Thursday 22 February 2024

Panama conversations

While I was in Panama recently for the Good COP conference, I met lots of interesting people. I interviewed two of them for the IEA podcast: David Williams, President of the Taxpayers Protection Alliance, and Prof Dr Rohan Andrade De Sequeira, a Consultant CardioMetabolic Physician from Mumbai, India. We talked about tobacco harm reduction and the damage done by the WHO's approach.

Have a listen.



Wednesday 21 February 2024

Normal for Tasmania


 
A Tasmania anti-smoking activist called Kathryn Barnsley has made a grotesque banner lying about e-cigarettes and has been telling vapers to look forward to getting mouth cancer. It is based on a dreadful case report in Pediatrics that should never have been published and is a new low even by Australian standards, as I explain in The Critic...
 

The claim that e-cigarettes caused the cancer in this instance rests solely on the fact that the patient was a vaper. He was also a former smoker of cigarettes who took up smoking marijuana after biting his tongue, but this gets short shrift as an explanation from the authors. His alcohol consumption is not mentioned at all. 

Case reports of this kind can be useful to medical practitioners but they were never designed to identify the cause of illnesses and they are totally incapable of doing so. Although vaping cannot be discounted as a risk factor for oral cancer, any investigation should begin by asking whether there has been a rise in young people getting oral cancer since e-cigarettes came on the scene and whether oral cancer is more common among vapers who have never smoked than among other nonsmokers. A case study of a solitary individual tells us absolutely nothing and looks more like exploitation of a personal tragedy than a serious scientific endeavour.




Friday 16 February 2024

A depressing conversation with Christopher Snowdon

It was a pleasure to sit down with Amul Pandya recently for a thoughtful chat on his Meeting People podcast. We discussed the abuse of statistics, social media, Rishi's tobacco ban, low grade politicians, daylight saving time, face masks, obesity and much more. You can watch it below or (I assume) download the audio wherever you get your podcasts.




Thursday 15 February 2024

McCarthyism as a protected philosophical belief

Jim McCambridge, a 'public health' zealot whom we have encountered before, is involved in a strange employment tribunal after York University found him guilty of bullying and harassment. He now claims that his dogmatic, anti-industry opinions are protected philosophical beliefs under the Equality Act.

I have written about this for The Critic.
 

McCambridge has taken his behaviour a worrying step further at the employment tribunal by portraying McKeganey’s association with York University as a real and present danger to people’s health. His argument, as summarised by the judge, is that:

The impact of Mr [sic] McKeganey’s relationship with the University of York would be to impact adversely on the health of some unidentified people in society. This was explained in two ways: firstly, that Mr [sic] McKeganey’s association with the University would improve his credibility. Because he (allegedly) supports tobacco companies, an improvement in his credibility will add greater weight to any support he gives to tobacco companies, thereby increasing the risk that more people will smoke and thereby impact on the health of those (unidentified) people. Secondly, that an association with Mr [sic] McKeganey by the university would undermine their criticism of tobacco companies thereby increasing the risk that more people might smoke similarly presenting an increase risk to those unidentified people.

Leaving aside the question of whether the tacit endorsement of an obscure academic by York University is ever likely to influence an individual’s decision to start smoking, this takes no-platforming to a new level. The clear implication is that anyone who might inadvertently increase the chances of an unidentified, theoretical person to start smoking is a health and safety risk. Furthermore, anyone who fails to ostracise such a person is also a threat to public health. The same presumably applies to alcohol and any of the growing number of adult activities that are now considered to be “public health” issues. This is a recipe for blanket censorship and cancel culture on steroids.

 


Wednesday 14 February 2024

Ultra-processed food labels

 

From the BBC...

Ultra-processed food should be clearly labelled - study

Ultra-processed foods should be clearly labelled, experts say.

Scientists said the warnings were needed as some ultra-processed foods could fall into the "healthy" green category of the "traffic-light" system.


Is that a problem with the labels or is it the problem with inventing an excessively broad category?
 

UCL senior research fellow and weight-management specialist Dr Adrian Brown told BBC News he had looked at a "meat alternative", for example.

"Generally, it can be considered highly processed - but if you look at front-of-package labelling for energy, fat, saturated fat and sugar, they're all green, which would be considered healthy," he said.


'Meat alternatives' offer a good opportunity to test the UPF theory. Run some trials to find out if they are associated with obesity and/or cancer. If they don't then the claim that UPFs are associated with obesity and cancer (which is made in the BBC article) is false.

The curious thing about the article is that no one is quoted saying that UPFs should be labelled and the only people mentioned consider it to be an open question as to whether UPFs as a category are bad for health. And although the headline seems to quote a study, the only study mentioned in the article has yet to be written.
 

Dr Brown's team at UCL have now begun a trial to see how healthy a UFP-only diet can be, compared with a minimally processed one, and whether guidance should be given to consumers.

