Wednesday, 28 July 2021

The lying, incompetent World Health Organisation

Having done such a cracking job with COVID-19, the WHO has gone back to doing what it loves best - scaremongering about vaping. It has put out one of its infamous Twitter threads with the usual half-truths and outright lies.
As one wag said on Twitter, it's nice that the WHO has finally noticed the existence of aerosols (having denied that SARS-CoV-2 was airborne for so long), but they've taken it too far this time. 
What is the evidence for any of these claims? There is no epidemiological evidence that vaping causes these diseases. Even the report the WHO is promoting with this thread does not present any evidence that vaping causes cancer or heart disease. The only reference to lung disease is a reference to the 'popcorn lung' myth and the EVALI outbreak that was not caused by vaping nicotine. Let's be blunt about it. The WHO is lying.

That is hardly surprising since the report itself is brought to you by billionaire prohibitionist Michael Bloomberg. 
The chances of a report written by the WHO and funded by Bloomberg saying anything useful about e-cigarettes are negligible. Sure enough, it presents tiny and/or hypothetical risks as proven and proven benefits as hypothetical. In the process, it resurrects several objections to vaping from the stone age. Remember when anti-smoking groups said vaping needed to be banned indoors because it's hard to tell the difference between vaping and smoking (it isn't)? That's in there. Remember the nonsense about how vaping 'renormalises' smoking (it doesn't)? That's in there too. 

ENDS are harmful. For example, nicotine can have deleterious impacts on brain development, leading to long-term consequences for children and adolescents in particular (15).

Reference 15 is a speculative article based on a web search for information about oxidative stress which concludes that e-cigarettes "could potentially play a role in adolescent/young adults social maladjustments". Could potentially! 
Nicotine doesn't have a deleterious impact on adult brains (quite the reverse) and it is unlikely to have such an effect on a teenager's brain. In any case, the sale of e-cigarettes is banned to 'children' so it's irrelevant. 

And then we have the old chestnut about the gateway effect...

Children and adolescents that use ENDS are more than twice as likely to use conventional cigarettes.

This features prominently in the report and in the WHO's Twitter thread. If ever there were a case of correlation not equalling causation, it is this. Studies will keep finding this correlation until the cows come home because there is no way of controlling the results for an individual's like or dislike of nicotine, as Carl Phillips has expertly explained

As for the crucial matter of vaping being the most effective way to give up smoking in history, the WHO remains unconvinced, despite this question being the only one that has been answered by multiple randomised controlled trials and unmistakable real world evidence. 

This sums up the report. Any old supposition is good enough for the WHO is it suggests risk, but even the strongest evidence is downplayed or denied when it comes to benefits. 

Incidentally, this is also apparent in the chapter about Covid and smoking. After claiming that e-cigarettes 'are thought to play an unfavourable role in COVID-19 severity' and asserting that 'evidence on the biological mechanisms linking to COVID-19 and tobacco use is growing', the WHO addresses the small matter of dozens of epidemiological studies showing smokers are less likely to get COVID-19. Naturally, the WHO is unconvinced and provides a page of caveats and whataboutery to downplay these findings before demanding a 'large prospective cohort study' to prove it. 

Tellingly, they do not demand the same strength of evidence when claiming that vaping causes cancer or nicotine damages the brain - or indeed that 'smoking worsens Covid outcomes'. That's because this is not a scientific report. It is prohibitionist propaganda.

Earlier this week, Philip Morris called for cigarettes to be banned by 2030. Now the World Health Organisation has gone out to bat for the cigarette trade.

Funny old world. Funny old World Health Organisation.

Defund it.

Tuesday, 27 July 2021

Tobacco: Australia's new drug war


As authorities target illicit tobacco imports, criminal groups are turning their attention to farming their own crops across regional Australia.

Illicit Tobacco Taskforce Australian Border Force Commander Greg Linsdell said that in the past 12 months there had been a significant increase in seizures involving the domestic growth of illicit tobacco as criminal groups look to maintain their supply after COVID-19 impacted imports.

Incredibly, it has been illegal to grow tobacco in Australia for over a decade and you can get ten years in prison for doing so. People banned from growing plants? It sounds like the War on Drugs and that is basically what Australia is working towards with tobacco.
Unsurprisingly, it has led to all the problems you associate with the drugs war, notably rampant criminality and an industrial scale black market. 

Authorities are also contending with huge illicit tobacco importation attempts. In the most recent fiscal year until the end of May, the ABF seized 512 million cigarettes, a 36 per cent increase from the previous year. The force also seized 748 tonnes of loose-leaf tobacco, compared to 167 tonnes the previous year.

