Wednesday, 20 September 2023

Last Orders live

I hope you're coming to this year's Battle of Ideas. If you do, come along to the first ever Last Orders Live where me and Tom will be talking to some special guests about the stories of the day.

If you don't, you can always listen to the podcast later, but you won't have as much fun.

Tickets here. There's an early bird offer until next Monday.

Tuesday, 19 September 2023

Ignore the public

I've written something on my Substack about why politicians need to make decisions when the public want things that are directly contradictory. You can't have it all and it seems to me that, in practice, people want jobs and money rather than the luxury policies that too many politicians focus on.

It is time for the public to understand what the trade-offs are. They need to be told that yes, you can have all the stuff you say you want - nutrient neutrality, silent city centres, triple lock pensions, net zero, protectionism, bans on everything you don’t like, 20mph speed limits, high speed rail, state-run healthcare, more borrowing, more regulation, more tzars, more badgers, more wolves or whatever - but you are going to be poor.

Nobody wants to hear that and nobody is going to hear that, because politicians won’t level with the electorate. And so politicians will have to make the decision for them. They will have to be - I know this sounds crazy but hear me out - leaders.

It should be taken as read that local residents will oppose any development that they don’t directly profit from, that single issue pressure groups will oppose everything, and that opinion polls will always show support for luxury, high status policies unless the consequences are spelt out. But it seems fairly clear from opinion polls on voting intention in the last two years that lower prices, higher incomes and economic growth are the real priorities of the British public and that these should therefore be the priorities of the British government even though public opinion will be against the engines of economic growth in the short-term.

Have a read and do subscribe if you haven't already. It is free.

Monday, 18 September 2023

Looking back on the Enstrom-Kabat controversy

Geoffrey Kabat has reflected on the huge controversy over the secondhand smoke study he published with James Enstrom 20 years ago. It's well worth a read.

In the early 1990s, I had been a member of the EPA panel charged with evaluating the evidence for an association of passive smoking with lung cancer. It was clear that the leadership of the committee was intent on declaring that passive smoking caused lung cancer in non-smokers. I was the sole member of the 15-person panel to emphasize the limitations of the published studies—limitations that stemmed from the rudimentary questions used to characterize exposure. Many members of the committee voiced support for my comments, but in the end, the committee endorsed what was clearly a predetermined conclusion that exposure to secondhand smoke caused approximately 3,000 lung cancers per year among never-smokers in the United States.

... After several years of work, our paper was published by the BMJ on May 17th, 2003, addressing the same question Takeshi Hirayama had posed 22 years earlier in the same journal: whether living with a spouse who smokes increases the mortality risk of a spouse who never smoked. Based on our analysis of the American Cancer Society’s data on over 100,000 California residents, we concluded that non-smokers who lived with a smoker did not have elevated mortality and, therefore, the data did “not support a causal relation between environmental tobacco smoke and tobacco related mortality.”

The publication caused an immediate outpouring of vitriol and indignation, even before it was available online. Some critics targeted us with ad hominem attacks, as we disclosed that we received partial funding from the tobacco industry. Others claimed that there were serious flaws in our study. But few critics actually engaged with the detailed data contained in the paper’s 3,000 words and 10 tables. The focus was overwhelmingly on our conclusion—not on the data we analyzed and the methods we used. Neither of us had never experienced anything like the response to this paper. It appeared that simply raising doubts about passive smoking was beyond the bounds of acceptable inquiry.

As Kabat says, none of his critics was able to point to substantive flaws in the study. They just hated the conclusion and resorted to ad hominem attacks. Looking back, the remarkable thing isn't so much the backlash as the fact that the British Medical Journal published it at all. It is almost unthinkable that one of the big medical journals would publish anything that challenges the 'public health' lobby today.  

Incidentally, you can read the journal's referee comments from 2003 here.

Wednesday, 13 September 2023

Well, that's the end of very low nicotine cigarettes

The company that was supposed to prove that cigarettes with hardly any nicotine in them are commercially viable has fallen on hard times. I discuss it in The Critic.

Beneath the corporate jargon is an admission that the company’s ultra-low nicotine cigarettes are not selling as well as expected. Some analysts think it is a prelude to a federal bankruptcy filing. The company’s share price peaked at $77 in 2021 and is currently trading at $1.25.

It is not long since XXII was a darling of public health groups and the media. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) did everything it could to help the company. It banned the vast majority of e-cigarettes and threatened to introduce nicotine limits in cigarettes that only XXII could comply with. It officially classified two of XXII’s very low nicotine cigarette brands — VLN King and VLN Menthol King — as “modified risk tobacco products”, thereby giving the company the unique privilege of being able to market their cigarettes with health claims. The FDA also bought 28 million of their cigarettes to use in research.

Monday, 11 September 2023

Tobacco exceptionalism?

Is tobacco a unique product or not? Let's ask comedy professor Anna Gilmore.

Anna Gilmore, 2007:

'The International Monetary Fund encourages privatization of state-owned industries, including tobacco industries, to help address macroeconomic problems and promote economic growth; however, it fails to consider the unique nature of an industry whose product kills.'

Anna Gilmore, 2019:

'Tobacco is a unique product in that it kills half of its consumers. It is the only consumer product that is subject of a global treaty, the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC), with over 180 Parties including all but one OECD member. The FCTC is now embedded in the UN Sustainable Development Goals, enshrining the tenet that good governance in public health involves treating tobacco companies differently from the rest of industry.'

Seems like a clear 'yes'. And yet at a neo-temperance meeting recently, she was humming a different tune:

“For NCDs we should be able to move forward, we need to get beyond tobacco exceptionalism,” said Professor Anna Gilmore, Professor of Public Health and Director of the Tobacco Control Research Group at the University of Bath

This is our old friend the slippery slope again, isn't it? Not surprising from someone who turned the UK Centre for Tobacco Studies into the UK Centre for Tobacco and Alcohol Studies. It surely can't be long before it becomes the UK Centre for Tobacco, Alcohol, Gambling and Ultra-Processed Food Studies.

Last Orders with Marc Glendening

New episode with my IEA colleague Marc. We discuss the implications of the trans ideology on free speech, plus a wolf update, Ted Cruz and craft beer.

Saturday, 9 September 2023

Blessed be the artisan cheese-makers

Yet another company has been caught out by Transport for London's ban on 'junk food' advertising. An advert for a play was banned in July because it depicted a wedding cake and regular readers will fondly recall the Farmdrop episode
This time it's something called Cheese Geek, as City AM reports...

TfL said the cheese ads – which were to be part of a campaign run by Workspace, the office provider and consultancy – could not go on the network because TfL uses “the Food Standards Agency’s model to define foods that are high in fat, sugar and salt.”

Seemingly unaware that cheese is high in salt and very high in fat, Cheese Geek are nonplussed.

The founder of Cheese Geek, Edward Hancock, said the ban was “crazy” and said he couldn’t understand why fizzy drink ads were allowed on the network but not artisan cheeses.

Fizzy drink adverts are not allowed if the drink is high in sugar. A cheese advert would be allowed if it wasn't high in salt and fat. Them's the rules, chief. If we must have such rules - and we shouldn't - they have to be based on nutritional thresholds. You can't exempt food just because posh people eat it, as much as that seems to pain former health secretary Edwina Currie.

(The City AM report includes a quote from yours truly.)