Friday, 21 September 2018

Drinkaware and the scream test

Public Health England's collaboration with Drinkaware for the 'two days off drinking' campaign is of little interest to the general public but has produced a hell of a squeal from 'public health'. Two weeks after the announcement, the hot takes are still coming. Here are a few of them...

The gist of these articles (they are all essentially the same) is that the government wouldn't work with the tobacco industry so they shouldn't work with the alcohol industry. This is the fabled slippery slope in action. By this logic, they shouldn't work with the food industry either, but they are working with the food industry - on labelling, reformulation and other things beside. They also work with the alcohol industry on drink driving, underage sales and much more. The wingnuts of the nanny state probably think that the industry wants people to drink drive because - as they keep claiming - their interests are irreconcilably at odds with those of 'public health'.

This is dogmatic nonsense and you have to be deep down the temperance rabbit hole not to laugh at it. Telling people to go teetotal for at least a couple of days a week isn't bad advice. It's not going eradicate liver disease but nor will the grab bag of nanny state interventions favoured by the people who have been spitting their dummies out of their pram for the last fortnight.

Alcohol Focus Scotland's Alison Douglas has often advised the public to have drink-free days in the past (see here and here, for example), but now that Drinkaware are saying it, she no longer thinks it is good advice. You couldn't ask for a better illustration of the fact that it's not about health for these people.

Or take this from a BMJ article with the hysterical headline 'Public Health England's capture by the alcohol industry' by the terrible trio of Ian Gilmore, Linda Bauld and John Britton...

The question that senior PHE managers do not seem to have asked themselves in the process of entering into this partnership, and certainly did not ask their alcohol leadership advisory board, is why the alcohol industry is happy to fund a campaign that ostensibly aims to reduce alcohol consumption. Had they done so they would have received the answer that the industry does so because it thinks the campaign will be ineffective or will divert attention from other more effective policies to reduce alcohol consumption that the industry fears more, such as minimum unit pricing.

Who needs evidence when you have sweeping assertions? "If they'd asked us, this is what we would have said, therefore it is the truth."

Like rain bringing worms to the surface, the PHE collaboration has drawn the worst people in 'public health' out to bat. Today, the Lancet published an equally woeful op-ed by the equally awful trio of Mark Petticrew, Martin McKee and Theresa Marteau, who say...

In its defence, PHE points to Drinkaware's independent governance. Drinkaware revised its governance after a critical evaluation, but its new model did not prevent Drinkaware and other industry bodies from disseminating messages that could mislead the public about the risk of cancer from alcohol consumption, using strategies similar to the tobacco and other industries.

Their evidence for this comes from an article Petticrew wrote last year which was full of errors (some people would call them lies) and totally misrepresented what Drinkaware say about alcohol and cancer. In a serious scientific discipline, the article would have been retracted.

Bhattacharya and colleagues report that in England about two-thirds of alcohol sales revenue comes from people drinking above guideline levels; if all drinkers followed recommended drinking guidelines, the industry would lose almost 40% of its revenue. The lead author of that study stated in a press release: “The government should recognise just how much the industry has to lose from effective alcohol policies, and be more wary of its attempts to derail meaningful action through lobbying and offers of voluntary partnership.”

Bhattacharya represents the Institute of Alcohol Studies (née the UK Temperance Alliance) and his study was economically illiterate garbage. His comments to the press, as with the conclusion of his study, were based on the fallacy that businesses chase revenue over profit.

This is what happens when you pride yourself on not having anything to do with the industry that makes the product about which you claim to be an expert. Knowing nothing, you can make up little fantasies in your head. That can work OK so long as you only associate with other conspiracy theorists, but take those ideas into the real world and people are likely to make fun of you.

And when even the people at Public Health England - Public Health fricking England - start to worry about your extremism, it's time to take a cold bath.

Thursday, 20 September 2018

Why are we giving the WHO so much cash?

From the Express...

British taxpayers 'should not subsidise scaremongering anti-vaping laws'

British taxpayers should no longer subsidise “scaremongering” anti-vaping laws advocated by the World Health Organisation, consumer champions said tonight.

It includes a quote from my good self...

