Wednesday 22 May 2024

Does alcohol misuse cost England £27 billion a year?

The UK Temperance Alliance Institute of Alcohol Studies has had a go at updating a 2003 Cabinet Office estimate of the societal cost of alcohol in England. It's new figure is £27 billion. There are many problems with this, as I explain at Conservative Home...

It’s a mark of how much the currency has been debased that £20 billion in 2001 would, if it kept pace with inflation, be worth £36 billion today.

That £20bn was the “societal cost” of alcohol to England in 2001, according to an economic analysis from the Cabinet Office. That estimate has never been officially revisited.

However, the neo-temperance Institute of Alcohol Studies (IAS) put out an unofficial update on Monday to coincide with a Health and Social Care Select Committee on the subject. IAS’s estimate is £27.4bn – and this is being touted as a 40 per cent increase; the Guardian ran with “alcohol abuse costs soar to £27bn a year” on its front page.

But this ignores inflation. In real terms, the costs have fallen by around 25 per cent, and both the Cabinet Office estimate and the new estimate are gross overestimates.

When I calculated the cost of alcohol misuse to the government in 2015, I arrived at a figure of £3.9bn. Updating my estimates with fresh data last week, it became clear that the total is still below £5 billion and is less than half of the amount the government rakes in from alcohol duty every year.

Why are my figures so different to those of the IAS?

Tuesday 21 May 2024

Ultra-Processed People revisited

I picked up a copy of Ultra-Processed People in paperback to see what Chris van Tulleken has been up to and he seems to be gettng worse.
Van Tulleken does not only judge people by the motivations they are presumed to have. He also judges food by the supposed motives of the people who make it. In the Frequently Asked Questions section of the new chapter we find the following enquiry:

If you cook at home with xanthan gum, are you making UPF?

I am surprised that this question is frequently asked but I suppose Chris and I move in different circles. I am even more surprised by the answer:

No. UPF is industrially produced for profit. This is part of the definition. If you make food because you love someone and you want to nourish them, then you’re not ultra-processing.

Earlier in the book, van Tulleken describes xanthan gum as “revoltingly, a bacterial exudate: slime that bacteria produce to allow them to cling to surfaces” and suggests that consuming it may have “profound effects on immune system development”. How fortunate, then, that there is an ingredient that acts as an antidote to this “disgusting” emulsifier. The name of that ingredient? Love. 

This raises more questions than it answers. What if you ultra-process food for someone you love but make a profit? What if you ultra-process food for someone you hate but give it to them for free?

Read the rest at The Critic.

Friday 17 May 2024

A swift half with Lord Frost

The final episode of the second series of The Swift Half came out yesterday. It features Lord (David) Frost who, amongst other things, negotiated Brexit under Boris Johnson.

Thursday 16 May 2024

Gambling suicides - another junk statistic

 A new article from me at The Critic...

There is one gambling-related suicide in the UK every day. There are up to 496 gambling-related suicides a year. Ten per cent of all the suicides in England are caused by gambling. 

These statistics, and other iterations of them, have become mantras for the anti-gambling lobby since January 2023 when the Office for Health Improvement and Disparities (OHID) published a report claiming that there are “between 117 and 496 suicides associated with problem gambling” in England. Activists naturally focused on the larger of these two numbers and started putting it on billboards. The monetised value of years of life supposedly lost to suicide make up most of the “up to” £1.77 billion that gambling is said to cost “wider society” each year.

It turns out that these figures are based on nothing. They are a will o’ the wisp. A mirage. They exist only on a laptop in Whitehall. They are worthless.

This is an important story about OHID's statistical incompetence/corruption. Do read the rest.

Tuesday 14 May 2024

Could the Tobacco and Vapes Bill be any worse? MPs hope so.

No matter how bad things get in neo-puritan Britain, they can always get worse.
The Labour MP Rachael Maskell has put forward an amendment to the Tobacco and Vapes Bill to extend Sunak's prohibition to all nicotine products, including vapes and pouches. The only difference is that the ban on tobacco sales will be for those born after 2008 whereas the ban on nicotine will be for those born after 2014.

To move the following Clause—

“Sale of vaping products and nicotine products

(1) The Secretary of State may by regulations prevent the sale of to anyone born
after 1 January 2015—

(a) vaping products; or
(b) nicotine products.

(2) Regulations made under subsection (1) must specify an exemption for products prescribed by a clinician

(3) Regulations under this section:
(a) shall be made by statutory instrument; and
(b) may not be made unless a draft has been laid and approved by
resolution of both Houses of Parliament.

(4) Prior to making any regulations under subsection (1), and within 12 months of this Act coming into force, the Secretary of State must commission an independent evaluation of the health impacts of the matters under subsection (1) and must lay the report of the evaluation before Parliament.”

Member's explanatory statement:

This new clause would allow the Secretary of State, by regulations, to prevent the sale of vaping and nicotine products to anyone born after 1 January 2015 after having laid before Parliament an independent evaluation report on the health impact of doing so.

