Sunday, 24 June 2018

The growing war on food

Looks like the Tories have caved in to the nanny state vermin once again, this time on the pretext of tackling the non-existent childhood obesity 'epidemic'.

New measures to halve the number of obese children by 2030 have been announced by Health and Social Care Secretary Jeremy Hunt today.

Building upon the world-leading first chapter of the Childhood Obesity Plan, the new measures include proposals to mitigate ‘pester-power’ by preventing stores from displaying unhealthy food at checkouts or including it in buy-one-get-one-free deals.

We will consult on introducing clear, consistent calorie labelling on menus in restaurants, cafés and takeaways, so parents can make an informed choice about what their families are eating, and on banning the sale of harmful, caffeine laden energy drinks to children. A quarter of 6-9 year-olds consume these energy drinks, which have as much caffeine as a cup of coffee.

The Government is also today calling on industry to recognise the harm that constant adverts for foods high in fat, sugar and salt can cause, and will consult on introducing new TV and online advertising restrictions to prevent children from being targeted by these unhealthy products, and to incentivise companies to reduce the sugar and calories in the products they sell.

This could include extending the current advertising watershed and considering limiting the number of unhealthy food adverts shown during programmes children watch to 9pm.

We've seen how this works many times. The army of state-funded 'public health' groups will bombard the public consultation with identikit responses and accuse the government of being in the pocket of 'Big Food' if they don't introduce an advertising ban. Within a week they will have launched their next set of demands.

I put out a comment for the IEA yesterday:

“This is more big government interference to pile on top of the regressive sugar tax and the food reformulation scheme. A ban on so-called ‘junk food advertising’ before 9pm would treat everything from fruit juice to cheese as if it were soft porn. It would be a heavy blow to commercial broadcasters and would reduce the range and quality of TV shows. Most programmes after 6pm are watched by adults and it is adults who do the vast majority of food shopping. There is no need for censorship.

Calorie labelling on menus seems a nice idea in principle but the evidence from the USA shows that it has no impact on calorie consumption and obesity. It is likely to raise costs, especially for small businesses, and discourage restaurants from introducing new dishes."

Friday, 22 June 2018

Why 5%? The sugar guidelines revisited

Looking at those sugar guidelines for Spectator Health...

Earlier this week I suggested that the ‘extremely worrying’ news that children are eating twice as much sugar as the government recommends might have something to do with the government halving the recommendation. The change was made in 2015 based on advice given by the Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition (SACN) as part of its evidence review of carbohydrates. It recommended that people consume no more than five per cent of their calories from ‘free sugars’ (which includes sugar in honey and fruit juice). This was a significant change to the previous advice to consume no more than ten per cent of calories from ‘non-milk extrinsic sugars’ (which excludes honey and fruit juice).

In calorie terms, this implies daily limits of around 100 calories, down from the previous 200 calories. In layman’s terms, this means five or six sugar cubes for children under the age of 11 and seven sugar cubes for adults. The new guidelines are the lowest in the world and have been a boon for Action on Sugar who have issued press release after press release complaining that various everyday food products contain more than a day’s sugar.

The implication is that there is something inherently unsafe about consuming more than 30 grams of sugar in a day, but what? What harm will come to a 10 year old who consumes the recommended 2,000 calories a day but gets 200 of those from sugar rather than the recommended 100? Given that Britain’s food supply is being taxed, regulated and reformulated on the pretext of meeting this target, this is a question that should be asked more often. The answer, incredibly, is ‘nothing’.

Do read the rest.

Wednesday, 20 June 2018

Scotland's new tobacco plan unveiled

The Scottish government has just published the latest part of its plan to achieve tobacco prohibition 'a tobacco-free generation' by 2034. This target was set behind closed doors by politicians and state-funded pressure groups several years ago and attracted little public attention at the time. As the date gets closer, the government was always bound to resort to increasingly absurd and authoritarian measures.

And so it has proved. Since scraping the bottom of the barrel with plain packaging, the tobacco control racket has struggled to come up with any new ideas, but since ASH Scotland has to justify the hundreds of thousands of pounds it gets from Scottish taxpayers somehow, they've put their thinking caps on and these are some of its brain-farts that are now government policy...

Banning smoking in the home...

We will explore with local authorities and housing associations the idea of tobacco-free clauses in tenancy agreements and smoke-free housing alternatives being offered in social housing.