The 2020-21 haul is equivalent to an estimated $1.7 billion in evaded duty – a record amount, compared to an estimated $621 million in evaded duty from the previous year.

During the final week of May, the ABF intercepted almost 10 tonnes of loose-leaf tobacco and more than 7.3 million cigarettes via sea cargo.

It should never be forgotten that this is a totally avoidable political choice. If the government respected people's right to smoke and didn't force the price of cigarettes up to a level that is literally prohibitive, none of this would happen. And maybe you shouldn't have banned e-cigarettes too, eh?

Minister for Home Affairs Karen Andrews said the federal government remained committed to stopping the illegal trade at the border.

“Every time someone uses illicit tobacco, they’re denying the community legitimate tax revenue that funds our schools, hospitals, and roads,” she said. 

It's not legitimate tax revenue though, is it Karen? It's extortion. Your government has set it at such a punitive rate that many smokers have no choice but to buy illicit and none of them have a moral duty to send more money to a government that openly despises them. 

"They’re also playing into the hands of serious and organised criminals, who often import illicit tobacco and sell it to fund importations of harder drugs."

Maybe so, but you were warned about this plenty of times and you preferred to listen to unscrupulous shysters from 'public health' waving around worthless studies claiming that tax rises don't fuel the illicit trade.
Good luck with your new drug war. 

See here and here for more examples of Australia's self-inflicted wound.

Vapers deserve to be angry – they are under attack

First published by Spectator Health in June 2015

There is a perception – on Twitter at least – that vapers are angry and abusive. Ben Goldacre recently described ‘e-cigarette campaigners’ as ‘vile… obsessive, vindictive, abusive, and to an extent that is clearly dubious’. This inevitably led to a string of replies from bewildered vapers that may have confirmed his view, although the vast majority were polite.

From what I’ve seen, vapers are no more likely to be offensive than any other punter on social media, which is admittedly a low bar. After the referendum on Scottish independence and the general election, not to mention the periodic bursts of outrage for which Twitter is notorious, I have seen much worse in recent months than a few e-cigarette users complaining about junk science and needless, destructive legislation. If the people who disagree with ‘austerity’, for example, or with the opinions of Laurie Penny, expressed themselves in the same way, Twitter would be a more courteous and eloquent place.

That is not to say that vapers are not angry but, as this week’s announcement of a ban on vaping in Wales shows, they have just cause. Banning vaping indoors is such a criminally stupid and negligent idea that even the prohibitionists at Action on Smoking and Health are opposed to it. The unintended consequences are utterly predictable. Once people who have switched from smoking to vaping are thrown outside, they may come to the conclusion that they might as well smoke. Meanwhile, smokers who might switch to vaping have one less incentive to do so. The negative effect on health is plain to see, even if we ignore the glaring fact that none of this is the government’s business.

Vapers have every right to be outraged by this evidence-free attack on a habit that is not only harmless to bystanders but positively beneficial to them personally as erstwhile smokers. This is the important point to remember about so-called ‘e-cigarette campaigners’. They used to be smokers. You know how some ex-smokers can seem a little self-righteous and pleased with themselves? Vapers have taken that sense of triumph and channelled it into promoting – or, at least, protecting – the product that helped them quit.

As smokers, vapers spent years being taxed, demonised and kicked into the street. Anti-smoking campaigners would never put it in such blunt terms, but their objective is to make smokers’ lives so miserable that they decide to quit smoking. Vapers did quit smoking, often to their own surprise. They did exactly what was asked of them, but instead of being embraced by their old tormentors, they found themselves with another battle to fight.

The last few years have seen an extraordinarily dishonest campaign of misinformation against e-cigarettes that is as bad as anything I have seen from the ‘public health’ lobby. There has been a concerted effort to portray e-cigarettes as a ‘gateway’ to tobacco, despite all the evidence showing that they are a gateway from tobacco. They have been accused of ‘renormalising’ smoking without a scintilla of evidence. Misleading research has led to numerous unfounded scare stories in the press. Newspaper columnists have written ridiculous articles without doing the most basic fact-checking. Senior medics have explicitly told the public that e-cigarettes are no safer than real cigarettes. At the same time, ordinary vapers who never had any intention of becoming campaigners – and, indeed, are not campaigners – have been accused of being shills for e-cigarette and/or tobacco companies for doing no more than trying to put the record straight.

The irony is that if vapers on social media were part of an ‘astro-turf’ campaign for industry, they would not speak out as bluntly as they do. The ‘public health’ lobby is quite comfortable dealing with the pitched battles that come from having a polite, professional and organised opposition. It is the public they can’t handle.

