Hastings is a comic figure in many respects - almost a caricature of the public health racket's misanthropic statism - but his influence is too far reaching to ignore. This is a guy with a finger in every nanny state pie. He put together the Department of Health's assessment of the plain packaging evidence (conclusion: it's great, let's do it). He was commissioned by the World Health Organisation to evaluate the effect of food marketing on children (conclusion: it's evil, let's ban it). And he has written widely about alcohol advertising (conclusion: it's evil as well, let's ban it).
Hastings instinctively believes that people only do things he dislikes because of clever marketing, and he completely disregards the enormous amount of evidence to the contrary. At the most fundamental level, he misunderstands the purpose and effect of advertising, which is a problem when marketing is your ostensible area of expertise. Instead, he prefers to see the public as "hapless flies" who are caught in the "profit-driven webs" of Big Business (as he says in his extraordinary and overpriced book.)
The poem Hastings wrote about The Man tells you everything you need to know about his undergraduate mentality. It is sad that such a person is working in academia at all, let alone being put in positions where his peculiar opinions can be presented as facts. If you think I exaggerate, I urge you to watch this recent video of Hastings in action. It comes from a conference called 'Big Alcohol, Big Tobacco, Big Influence' (how's that for a slippery slope?) which let several public health zealots off the leash, including Linda Bauld, Ian Gilmore, Nick Sheron and Geof Rayner (the latter's massively left-wing speech was called 'Nudge, responsibility deals and other neoliberal guff').
The whole conference video can be seen here but if you are pushed for time at least try to watch Hastings' contribution, both his own presentation and the Q & A. He barely mentions health issues at all. It is quite obvious that 'public health' is a political vehicle for him and his colleagues. It's all about the evils of capitalism and 'consumerism'.
Amongst the highlights to look out for are...
0:30 - "This is not an argument against business, it is against big business." That's okay then.
2:17 - He says that supermarkets have 40,000 different products and therefore consumers cannot make informed decisions (?!) "unless you go in with a list". A radical idea. Perhaps they could be called - I dunno - 'shopping lists'?
5:00 - Complains that attractive women are used to sell things in advertising, particularly e-cigarettes. The horror! He says that this "massively increases inequalities".
7:30 - Freedom is the new tobacco...
8:10 - Equates the free market with totalitarianism, saying that we (ie. people who buy things) are "slaves" who "love our servitude". By this point, his voice is starting to break with emotion.
9:44 - Polar bear klaxon.
10:00 - The sermon begins in earnest. Stuff about being born alone and dying alone. There is nothing about health beyond this point.
13:00 - Quasi-religious stuff about "self-transcendence".
14:00 - Calls for a "bigger, broader - dare I say - revolutionary form of public health" to get away from the "neoliberal consensus". This, of course, requires a new "political system" ie. socialism.
15:30 - Says public health lobbyists should demand "political leverage" and demand a seat at the table, even - or especially - in finance (!). As I have said before, what he wants is a dictatorship of public health.
16:40 - Concludes by saying that he saw a beggar on the street "just yesterday" with a sign that said 'Keep your coins. I want change.' Perhaps he did, but it's a remarkable coincidence that this also happens to be a lefty slogan from a well known piece of street art.
The Q & A isn't on Youtube but you can find it here at and it's well worth watching because things get even more bizarre when Hastings and his friends are unscipted.
For example, at 2:18, Hastings answers a question about how minimum pricing can be won by wibbling on about climate change. At 2:19.40, he is asked about how 'public health' professionals can change how the media reports things and says that the media are in the pay of Big Oil. And, saving the best for last at 2:21.10, he talks about how there is "always a military presence" at conferences because "the military know that this is where the next war is going to start".
In any other context, Hastings' performance would be considered an embarrassing meltdown, but the lack of reaction from the audience suggests that this is par for the course in the wacky world of 'public health'. This really is how they talk amongst themselves. Things are much worse than we thought.
I cannot be said too many times that 'public health' is not about health. It is a political movement aimed at state control of individuals and markets. Look at the Lancet's manifesto for 'planetary health'. Look at the European Public Health Alliance's manifesto. Follow people like Richard Horton, Martin McKee and John Ashton on Twitter. If you can bear and afford it, read Gerard Hastings' book. It is not about health, it is about pushing an unelectable, economically illiterate political agenda through the backdoor.