Restricting the number of shops that can sell tobacco...

Restricting the number and the clustering density of tobacco retailers could make tobacco products less available, and therefore could reduce smoking rates.

Making retailers jump through the hoops of an unnecessary licensing regime in the hope that they will decide that selling cigarettes is not worth the time and expense...

Conditional registration or licencing of retail or changes to planning guidance

One mechanism for introducing any new measures on the availability or the price of tobacco would be to introduce compliance conditions into our retail registration scheme or to introduce a form of licensing.

Extending plain packaging to reduced-harm heated tobacco products...

Introduce standardised packaging for HTP

HTP are not covered by legislation which makes packaging indistinctive or unattractive. 

Giving more money to hateful sockpuppet pressure groups...

We will continue to co-fund ASH Scotland to provide important information, advice and training on smoking and health.

Finally, and most insanely, mucking around with individual cigarettes...

There is some evidence that dissuasive colour or dissuasive messages on cigarettes could reduce the attractiveness of, and therefore the potential demand for, cigarettes. Other studies have considered composition – reducing the nicotine level or flavours that mask the true taste.

For the same reasoning which led to the introduction of standardised cigarette packaging, legislation could be made to make cigarettes less attractive. This could be done through changes to colour, composition and/or warning messages on each stick.

Where to begin with this drivel? Back in 2012, when Australia passed its plain packaging law, I asked...

...where will tobacco control go from here? With plain packaging in place, the extremists have exhausted all of the options I listed in the final chapter of Velvet Glove, Iron Fist. What fresh lunacy will follow? Warnings on individual cigarettes? Smoking licences? All out prohibition?

Warnings on individual cigarettes it is then. This preposterous idea was first floated by a particularly deranged Canadian anti-smoking fanatic in the 1980s but was never taken seriously. The idea of changing the colour of cigarettes was mooted in New Zealand a few years ago but, again, was considered a joke. Only now, after every other idea has been tried, is it becoming policy in Scotland. The desperation is palpable.

The proposal to restrict tobacco outlets will encourage the neo-temperance lobby who are keen to do likewise with alcohol outlets. They publish occasional bits of junk science linking the number of outlets to the amount of alcohol consumed in an area and imply that restricting availability would reduce consumption. This very obviously gets the link between supply and demand the wrong way around, but the Scottish government seems to have been hoodwinked by similar idiotic claims about tobacco...

We have reviewed evidence on the link between tobacco availability through retail outlets and local smoking rates. This suggests that restricting the number of outlets, particularly where smoking rates are highest (such as in more deprived communities) could have a positive effect on reducing smoking rates. 

I have only skimmed the highlights in this post. If you read the report you will find other illiberal policies, such as banning smoking outdoors, as well as bizarre claims such as 'long-term smoking contributes to obesity'.

These people are off their heads.

UPDATE: Pop over the Dick's place to see what they want to do to vaping.

Monday, 18 June 2018

An endless series of hobgoblins

Three years ago, the government halved the sugar guidelines. Last week, Public Health England wailed about the scandalous news that kids are consuming twice as much sugar as the government recommends.

I have written about this transparent propaganda trick for Spectator Health.

Friday, 15 June 2018

The Lancet has become a laughing stock

Richard Horton, the Marxist victim of a midlife crisis who has turned The Lancet into a student rag, holds forth in the current issue on the World Health Organisation's failure to endorse fizzy drink taxes as a 'best buy'. WHO's 'best buys' require a modicum of evidence showing that they do what they are supposed to do (not much, admittedly, but some). Leaving aside the question of whether the WHO should really be getting involved with the price of soft drinks, it is beyond dispute that sugary drink taxes have never reduced obesity anywhere in the world and so it is right that its committee rejected them.

It is not known how many countries objected to them being included, but one of them was certainly the USA. The USA has more experience with taxing soda than any other country, so it knows that they don't work.

Cue Richard Horton who bemoans the lack of a sugar tax in the final list of best buys while consoling himself that the sessions 'flushed out the chief opponent of political progress—the US Government'...

