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.

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