Thursday, 18 October 2018

Taxpayer-funded pressure group wants higher taxes

The Public Health (Alcohol) Bill passed in Ireland two weeks ago. Temperance lobbyists around the world are drooling in anticipation because it includes many of their favourite neo-prohibitionist policies, notably minimum pricing, cancer warnings, severe advertising restrictions and a display ban of sorts.

For the sake of Irish consumers, I'd sooner this law hadn't been passed but the consolation is that I can watch these wrong-headed policies fail. I doubt that many small shops will bother with the booze burqa and the Irish government will spend years battling the EU over mandatory health warnings.

Irish nanny statists were hoping that Northern Ireland would bring in minimum pricing at the same time as the Republic, but there's no government in Northern Ireland so that won't be happening any time soon, and with the unit price set at €1 (88p)* there will be plenty of activity over that precious soft border.

Loyal readers will recall that the Public Health (Alcohol) Ireland Bill was sold to the public by Alcohol Action Ireland, which is almost entirely funded by taxpayers. In case the sockpuppetry wasn't obvious enough, they set up another group - the Alcohol Health Alliance - which was specifically and explicitly created ‘to support the Public Health (Alcohol) Bill’. In addition to writing submissions to government as ‘an independent [sic] voice for advocacy and policy change’ and promoting the legislation in the media, Alcohol Action Ireland set up a webpage which enabled its supporters to lobby their parliamentary representative with a standardised e-mail (‘I urge you to please support the implementation of the Public Health (Alcohol) Bill, in full’ etc.). In 2016, Ireland’s Department of Health gave Alcohol Action Ireland an additional €75,000 ‘to engage with the EU to build support for the Public Health (Alcohol) Bill’.

Government lobbying government doesn't get more blatant than this. The money given to these campaigners by government was, as one Irish politician noted 'a circular kind of transaction'.

Despite the British government's anti-sockpuppet grant standards, sockpuppetry remains rife in Britain too, especially in the local and devolved governments (where the clause doesn't apply). Take Balance Northeast, for instance. Wholly funded by the hard-pressed taxpayers in the north-east via 14 local authorities, they produced a press release today in advance of the Budget:

Strong support for higher alcohol taxes to help fund public services

New figures released today show that nearly half (49%) of North Easterners support increasing alcohol taxes if the money raised went into funding public services impacted by alcohol use, such as the NHS and police.

So less than half of North Easterners support increasing alcohol taxes even if they are told that the money will be hypothecated for the NHS and police, which it won't be. Not exactly a thumping mandate, but Balance commissioned the survey and had to make the best of it.

A better question might have been 'Would you support using more of the £13 billion drinkers pay in alcohol taxes to pay for alcohol-related services?' Or perhaps 'Would you support defunding temperance pressure groups like Balance Northeast to pay for alcohol-related services?'

Instead, drinkers and non-drinkers alike are forced to pay for parasitic organisations like Balance Northeast to lobby for still higher taxes. It really beggars belief that, after years of 'austerity' which have seen severe budget cuts in local government, local authorities are still squandering taxpayers' money on these people.

* An Irish unit is 10 grams of alcohol. The equivalent of a UK unit will be €0.80 (70p).

Wednesday, 17 October 2018

Too hot for TV

There's a fun Twitter account called @ClassicAds that shows old TV commercials, mostly from the 1980s. If you're British, over 40 and fancy a trip down memory lane, have a look at some of the adverts below.

They all have something in common. If they were made now, it would be against the law to show them before 9pm under the government's ridiculous childhood obesity strategy. Yes, even the ones for butter and orange juice. I dare say many of them breach some regulation or other as it is.

Nobody really knows how many kids were obese in the 1980s (nobody really knows how many are obese now), but the number was pretty small. Perhaps the government is - as John Stuart Mill might say - interfering wrongly and in the wrong place?

Monday, 15 October 2018

Minimum pricing and the reverse Midas touch of 'public health'

More evidence that the Sheffield minimum pricing model was flim flam...

This follows the release of data from the Retail Data Partnership which found the following trend in convenience stores:

Brian Eagle-Brown of The Retail Data Partnership (TRDP) gave an overview of convenience performance in recent months, noting that alcohol sales were up “across the board” since the implementation of MUP.

“What was unexpected is that the result of minimum pricing is not declining, but actually increasing alcohol sales. Gin sales are up 90% year on year,” he said.