Stanton Glantz, an activist-academic at UCSF says that he receives ‘hyper-aggressive’ responses whenever he posts a blog about e-cigarettes while Martin McKee, a professor of public health, says: ‘Anyone who suggests e-cigarettes are anything short of miraculous seems to be targeted’. This is a little disingenuous. Glantz and McKee have done rather more than suggest that e-cigarettes are not miraculous. McKee wants e-cigarettes to be regulated as if they were medicines while Glantz has helped bring about the banning of not only the use, but also the possession, of e-cigarettes on his campus in San Francisco.

These are people who have the power to turn their thoughts into deeds. They do not need to attack e-cigarette users verbally, though some do. Last year, the president of the UK Faculty of Public Health was suspended after a late-night Twitter binge in which he used such colourful phrases as ‘obsessive compulsive abusive onanist,’ ‘slave to addiction’ and ‘c***’ to describe e-cigarette users. He was later reinstated and the UK Faculty of Public Health is loudly supporting the Welsh vaping ban in the media this week.

If vapers are frustrated, it is because they are the helpless against the powerful. Combine the sense of righteousness that comes from being an ex-smoker with the sense of injustice that comes from hearing endless lies about something that is dear to you, you have a recipe for righteous indignation. There will be a lot of it around this week, quite justifiably.

Friday, 23 July 2021

A swift half with Kristian Niemietz

Here it is! The Swift Half with my friend and colleague, Kristian Niemietz...

Thursday, 22 July 2021

Last Orders with Leo Kearse

There's anew episode of the Last Orders podcast out, with the comedian Leo Kearse. We discuss censorship in comedy, Henry Dimbleby's lust for food taxes and 'Freedom Day'.

A new Swift Half with Snowdon will be coming soon.

Wednesday, 21 July 2021

You can eat a healthy diet for next to nothing. Here’s the proof

First published by Spectator Health in March 2017

It is a common belief in some circles that a healthy diet is unaffordable. Last year, the chair of the Royal College of GPs said fruit and vegetables were so expensive that it was unrealistic to expect people on low incomes to eat their five-a-day. As five-a-day morphs into ten-a-day, the Food Foundation said at the weekend that people on low incomes would find it ‘impossible’ to eat 10 portions of fruit and vegetables. Meanwhile, fast food chains like McDonald’s are blamed for filling our stomachs with ‘cheap junk food’ and there are growing calls for taxes on ‘unhealthy’ food to address the supposed imbalance between expensive good food and inexpensive bad food.

These beliefs have never been supported by much evidence, however. The Food Foundation says that ‘healthy foods are three times more expensive calorie for calorie than unhealthy foods’, but measuring the cost of food by the calorie — as some studies do — tells us nothing about the price of a healthy diet. By this measure, a low-calorie yoghurt would appear more expensive than a high-calorie yoghurt despite both products costing 50p each. You’d obviously need to buy more of the low-calorie yoghurts if you wanted to consume 1,000 calories, but that is not a useful measure in modern Britain where consuming enough calories to survive is not the problem. For most people, the challenge is to consume fewer of them.

The real question, therefore, is whether it is cheaper to live off processed food and takeaways than to eat a nutritious, balanced diet. The government’s Eatwell Guide recommends a diet that is heavy on fruit, vegetables, starchy carbohydrates and white meat. All of these can be bought from supermarkets at prices that would have amazed your grandparents. As I show in a new report from the Institute of Economic Affairs, rice, potatoes and pasta can be bought for less than 5p per serving. Grapes, oranges and bananas cost less than 30p per serving and apples and pears can be bought for less than 10p. An 80 gram serving of carrots, tinned tomatoes, peas or cabbage costs less than 8p.

All told, it is possible to have your five-a-day for less than 30p and a nutritious, if plain, diet can be bought for less than £1 a day. Add some muesli, bread, chicken fillets, fish and jam, and you can have a tastier and more varied diet for less than £2 a day.

Compare that to the cost of ‘junk food’. Chocolate breakfast cereals are twice as expensive as bran flakes or muesli. The cheapest own-brand ready-meals cost at least £1 each. Sugary snacks are almost invariably more expensive than apples or pears. An 80 gram serving of crisps is four times more expensive than an 80 gram portion of banana or broccoli, and sugary drinks are not only more expensive than water but are often more expensive than low-calorie soft drinks such as diet lemonade and sugar-free orange squash.