The final destination is the total prohibition of nicotine. In the long run, the aim is to make it a controlled substance and fully drag nicotine into the war on drugs. There is no ethical or health justification for this, but Sunak has given them more than an inch so they are taking more than a mile.

I don't know what chance this amendment has of passing, but it raises the question of what Labour will do when in power to prove that they are even more prohibitionist than the Conservative Party. The answer will certainly not be nothing.

Even Jacinda Ardern's legislation (now repealed) only included cigarettes. Cigars, hookah, snuff, heated tobacco, rolling papers, etc. were all exempt. Sunak has already gone much further than the New Zealand Labour Party. 

The full list of amendments is here (Maskell has put her name to 25 of them). They are mostly uber-prohibitionist, gathering up the loose ends of various ASH demands over the years, such as banning what's left of e-cig advertising, putting health warnings on cigarette papers, introducing a tobacco levy, etc. There is also an amendment (N14) signed by 11 MPs to ban vaping everywhere smoking is banned. Why? Because they can.

It's sickening.

Monday 13 May 2024

Obesity and worklessness

It's European Congress on Obesity week so expect non-stop, unpublished obesity research to be in the media regularly. The Times has put some of it on its front page today. The study seems OK but the interpretation is way off. I've written about it for The Spectator...

There has certainly been a rise in worklessness since the pandemic. The number of people of working age who are economically inactive has risen from 8.5 million to 9.4 million. This includes 2.8 million people who say they are too sick to work. Almost all of the increase in economic inactivity is explained by this rise in long-term sickness. 

Is obesity the ‘root cause’ of the problem? It seems unlikely. Despite obesity rates rising for several decades, there had been no increase in the number of people off work with long-term illness since the 1990s. Between 2000 and 2019, the number actually fell – from 2.3 million to 2 million, but since 2020 another 800,000 people have suddenly joined their ranks.

Friday 10 May 2024

Rampant misinformation at the Tobacco and Vapes Bill committee


The UK Vaping Industry Association has written to MPs to raise concerns about the  ‘misleading, incomplete, unsubstantiated, or incorrect’ information presented to the Tobacco and Vapes Bill Committee last week. The UKVIA should have been invited to give evidence to the committee (it has no links to the tobacco industry and therefore could not be disqualified on the usual McCarthyite grounds) but it wasn't. Instead, the floor was given to rabid anti-vapers, mendacious fanatics and hopeless ignoramuses. 

The UKVIA has compiled a little document with a handful of the worst lies told by committee members and their guests during the two day hearing. They include... 

Sheila Duffy, Chief Executive of Action on Smoking and Health (ASH): “There is a link between regular vaping and moving onto smoking..."  

Laura Young, PhD Researcher from the Centre for Water Law, Policy and Science at the University of Dundee: “The first thing to remember is that vaping is not good for you. It is slightly better than smoking...”

Steve Turner, President of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, was a repeat offender, claiming that vaping causes popcorn lung and that "nicotine addiction is smoking". 
Dr Rob Branston, one of Anna Gilmore's cronies at her Bloomberg-funded pressure group, left a massive hostage to fortune when he said “we can be reasonably confident that there will not be a big wave of illicit products in the future.” Cut that one out and keep it.

The UKVIA letter reads, in part:

“Because the evidence was mainly given by those who have spoken out against vaping in the past, it presented a very skewed message which often conflated the legal compliant vape industry with the black market and frequently made no distinction between the tobacco and vaping industries.

“We recognise there are illegal traders in our industry who will sell to children, and criminal gangs who import black market devices, which can contain illegal and dangerous substances. The legitimate and majority side of the sector want to rid the country of this scourge on society and see them prosecuted, punished and driven out of business. To equate the illegal and legal vaping sectors is as unfair as saying that illegal immigrant smugglers and the Dover to Calais ferry do the same thing. One is illegal and needs to be stopped, the other performs a helpful and beneficial service.

“We are also not trying to water down, delay or circumvent the legislation but we do want to ensure that when MPs scrutinise this Bill they are doing so from an informed perspective which comes from fact not fiction. In scrutinising this Bill, MPs must balance the rights and needs of adult smokers to have access to the very best products to help them quit, with those of young people to be protected from age-restricted products, including vaping.

“This by no means is an easy path to navigate and it will be made even more treacherous whenever evidence presented to the Committee is so misleading that it does more harm than good. Not only does the underhand management of the Bill Committee’s oral evidence session risk the Bill not facing proper scrutiny prior to its third reading, but the selection process across the board was fundamentally undemocratic, with the people this Bill will impact the most not being able to provide evidence on how it can be improved.

“It is another example of the growing list of decisions by the Department of Health and Social Care to exclude the UKVIA and wider industry from any meaningful collaboration with the Department."

It won't make any difference, obviously. The government has made up its mind and is not interested in facts.