And as a fun bonus:

In news that may further disappoint policy makers, sales of full sugar soft drinks also appear to have been largely unaffected by the introduction of the sugar tax.

Brian’s TRDP colleague James Loker said that there “had not been a massive impact” from the sugar tax, and that “essentially sugary drinks are doing as well as they always have, and in some cases actually better.”

TRDP data revealed that the drinks most disadvantaged by the tax were those that opted for a formula change, with Irn-Bru and Ribena suffering a sales downturn.

Oh dear, what a shame, never mind.

I'll just leave this here lest we forget...

Friday, 12 October 2018

Questions to which the answer is yes

The BBC asks are we are living in a nanny state? In the article, my classical liberal stance is described as ‘ultra-libertarian’ while a ‘conservative’ makes the Orwellian argument that bans give people more choice. It’s a pretty good illustration of how much the centre of gravity has moved in this debate over the years. Do have a read of it.

Meanwhile the government wants to regulate pizza toppings. Only an ultra-libertarian could disagree!

Thursday, 11 October 2018

The strange death of the liberal Netherlands

The Netherlands comes a respectable 24th out of 28th in the Nanny State Index (the fewer points, the freer the country). It's not quite as good as Germany on lifestyle liberty but it's definitely in the green zone. Its reputation as a liberal haven has been largely well earned.

That could soon change. I mentioned on Monday that the Dutch health minister, Paul Blokhuis, wants to fast-track plain packaging through the Dutch parliament. He also wants to introduce minimum pricing so that the price of a crate of beer doubles from €10 to €20. He wants to emulate the UK's food degradation programme and he wants to copy Chile's ban on the use of recognisable characters on food packaging.

As if that weren't enough, he wants to ban smoking on terraces, stop supermarkets selling cigarettes and include e-cigarettes in both the country's smoking ban and the plain packs legislation.

And he can do most of this without the need for primary legislation. Plain packaging is scheduled to be passed before the month is out. By this time next year, the Netherlands could jump from the bottom end of the Nanny State Index to the top.

What the hell's going on? To understand, you need to look at last year's election. As often happens under proportional representation, there was no outright winner and a four party coalition was required to govern. This turned into a complex and lengthy process. In the end, the largest party - the People's Party for Freedom and Democracy - formed a coalition with Democrats 66, Christian Democratic Appeal and the Christian Union.

Mr Blokhuis is from the Christian Union. They came eighth in the election with just 3.4 per cent of the vote. They only won five of the 150 seats available but since nobody wanted to deal with Geert Wilders' Party for Freedom, and the People's Party for Freedom and Democracy couldn't get on with the Greens, the Socialists or the Labour party, they somehow got into government.

The Christian Union is a socially conservative party rooted in the Protestant church. Unsurprisingly, they have a moralistic view of 'vice' and their price for going into coalition was that Blokhuis be made health minister so he could introduce a 'National Prevention Agreement' with a raft of nanny state measures.

None of the policies being proposed by the Christian Union are supported by credible evidence, but I doubt that will concern them. It's not about health. It's a moral crusade.

I don't know what the prospects are of stopping any of this. It doesn't sound like the kind of thing that is going to be popular with the average Dutch voter, which is why so few of them voted for Blokhuis's band of religious zealots in the first place. But it looks like the 'public health' racket has a new hero in the making.

Wednesday, 10 October 2018

They wouldn't let it lie

The anti-drink lobby

This is turning into my favourite story of the year and it just keeps getting funnier. From The Times...

Experts threaten public health body over link to drink industry

Hundreds of top academics have threatened to stop advising Public Health England unless it abandons plans to work with the alcohol industry.

Excellent. Shut the door on your way out.

This is all because PHE teamed up with Drinkaware to promote abstinence from alcohol on at least two days a week. Drinkaware is a charity set up by the government to promote responsible drinking. It gets most of its funding from alcohol companies and so, according to temperance dogma, is part of the 'alcohol industry'. And, according to 'public health' dogma, governments can't work with industries because they are evil.

The academics say they are “alarmed” that PHE is unconcerned by Drinkaware’s industry funding despite “clear-cut examples of inaccurate information on Drinkaware’s website.”

The claim that there is inaccurate information on the Drinkaware website is a lie based on a deeply dishonest piece of work by Mark Petticrew and a Twitter thread by Colin Angus, both of whom are signatories.

