Wednesday 12 June 2024

The hard left WHO

The WHO European Region published a new report, written mostly by British 'public health' academics. It is quite revealing. For example... 
 

This requires, at a minimum, that governments recognize that the primary interest of all major corporations is profit and, hence, regardless of the product they sell, their interests do not align with either public health or the broader public interest. Any policy that could impact their sales and profits is therefore a threat, and they should play no role in the development of that policy. Similarly, governments must also recognize the now overwhelming evidence (see also chapters 4, 6 and 7) that HHIs ['health-harming industries'] engage in the same political and scientific practices as tobacco companies (69) and that voluntary or multistakeholder partnership approaches do not work where conflicts of interest exist (27, 70). Instead, they must regulate other HHIs ['health-harming industries'], their products and practices, as they do tobacco.


That's just one paragraph, but there's a lot it in. 
 
Firstly, they are clearly not just opposed to 'health-harming industries' but to private industry in general. 

Secondly, they want to exclude all industries from the policy-making process, as already happens with the tobacco industry.

Thirdly, they want to regulate all 'health-harming industries' in the same way as they regulate tobacco. 

This is all there in black and white. It is not scaremongering or the slippery slope fallacy. It is now in an official WHO document. 

When people show you who they are, believe them.

I have written about this for The Critic.




Monday 10 June 2024

The George Orwell motherlode

 

As promised, there was a lot of Orwell-related activity over the weekend from the IEA.

You Do Not Exist, my book about Nineteen Eighty-Four is available to download (free) here.

You can download the whole novel plus my introduction here.

I wrote about it for the Spectator and Quillette.

And I made this little video about Orwell's London...



Friday 7 June 2024

Orwell's pessimism

It's the 75th anniversary of the UK publication of Nineteen Eighty-Four tomorrow and there is a whole load of Orwell-related stuff coming from me and the IEA. Stay tuned, but for now here's an article I've written about him for Quillette... 

Orwell may have been pleasantly surprised had he lived to see the real 1984. It is often said that his dystopian novel is a warning rather than a prophecy and Orwell himself was keen to remind people that it was “after all a parody,” but he was also quite explicit that Nineteen Eighty-Four was a conditional prophecy. Shortly after the book was published, he put out a statement saying that “something like NINETEEN EIGHTY-FOUR could happen. This is the direction in which the world is going at the present time.” But it didn’t and it wasn’t. By the time he died in January 1950, Europe had put the worst of the twentieth century behind it. Orwell was too pessimistic and it is worth considering why.

The central assumption at the heart of Orwell’s political writing from the mid-1930s was that capitalism was doomed and would most likely be replaced by totalitarian socialism of the sort satirised in Nineteen-Eighty Four. Despite his contempt for capitalism, Orwell saw the world caught between a rock and hard place. “Capitalism leads to dole queues, the scramble for markets, and war,” he wrote in 1944. “Collectivism leads to concentration camps, leader worship, and war.” The only alternative, to his mind, was a planned economy that retained democracy and allowed freedom of the individual, but he became increasingly pessimistic about the prospects for his libertarian brand of what he called democratic socialism as the 1940s wore on. Indeed, he saw “no practicable way of bringing it about.”

This explains why he was so despondent about the world’s prospects in the last years of his life and why he decided to write Nineteen Eighty-Four. But he was wrong. Capitalism did survive, subsequent communist revolutions went the same way as the USSR’s, and Orwell’s version of democratic socialism was not required to prevent totalitarianism sweeping the globe. It turned out that it was not a straight choice between democratic socialism and communist (or fascist) totalitarianism. There was a third way.

 
It's free so do read it all.



Tuesday 4 June 2024

Nicotine pouches: there may be trouble ahead

I sense the start of a moral panic about nicotine pouches. The government has made this more likely by completely ignoring them since they appeared five years ago, as I explain in The Critic.
 

The greater, unspoken concern is that widespread use of nicotine pouches among professional footballers could inspire children to emulate their idols. It is easy to imagine a moral panic erupting around nicotine pouches in schools much like the panic about disposable vapes. There was a harbinger of this last week with a sensationalist Channel Four documentary titled “Snus: Hooked on Nicotine”. The government has done nothing to head this off at the pass. These products have been around for five years and no attempt has been made to regulate them. So far, the industry has been successfully self-regulating by instructing retailers not to sell them to minors, adding health warnings and capping nicotine levels, but none of these are legal requirements and there is nothing to stop less scrupulous companies entering the market with extra-strong pouches, child-friendly packaging and deceptive marketing. 

I hesitate to write this in case it gives professional busybodies and Wes Streeting ideas, but there is a danger of this turning into Elf Bar II in which a failure of governance leads to a political overreaction and the rights of adults to consume a very low risk product are curtailed. Given the political class’s penchant for banning things first and asking questions later, this is a threat that users of nicotine pouches need to be alive to.

 

Also, if you don't subscribe to my Substack then (a) you should, it's free, and (b) read my latest post about Action on Sugar.