Furthermore, if you compare the diet version of products to their originals, they are usually the same price or less. Brown bread costs the same as white bread, light baked beans cost the same as standard baked beans, light mayonnaise costs the same as full-fat mayonnaise, skimmed milk costs the same as whole milk, and so on. You cannot blame financial constraints on people’s reluctance to buy them.
And it should go without saying that buying the ingredients for a healthy meal costs less than going to a fast food chain. The cheapest adult meal in McDonald’s costs around £4.50. A single meal for a family of four costs the best part of twenty quid.

This is not to say that a bad diet has to be expensive. If you want to live off frozen pizzas, chips and sausages you can do so for a relative pittance. Food, in general, has never been cheaper. But a diet of stereotypical ‘junk food’ is not cheaper than a healthy diet and is usually more expensive.

Unless you have servants to do your shopping, this probably seems obvious. The theory that Britain has high rates of obesity because healthy food is unaffordable is flawed on every level. It does not explain why obesity has increased while food prices have fallen to historic lows, nor does it explain why obesity rates are higher in rich countries than in poor countries. It does not explain why people fail to buy more fruit and vegetables when they become richer and it does not explain the high rate of obesity among people on middle and high incomes.

Why, then, do so many take the lazy assumption that healthy food is expensive at face value? In part, it is because some health campaigners want to portray obesity as an economically driven phenomenon in order to justify taxes and subsidies on food, but there are other reasons. According to a study in the Journal of Consumer Research, people assume that expensive food products are healthier even when they are not. The mere existence of a price premium seems to imply health benefits to some consumers. Organic and gluten-free food, in particular, are assumed to be healthier as a result of their price and because of the exaggerated claims made on their behalf.

The chef Anthony Warner argues that fad diets and wellness gurus ‘focus almost solely on exclusive, exotic ingredients’ such as quinoa and chia seeds at the expense of ‘cheap, easily consumed sources of valuable nutrition like carrots, potatoes, bread and cheese’. If you assume that ‘healthy’ means organic, imported or gluten-free then you will end up spending more money but there are plenty of unpretentious, nutritious fruits and vegetables available on supermarket shelves for next-to-nothing.
Meanwhile, ‘cheap junk food’ is not so cheap, in relative terms. The appeal of Big Macs, ready meals, frozen pizzas and chocolate fudge cake is not that they are cheap but that they are tasty, convenient and require no cooking skills. These are things that people are prepared to pay a premium for — and they do. Price is not unimportant, but if it was the main determinant of dietary choices, we would all be eating ten-a-day.

Tuesday, 20 July 2021

No global booze taxes, UK tells WHO

The UK government has responded to the World Health Organisation's draft action plan on alcohol. The corrupt and incompetent WHO has shifted the goalposts with its Global Alcohol Strategy. It wants to move away from a target of reducing alcohol-related harm by ten per cent worldwide to reducing alcohol consumption by twenty per cent worldwide. This is not going to happen (it wants to do this by 2030!) and there is no economic or ethical justification for it. 

It also wants member states to raise taxes on alcohol and give the money to the WHO. And it wants a Framework Convention on Alcohol Control modelled on the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (we tried to warn you this would happen).

The UK, quite rightly, is not having this. In some curt comments at the end of the UK's response (p. 490), HM Treasury tells the WHO where it can stick its FCAC and its global alcohol tax.

HM Treasury (HMT) are carrying out a review of alcohol duty. HMT is not in agreement to a direction of travel that seeks to put alcohol on the same footing as tobacco. Particularly the mooted suggestion of creating a FCTC-equivalent for alcohol, as this would be unviable. 
HMT further commented on the action points in section 6: 
  • Global target 6.1: 50% of countries have increased available resources for reducing the harmful use of alcohol and increasing coverage and quality of prevention and treatment interventions for disorders due to alcohol use and associated health conditions. 
  • Global target 6.2: An increased number of countries with earmarked funding from alcohol tax revenues for reducing the harmful use of alcohol and increasing coverage and quality of prevention and treatment interventions for disorders due to alcohol use and associated health conditions. 
This would not be supported in any way. It’s antithetical to HMT to hypothecate taxes, and we would say that resourcing of alcohol prevention/treatment is a matter for member states in line with their national circumstances and not something to be determined by WHO targets.

That's them told. Maybe the WHO should spend a bit more time working on infectious diseases and a bit less time worrying about what people drink.

Note that the document says that hypothecated taxes as 'antithetical' to the Treasury. Bad news for anyone who believes that the revenues from Henry Dimbleby's proposed sugar and salt taxes would be earmarked for cuddly causes. Remember how campaigners said the revenue from the sugary drink tax would go towards school sports and breakfast clubs? It never happened.