Other signatories include Petra Meier (Sheffield modeller), John Holmes (Sheffield modeller), Richard Horton (Marxist Lancet editor), Tim Lang (corn laws aficionado), Gerard Hastings ("the corporation will get you in the end"), David Miller (tinfoil hat wearer) and John Britton (anti-smoking fanatic). Even Kate Pickett, co-author of The Spirit Level, has signed it. It's a veritable Who's Who of quackademia.

John Holmes of the University of Sheffield, who organised the letter, said that while academics would not abandon PHE overnight, they would lessen co-operation if they felt they could no longer trust the agency.

A terrifying proposition! Alas, PHE supremo Duncan Selbie is having none of it...

Mr Selbie said yesterday: “Drinkaware is not the alcohol industry, rather an education charity with millions of unique visitors each year. We are taking this opportunity to ensure the advice it gives is evidenced, pragmatic and sensible. The health harms of alcohol require action. Public health has always involved controversy and we will not shy away from this."

The Times also gives them short shrift. They didn't publish the letter and instead put a story about the epidemic of teetotalism among the young on the front page. They also dedicated a leading editorial to slapping them down:

There is no good case for PHE to accede to the critics’ demands. The academics’ letter claims that “the reputational risk to the agency’s status as a provider of impartial, evidence-based advice is significant”. The critics also complain that the message on responsible drinking is part of a wider campaign on public health, and that it thereby links an industry-funded body with the notion of healthy lifestyles. Yet Drinkaware is not a front for the alcohol industry. It is an independent body whose funding comes from drinks companies rather than from the taxpayer. Provided that the relationship is transparent, it is benign and the joint campaign’s output can help Britain’s drinking culture for the public good.

The campaigning message is both sensible and realistic. The chief medical officer’s recommended upper limit for alcohol consumption is, for both sexes, 14 units a week, to limit the risk of cancer or liver damage. The campaign targets drinkers between the ages of 30 and 45 who typically drink wine, beer or spirits regularly above these medical guidelines. These recreational drinkers do not necessarily have an obvious problem of susceptibility to alcohol but they need to be aware of the risks to their health and wellbeing of regular, excessive consumption.

The very idea of a measurable “unit” of alcohol (about half a standard 175ml glass of red wine) may itself be unfamiliar to the public. Drinkaware has addressed the issue of public recognition, with mnemonics and slogans in pubs and by encouraging two “dry” days each week.

This is sound advice. Mr Selbie should not allow academics’ purist objections to the drinks industry to override his responsibility to work with it to develop a pragmatic approach to public education. Consumption of alcohol, which is pleasurable to many, is not in the same category as the use of tobacco products, which are intrinsically harmful and addictive. A successful drinks industry has social responsibilities. PHE is right to harness them in this initiative.

I strongly suspect that The Times is more in tune with public opinion than the people who signed the letter. The great thing about this story is that the 'public health' people just don't get it. It's obvious that PHE are not going to back down and there is no pressure from the public for them to do so. And yet they keep doubling down.

In their letter, they write...

“That PHE is seemingly not worried about such activity or believes that it is not vulnerable to industry influence is troubling” 

Do they really think that they are going to win over PHE by implying that they are gullible fools who are 'vulnerable to industry influence'? The egos of these people are the size of a planet. The more they scream and stamp their feet, the more obvious it becomes to PHE and the public that they are fanatics.

Normal people do not think that alcohol is as bad as tobacco. Normal people do not think that working with an industry-funded charity is unacceptable (or, indeed, working with industry - most people work for an industry). These beliefs are only considered normal in the 'public health' bubble. Expose them to sunlight and people are going to laugh at them.


I have sent a e-mail to Duncan Selbie in his darkest hour...


Tuesday, 9 October 2018

Stanton Glantz pays $150,000 to settle sexual harassment lawsuit

According to Planet of the Vapes, anti-smoking campaigner and alleged sex pest Stanton Glantz has settled his sexual harassment lawsuit out of court. In December last year, alleged sex pest Glantz denied claims that he had sexually harassed post-doctoral student Eunice Neeley. The alleged sex pest was also accused of taking her name off a paper she had worked on and making racist remarks. Another woman filed a similar lawsuit against the alleged sex pest in March.

It now seems that Stanton Glantz, an alleged sex pest, has settled out of court with Dr Neeley after paying her $150,000. You can read the whole document here. The other lawsuit is yet to be settled.

I recommend reading this Carl Phillips post about the academic fraud angle that has been overshadowed by the other allegations.