"We're putting people on an eight-week diet which meets the government's recommendations for salt, fat, sugar and energy - what is considered healthy - and we're comparing the outcomes of them, related to weight and other changes in terms of health as well," he said.

 
Good stuff. Makes sure it's randomised and that people are given different versions of the same meal this time. Better still, change the methodology and give the control group a diet that is merely processed (not minimally processed or ultra-processed).

As for UPF's alleged relationship to cancer, it's worth reading this response from some scientists to the authors of a study who made that claim recently...

The authors conclude that “our results suggest that higher consumption of UPF increases the risk of cancer and cardiometabolic multimorbidity”, but their data only show that consumption of foods of animal origin and sugary or artificially sweetened beverages is associated with such a risk, which is not surprising.

This indicates that the association between UPF consumption and the risk of multimorbidity would disappear if the data were adjusted not only for the consumption of sugary or artificially sweetened beverages, but also for foods of animal origin at the same time. Indeed, in our opinion, the article underlines the absolute need to return to the evaluation of foods on the basis of their nutritional role (including their nutrient composition, quantities consumed, metabolic effects, etc.) and not on the basis of their degree of processing.

 
 Amen.
 


Monday 12 February 2024

COP 10 - what happened?

I got back from Panama City on Saturday after a great few days with some of the best people in tobacco harm reduction. The Taxpayers Protection Alliance did a terrific job of running an alternative conference to the WHO farce and it was good to speak to so many journalists who had come from far and wide.

Inside the WHO conference, who knows what went on? The meeting is so secretive that outsiders can only feed off scraps. From what I can tell, there was no success in getting the corrupt and incompetent WHO to endorse products like e-cigarettes but nor was it able to toughen its stance against them. A whole bunch of public sector troughers got a little holiday in Latin America and very little was achieved. We can perhaps call it a defensive win.

This account from EU Reporter is worth reading:
 

The WHO’s tenth conference of the parties (COP10) to its Framework Convention on Tobacco Control has spent the week in heavily defensive mode. Like many journalists, I was refused accreditation but that made little difference as the conference voted to exclude the press. That was shortly after the organisers cut off the microphone of a delegate who had the temerity to suggest that the priority should be harm reduction.

 It might seem an obvious point that harm reduction -getting people to stop smoking cancer-causing cigarettes- should be the focus but it’s hard to overstate how heretical that view has become. Science has gone out of the window and when another delegate posted a mocked-up picture of a ‘cancer flavour’ vape it went viral. 

The conference organisers took no action over this incident. They were too busy getting the Panamanian authorities to stop consumer activists handing out leaflets to delegates urging them to support e-cigarettes and other non-combustible alternatives to smoking.

 
Panama itself tells you a great deal about what happens when countries embrace the neo-prohibitionist approach, as I explained in The Critic...
 

Panama has done everything the WHO has recommended. E-cigarettes are not only illegal to sell, but are illegal to use. Smoking is banned almost everywhere, including on roof top bars and within two metres of buildings. No smoking signs are invariably accompanied by no vaping signs. Tobacco is heavily taxed and tobacco products come with graphic warnings.

Panama has a low smoking rate but it had a low smoking rate long before it introduced any of these policies. What it also has is an extraordinarily large black market in tobacco. 92 per cent of all cigarettes sold are counterfeit, a fact that is bizarrely advertised by Panama’s health department on billboards. Single cigarettes and cigars are sold by children on the street. Unregulated vaping products are openly sold on street corners. Despite the sale of e-cigarettes being illegal, I saw an advertisement for one in the middle of Panama City. The laws on smoking and vaping in public are casually and routinely flouted, especially in bars. On paper, Panama is a model of neo-prohibitionist tobacco control. That is why the WHO decided to come here. But outside the conference centre, the reality is very different.

 
It's worth remembering that the WHO treaty that spawned all these COP meetings is so ineffective that a study published in the British Medical Journal in 2019 found “no evidence to indicate that global progress in reducing cigarette consumption has been accelerated by the FCTC treaty mechanism.”
 
There's lots of content from the alternative conference here if you want to catch up or get a flavour. Regulator Watch also ran regular shows throughout the week. The one below is from the first day and features me towards the end.




Monday 5 February 2024

Greetings from Panama

I am currently in Panama as a guest of the Taxpayers Protection Alliance at their Good COP meeting, held as a truthful alternative to the WHO’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) Conference of the Parties (COP). Don’t be fooled by the word 'tobacco' there. These days, the WHO is all about suppressing e-cigarettes.

Also with me are the campaigners Mark Oates and Martin Cullip, and the researchers Konstantinos Farsalinos, Riccardo Polosa and Roberto Sussman, plus many more.

 We will be broadcasting and podcasting throughout the week. See the full programme for details.