Thursday 30 May 2024

Australia's tobacco fiasco


 
As two more tobacconists go up in flames in Melbourne, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) can no longer deny the illicit tobacco crisis Down Under. This article is worth reading.
 

Rohan Pike is a former Australian Federal Police (AFP) and Australian Border Force (ABF) officer who helped establish the original tobacco strike team, when the black market was, as he describes it, a “modest problem”.

“The number one driver of the problem is the enormous price of tobacco,” Pike says bluntly.

When the taskforce was established in 2018, more than 400 million cigarette sticks were detected and seized at the border. 

Last year, it was 1.7 billion.

 
Even Simon Chapman's half-witted protégé has accepted reality.
 

Becky Freeman, an associate professor of public health at the University of Sydney, acknowledges the only reason people buy black market cigarettes is because “cigarettes are expensive”.

 
Naturally, being an imbecile, her answer is to ban vapes harder.
 
All of this was completely avoidable. All they had to do was allow affordable cigarettes and vapes to be sold to consenting adults. Instead, they allowed clowns and fanatics to call the shots and Australia became an object lesson in what not to do. The UK is not far behind. Are you watching, Mr Streeting?

PS. Speaking of clowns, this guy is in charge of the Australian Medical Association and apparently believes that every smoker in the country costs the economy $70,000 a year.
 
 
But he suddenly becomes sceptical when modelling suggests that taxing something that is currently illegal will raise tax revenue.



There is a lot of ruin in a nation but no society endure quite so many charlatans and fantasists without paying a price.




Wednesday 29 May 2024

Vape tax consultation - my response

The vape tax consultation closes today, so hurry if you want to respond to this awful idea (which Labour is also keen on). Clive Bates has put his excellent submission online here, but here's what I sent them...


5. Do you agree that the rates and structure outlined in Chapter 3 will achieve the stated objectives of the duty?

Yes and no.

The stated objectives are ‘to reduce the number of non-smokers and young people that vape’ and to shift vapers towards lower nicotine products. Further objectives include raising tax revenue and not making smoking more attractive. It is notable that the government’s stated objectives do not include reducing smoking rates among middle-aged and elderly adults who are at most risk from smoking-related harm, nor improving the health of the nation.

Substitution effects

It is well established that vaping is much less harmful to health than smoking and that e-cigarettes and cigarettes are direct substitutes (McNeill et al. 2022). It is also well established that switching to e-cigarettes is a highly effective way of quitting smoking (Hartmann-Boyce et al. 2022) and it is highly likely (though difficult to prove categorically) than the use of e-cigarettes by nonsmokers who would otherwise have started smoking has a prophylactic effect, i.e. it prevents smoking uptake. Ample evidence for this exists in the public health and economics literature and can be inferred in the UK from both routine statistics and general observation.

Any policy that deters consumption of e-cigarettes is therefore likely to result in more people smoking. This effect has been shown in several studies looking specifically at e-cigarette taxation (eg. Pesko et al. 2020; Saffer et al. 2019; Cotti et al. 2022). The extent to which this will occur if the UK introduces a vape tax is difficult to predict since illicit e-cigarettes make up a large share of the market and existing laws are poorly enforced.

The government acknowledges that e-cigarettes are direct substitutes for cigarettes and that there is a cross-price elasticity issue that means that a vape tax will make smoking relatively more appealing. This is correct and the government proposes yet another tobacco duty rise to offset this. The proposed rise is relatively small compared to the proposed vape tax. For example, the e-cigarette fluid I use will rise from £3 per bottle to £6.60 per bottle while a pack of cigarettes will rise from around £16 to £16.50. This still represents a substantial price difference, but the gap is relatively much smaller. Moreover, it is easy to buy a pack of cigarettes in the shadow economy for £5. Official retail prices are increasingly irrelevant as a comparator.

Nicotine levels


The government appears to believe that lower nicotine vapes are somehow more addictive or more harmful than higher nicotine vapes and that e-cigarettes will be consumed less if high-nicotine fluids are discouraged. This is the same mistake that was made when nicotine yields in cigarettes were lowered by law, although this did at least have the effect of simultaneously reducing tar yields. There is no such compensating benefit from lower-nicotine vape juice since lowering the nicotine will not reduce exposure to the other substances in e-cigarettes. In practice, vapers (and smokers) titrate nicotine to achieve the optimal level of nicotine consumption (which varies from person to person). Those who have a higher tolerance/demand for nicotine will vape more if they can only access low-nicotine fluid.

A vape tax may well switch consumers towards lower-nicotine vapes, but this is not an objective worth pursuing and could be counter-productive. Insofar as vaping causes harm to health (which remains unproven), it is not from the nicotine but from the other ingredients, flavourings, etc. in the fluid, which users will be more exposed to if they are priced out of buying higher-nicotine fluid. They will certainly end up spending more money.

It should be mentioned that high-nicotine fluid cannot legally be sold in the UK as a result of the EU’s Tobacco Products Directive which caps fluids at the relatively low level of 20mg/ml.

Tax revenue

A vape tax will obviously raise tax revenue. It will be a significantly regressive tax because vapers, like smokers, tend to be disproportionately on lower incomes. It will also be, in effect, a tax on quitting smoking and will be seen as a cynical and hypocritical cash grab by the general public.

