Monday, 19 October 2015

The Battle of Ideas

As always, the Battle of Ideas was stimulating, thought-provoking and exhausting. It was good to see some of you there.

There were too many highlight to mention, but there are two things worth flagging up from the debates I spoke in.

The e-cigarette panel, of which Lorrien was the undoubted star, included a representative from the Royal Society for Public Health (RSPH). The RSPH has made the news this year for demanding outdoor smoking bans and a totalitarian approach to town planning. Their man Duncan was fairly upfront about wanting to stamp out smoking at all costs and acknowledged that they were moderately supportive of e-cigarettes because it helped them be more draconian to smokers (a good cop/bad cop routine I have mentioned before).

I have to say that Duncan gave the impression of someone who had never read around the subject at all. He spent a long time talking about what a useless drug nicotine is and how nobody gets any pleasure from using it (to a roar of audience laughter). He then pulled out a pack of Magic cigarettes which contain no nicotine and said that they were the future. Apparently I did an 'actual face palm' when he said this.

Understandably so. Taking nicotine out of cigarettes is such a dumb idea that even the tobacco control racket rejects it whenever it rears its stupid head. For obvious reasons, it makes people smoke more. Moreover, it is prohibition. Not a bit prohibitionist, but actual prohibition. Nobody in 1920s America claimed that they were not living under prohibition just because it was possible to buy zero-alcohol beer (indeed, 'near beer' of 0.5% alcohol or less was legal). You take out the active ingredient and you prohibit the product, with all that entails.

Moreover - and I didn't get the time to make this point - Duncan's Magic cigarettes are the exact opposite of the e-cigarettes we were there to talk about. Whereas e-cigarettes leave in the good stuff (nicotine) and remove the dirt, nicotine-free cigarettes get rid of the good stuff and leave in all the dirt. Turning up to a debate about e-cigarettes to promote their polar opposite suggests a total failure to grasp the issue.

The second debate I participated in was on alcohol, specifically the question of whether 'booze Britain' has come to an end. There was a good deal of consensus that it had - it is hard to argue with the statistics - but I was interested to hear from Clare Gerada (head of the Royal Society of General Practitioners) that she thinks that the current drinking guidelines are based on no evidence and that the advice that pregnant women should drink no alcohol is also based on no evidence. This is undoubtedly true, but it was good to see her say so in public.

Despite this, Sian Jarvis, who used to work at the Department of Health, said that the guidelines are likely to be lowered in the near future. Certainly, she said, that is what the Chief Medical Officer and other 'public health' authorities are going to recommend.

Bring it on, frankly. The more ludicrous the advice, the less credibility the public health racket will have.

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