As Jamey Keaten and Maria Cheng reported for the Associated Press, it was the US representative on the Commission, Eric Hargan, who “torpedoed” efforts to add a recommendation on taxing sugar-sweetened beverages. Now we have a target: the US administration, which has adopted an anti-science position [!!!] on fiscal interventions and whose raison d'être is to defend health-harming industries. Second, the controversy over the Commission's report highlights the context of the debate about NCDs [noncommunicable diseases]—namely, the pervasive and escalating dangers of neoliberalism.

You have to remind yourself that you're not reading The Canary or The Morning Star. Let there be no doubt that the ludicrous battle against NCDs is part of a war on what Horton calls 'neoliberalism' but what most people call a market economy in which people get what they want rather than what arrogant elitists think they should have.

Thursday, 14 June 2018

The EU's taxpayer-funded racket

FOREST EU have recently published an interesting report about the army of NGOs in Brussels who exist solely to make smokers' lives miserable. You won't be surprised to hear that they are mainly funded by the EU (ie. by taxpayers). The four most vociferous anti-tobacco groups are shown below:

This is a racket, as the report suggests...

...the European Commission is proposing a particular policy framework and then funding groups to lobby them for the introduction of those very same policies.

The sums involved are far from trivial. The four groups listed above get more than €1.5 million a year between them and millions more are dished out to other supposedly 'non-governmental' organisations with similar agendas.

For example, I was interested to see that a group called TackSHS gets 100 per cent of its €750,000 budget from the EU. Their mission seems to be to get smoking banned in every conceivable place. Ever ready for the next logical step, they have moved beyond SHS (secondhand smoke) and are now looking at 'e-cigarette emission exposure'. In one of several studies they presented at the recent anti-tobacco conference in Cape Town, they claim that such secondhand vapour 'contains various toxic chemicals' and 'has potential adverse health effects in non users'. Your tax money at work.
This racket isn't confined to anti-smoking zealots, of course. As I outlined in Europuppets, single-issue campaigners of every hue can fill their pockets with our money so long as they say what the European Commission wants to hear. Can we leave yet?

Tuesday, 12 June 2018

Junk polling

Last week I argued that people who are in favour of a ban on 'junk food' advertising before 9pm don't know what they're supporting. When useful idiots like Jamie Oliver talk about 'junk food', they really mean HFSS food (high in fat, sugar or salt) and this is an extremely broad category that includes things like raisins, butter, mustard, yoghurt, jam, breakfast cereals and cheese.

Add this ignorance to the fact that most people don't care for advertising in general and it's no surprise that a majority supports such a prohibition. I mentioned a YouGov survey which found that 65 per cent of people surveyed support a watershed ban but I couldn't find the raw data on the YouGov website.

Yesterday, the Mirror reported that 76 per cent of Britons support a ban...

Celebrity chef Jamie Oliver, who has led calls for a ban through his #AdEnough campaign, said: “It’s great to see the support of the British public when it comes to the very logical idea of simply extending the current 6pm junk food advertising ban to 9pm."

This time I was able to find the survey results on the ComRes website. I suspected that the question would use the pejorative term 'junk food' rather than 'food that is high in fat, sugar or salt' and I wasn't wrong, but the survey question was even more misleading that I expected...

Do you agree or disagree with this statement? There should be a ban on junk food adverts targeted at children before 9pm.

How did 'targeted at children' get squeezed in there? The proposed ban has nothing to do with whether the ads are deemed to be 'targeted at children' nor will it only apply to programmes that are targeted at children (hardly any programmes shown between 6pm and 9pm are targeted at children in any meaningful way). The ban will apply to all programmes shown before 9pm and will apply to the vast range of products that are defined as HFSS by the puritanical Nutrient Profile Model (which is currently being revised so that it includes pure fruit juice, amongst other things, as a 'junk food').

This is dishonest polling. The proposal being considered by the government would ban an advert for Anchor spreadable butter during the Channel 4 News. No reasonable person would consider that to be a 'junk food advert targeted at children'.

There is no way the government could ban 'junk food adverts targeted at children' because there is no legal definition of 'junk food'. It would also be very difficult to decide if an advert was targeted at a child but this obstacle is not an insurmountable as the meaninglessness of the term 'junk food'. In any case, that is not what is being proposed.

By making emotive but irrelevant references to 'children' and 'junk', the survey is pushing respondents towards supporting a ban without giving them any idea of what it will entail. Indeed, they are being actively encouraged to believe that the ban will be far more limited in scope than is being proposed. As I said last week, they are being sold a pig in a poke.