6. Do you agree that the rates and structure will encourage manufacturers to reduce the nicotine content of their products?

No. As mentioned above, this is not a worthwhile objective. Manufacturers will follow demand. They already sell vapes and vape juice with a range of nicotine strengths. They do not need to do any reformulation. They will simply sell more of one type and less of another.

7. What do you think the likely impact the rate structure will have on consumers’ vaping behaviours?

Those who have a higher demand for nicotine will vape more, buy vapes from informal, untaxed sources or buy vapes from abroad by mail order.

8. Should production of vaping products by individuals for their own use be within scope of the duty?

No.

How exactly are you going to do that? It is completely impractical. The vape tax and the government’s other anti-vaping policies will very likely lead to more home production and more illicit sales, but the failure to enforce existing laws suggests that the state will be powerless to stop it. Billions of pounds of tobacco and e-cigarette sales take place in the shadow economy every year and this trend will doubtless continue. The government explicitly intends for all tobacco sales to be conducted on the black market eventually. It may hope to keep some sort of a grip on the e-cigarette market, but the vape tax and other anti-vaping policies currently proposed make it very likely that it will loose control of a growing share of vape sales too. Australia’s neo-prohibitionist approach to vaping has been an absolute fiasco. There are lessons to learn from that benighted country if politicians had the eyes to see.

9. Are there any other factors concerning home production/blending that should be considered?

Yes. It will encourage the sale of pure nicotine which will be mixed ineptly by enthusiastic amateurs and any harm that results from this will be your fault.

58. Do you believe the introduction of the new duty would lead to consumers switching to alternative nicotine containing products?

Yes. Cigarettes.

59. Unless already covered in your responses to other questions within this document, is there anything else you would like us to note about the impact of the duty?

There are legitimate concerns about underage vaping in the UK, rates of which have increased sharply in the last three years. Those concerns should not lead to a knee-jerk reaction that throws the baby out with the bathwater. There are no Pigouvian grounds for a tax on e-cigarettes and no non-trivial negative externalities to be addressed. A vape tax would amount to a tax on smoking cessation and would take hundreds of pounds from those who can least afford it. These are people who have already done what the government demanded and given up smoking. They are now to be punished for it in an attempt to prevent those who are already forbidden from buying vapes from doing so.

The public at large would like something to be done about underage vaping. So do I. But the laws already exist to make an sizeable impact on the problem. Illegal vapes are being sold illegally to children up and down the country. The laws are simply not being enforced. Further legislation and taxation will not address this problem.



References

Cotti, C., Courtemanche, C., MacLean, J. C., Nesson, E., Pesko, M. and Tefft, N. (2022) The effects of e-cigarette taxes on e-cigarette prices and tobacco product sales: Evidence from retail panel data. Journal of Health Economics 86: 102676.

Hartmann-Boyce, J., Lindon, N., Butler, A. et al. (2022) Electronic cigarettes for smoking cessation. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews Issue 11.

McNeill, A., Simonavičius, E., Brose, L., Taylor, E., East, K., Zuikova, E., Calder, R. and Robson, D. (2022) Nicotine vaping in England: an evidence update including health risks and perceptions. Office for Health Improvement and Disparities. 29 September.

Pesko, M. F., Courtemanche, C. J. and MacLean, J. C. (2020) The effects of traditional cigarette and e-cigarette tax rates on adult tobacco product use. Journal of Risk and Uncertainty 60: 229-58.

Saffer, H., Dench, D., Grossman, M. and Dave, D. (2020) E-cigarettes and adult smoking: Evidence from Minnesota. Journal of Risk and Uncertainty 60: 207-28.



Wednesday 22 May 2024

Does alcohol misuse cost England £27 billion a year?

The UK Temperance Alliance Institute of Alcohol Studies has had a go at updating a 2003 Cabinet Office estimate of the societal cost of alcohol in England. It's new figure is £27 billion. There are many problems with this, as I explain at Conservative Home...
 

It’s a mark of how much the currency has been debased that £20 billion in 2001 would, if it kept pace with inflation, be worth £36 billion today.

That £20bn was the “societal cost” of alcohol to England in 2001, according to an economic analysis from the Cabinet Office. That estimate has never been officially revisited.

However, the neo-temperance Institute of Alcohol Studies (IAS) put out an unofficial update on Monday to coincide with a Health and Social Care Select Committee on the subject. IAS’s estimate is £27.4bn – and this is being touted as a 40 per cent increase; the Guardian ran with “alcohol abuse costs soar to £27bn a year” on its front page.

But this ignores inflation. In real terms, the costs have fallen by around 25 per cent, and both the Cabinet Office estimate and the new estimate are gross overestimates.

When I calculated the cost of alcohol misuse to the government in 2015, I arrived at a figure of £3.9bn. Updating my estimates with fresh data last week, it became clear that the total is still below £5 billion and is less than half of the amount the government rakes in from alcohol duty every year.

Why are my figures so different to those of the IAS?