 'Save Our Pubs' campaign is that pubcos will sell off a large part of their estate.

CAMRA more or less openly wants them to sell their pubs because it believes that thousands of ruddy-faced publicans are ready to run them as independent concerns. This is a fantasy. There is not enough capital in the independent sector and you would have to be brave or foolhardy to buy a pub in Britain after successive governments have systematically shafted the industry. It is more likely that they will be sold off as shops and dwellings.

In other words, CAMRA's campaign will achieve the exact opposite of its stated aim of saving pubs.

I said all this last year and it did not go down well with CAMRA and their fellow travellers, who accused me of being in the pocket of the pubcos (and other such baseless non-arguments), but time is beginning to tell...

Punch Taverns has confirmed it has agreed to sell a package of 158 non-core pubs to NewRiver Retail, the UK REIT that specialises in the food and value sector, for £53.5m.

Why is Punch Taverns selling off these boozers? One tenant, Carol Ross, spoke to the Morning Advertiser yesterday...

The Roscoe Head in Liverpool has been in Carol Ross’ family for 30 years, 20 of which has seen her in charge winning a number of awards. Speaking to the PMA after receiving the news by post that her pub would be sold to New River Retail, she said she was “gobsmacked and upset” and now fears her pub was at risk of being redeveloped into a retail outlet.

Ross said she had been trying to buy the pub’s freehold, and had informed Punch she wished to opt for Market Rent Only (MRO) next year.

From next year I have to be offered Market Rent Only, and I told them I would be taking it, that’s why they’re selling my pub - because I won’t be making them as much money. NewRiver Retail will own less [sic] pubs [under 500], so they won’t have to offer it,” she speculated.

According to the article, Ross's pub is a successful business so perhaps NewRiver Retail will keep it as a going concern, but their track record isn't great...

NewRiver Retail acquired 202 pubs from Marston’s for £90m in 2013, with the group announcing last month that good progress had been made in converting a number to convenience stores.

Oh dear. Who could possibly have seen this coming?

Now CAMRA has been reduced to 'urging' pubcos to 'consider other options for sale, including offering pubs to community groups or licensees themselves, before selling to property companies'. I doubt pubcos are in any mood to take business advice from an economically illiterate pressure group that openly hates them. They will do whatever makes financial sense in a market that has been horrendously distorted by CAMRA and other useful idiots.

Be careful what you wish for.

Wednesday, 26 August 2015

New data confirm that tobacco sales rose after plain packaging

As reported last week by Guido and Catallaxy Files (but no mainstream media outlets that I know of), tobacco sales increased by 0.5 per cent in the first year of plain packaging in Australia. I didn't want to comment until I'd had a change to look at the newly published stats in depth, but I have now done so and the figures in Guido's report are spot on.

21,901,393,720 cigarettes were sold in the twelve months before plain packaging was introduced. In the next twelve months, 22,016,130,420 cigarettes were sold. This is a rise - a small rise but a remarkable one considering that sales had been consistently falling for many years before the policy was introduced.

As Sinclair Davidson has explained, advocates of plain packaging have done two things wrong in order to claim that there was a 3.4 per cent decline in tobacco sales in the first year of plain packaging. Firstly, they compared the calendar years 2012 and 2013 despite plain packaging starting at the beginning of December 2012. Obviously, they should be comparing December 2011-November 2012 to December 2012-2013. If they did that they would see that the difference is just 0.8 per cent.

In the context of a long-term decline in sales of around 5 per cent per annum, a fall of 0.8 per cent is a truly pathetic outcome from a policy that Simon Chapman, a pea-brained blowhard, has compared to a vaccine for lung cancer. But it gets worse for the wowsers...

The second thing the campaigners willfully ignored was the tax refunded on tobacco products which were never sold to the public. This is a significant number of cigarettes when you consider that lots of branded tobacco products had to be taken off the market when plain packaging was introduced and were later destroyed. According to newly released data from the Australian government, it amounted to 284 million sticks. When these cigarettes are subtracted from the pre-plain packaging period, it becomes apparent that sales-to-consumers rose by 0.5 per cent in the first twelve months of plain packaging.

The only missing variable here is the number of refunded cigarettes in the post-plain packaging period. This is unlikely to be zero, but is almost certain to be a lot smaller than that refunded as a result of plain packaging since plain packaging led to an exceptional, one-off destruction of tobacco products (literally). The figures for refunded tobacco in 2013 would make the comparison even more accurate but they would almost certainly change the final estimate by no more than a fraction of one per cent. Whichever way you slice it, the claim that was an immediate effect on sales from plain packaging is bunkum. And that's without even mentioning that growing black market.

You can see the data here, but as it requires a little effort to calculate the total number of cigarettes sold I have included the figures at the bottom of this post. (If you are on a Mac you may need to change the document's suffix to .pdf to read.)

We already knew from other sources that the long-term decline in tobacco sales came to an end in the first year of plain packaging and only resumed after a heavy tax hike in December 2013. This new and more accurate data confirms it. This deserves to be bigger news. The UK, Ireland and France have committed to plain packaging based on a lie. ASH used the bogus 3.4 per cent figure in their lobbying and, as Davidson points out, the French even claimed that there was a 3.4 per cent decline in smoking prevalence.

Australia is in the process of conducting a post-implementation review into plain packaging. If this evidence is not front and centre, we will know that the process is a sham. Predictably enough, it seems that the post-implementation review has already shifted the goalposts. The policy was explicitly designed to reduce cigarette sales and smoking prevalence. Since it is now clear that it has had no measurable effect on either, the review will instead look at whether it has reduced the appeal of cigarette packs. That means looking at the same tenuous evidence that was cited by campaigners in 2011 - evidence that tells us nothing about the real world effects.
The reality is that plain packaging did not accelerate the long term decline in smoking rates or tobacco sales, but it did create a number of negative consequences for businesses, consumers and the government itself. Any serious cost-benefit analysis would find multiple costs and zero benefits.

As for the campaigners who have been so quiet about the new evidence, don't forget that they vilified Christian Kerr of The Australian last summer when he dared to say that tobacco sales had risen in the first year of the Australian plain packaging experiment. The portly propagandist Stephen Koukoulas was particularly vociferous, describing Kerr et al. as 'smoking fact deniers' and 'tobacco fact deniers'. The hopelessly biased ABC gave Koukoulas and other plain packaging advocates airtime to rubbish Kerr's report.

We now know that Kerr was right. An apology is in order but will never arrive. Instead, there is only silence and tumbleweed from those who claimed that plain packaging was a game-changer.

The data

The government's sales figures are divided between domestically produced tobacco products (ATO) and imported tobacco products (customs). They are also divided between manufactured cigarettes (sticks) and rolling tobacco (loose leaf).

To derive the total number of cigarettes sold, you need to combine the ATO and customs figures for both type of products and then subtract the refunds. For loose leaf tobacco, the government calculates that one cigarette contains 0.8 grams of tobacco, ie. 1 kilogram contains 1,250 cigarettes.

In the twelve months before plain packaging was introduced (Dec 2011-Nov 2012), the figures were as follows:

Manufactured cigarettes: 19,738,170,960

Cigarettes from rolling tobacco: 2,447,248,750

Never sold to the public: -284,025,990

Total: 21,901,393,720 

In the twelve months after plain packaging was introduced (Dec 2012-Nov 2013), the figures were as follows:

Manufactured cigarettes: 19,433,987,920

Cigarettes from rolling tobacco: 2,582,142,500

Total: 22,016,130,420  

Sales increase in the first year of plain packaging = 0.524%