Christopher Snowdon, head of lifestyle economics at the Institute of Economic Affairs, said: “The WHO’s scaremongering stance on e-cigarettes is at odds with the British Government’s evidence-based position.

“The UK taxpayer is paying through the nose to support this prohibitionist organisation. So far, the Department of Health has been unable to turn our money into influence. It is now time to get tough. Unless the WHO withdraws its support for the prohibition of vaping, the government should withdraw its funding.”

The idea of defunding - or even threatening to defund - the World Health Organisation may trouble some people. After all, it has done great things. And yet its past achievements all involve communicable diseases whereas the 21st century WHO is obsessed with the first world problem of 'lifestyle-related' diseases which are neither as pressing nor as easily preventable - and which are certainly not preventable by clamping down on vaping.

It seems to me perfectly reasonable to threaten to withdraw funds from this organisation until it (a) gets back to its primary function of tackling contagious disease, (b) removes the dark cloud hanging over its transparency and financial affairs, and (c) embraces science on harm reduction.

The UK has the motive and method by which to do this. We pay a staggering amount to the WHO compared to other countries. Check out its list of donors here.

In the 'general fund', the typical amount donated by a reasonably-sized, rich country is $10-30 million. France gives $13 million. Italy gives $10 million. Switzerland gives $11 million. Sweden gives $27 million. Korea gives $26 million.

A handful of countries give more than that. Canada gives $34 million. Norway gives $41 million. Japan gives $47 million. Germany gives $90 million, but Germany is the third biggest donor.

The biggest donor is the USA with $401 million but the UK, which has a smaller population than Germany and a population that is barely a fifth of the USA, is second with £163 million.

We must hope that some of the general fund is spent treating the sick and preventing infectious disease in the world's poorest countries, but that is certainly not how the WHO's money for tobacco control is spent. It is all advocacy, conferencing and nice hotel rooms. The Secretariat of the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control had an income of $5.1million in 2017. The split between countries is quite striking because there are only three of them: Australia, Panama and the United Kingdom. And guess who is paying for 72 per cent of it?

That's right: the British taxpayer - to the tune of $3,697,792.

Presumably this is the £15 million (to be spread over five years) gifted to the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control by the Department of Health civil servant Andrew Black in 2016.

Shortly after this generous use of other people's money, Andrew Black got a job with the, er, WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control. Fancy that!

Leaving aside the happy coincidences of Andrew Black's well remunerated career, you'd think that £15 million to the WHO's anti-smoking programme, plus annual contributions of £163 million and several other commitments, would give Britain the kind of 'soft power' that would allow it to make modest demands such as getting the WHO to stop saying that prohibition is an acceptable response to vaping, wouldn't you?

But apparently not, because the WHO's current position on vaping is to recommended 'prohibition or restriction of the manufacture, importation, distribution, presentation, sale and use' of e-cigarettes. That's right: prohibition.

Until the WHO stops recommending fecking prohibition for an effective substitute for smoking, it's reasonable to stop giving it cash, right?

Wednesday, 19 September 2018

More drivel about non-communicable diseases

The World Health Organisation's war on non-communicable diseases (NCDs) has always been a quixotic project. When it set its ridiculous and unachievable targets in 2012, I suggested that it was an excuse for a 'prohibitionist’s charter'...

If 194 countries really have signed this quasi-treaty, you can expect to hear much more about our ‘legal obligations’ to control eating, drinking, smoking and - the mind boggles - ‘physical activity’ for many years to come. You may recall last year’s charming article from Jonathan Waxman in The Times titled ‘To avoid cancer, let the State dictate your diet’, which was itself based on the claim that lifestyles cause 40 per cent of cancer. That is only the start and it is, of course, why the puritans, bureaucrats, nannies and headbangers of public health are so keen on the idea of ‘non-communicable diseases’, because it gives them what every trigger-happy army general wants: a war without end.

It is the conceit that anyone, let alone the WHO, can 'beat NCDs' that most annoys me. The only alternatives to death from a non-communicable disease are death from a communicable disease, violence, overdose or suicide. Fifteen million people die from the one of the latter every year, mostly at a relatively young age, but it is those who die from a non-communicable disease, mostly at an older age, that concern the WHO.

I argued in Killjoys that the WHO should not be wasting its limited resources campaigning against diseases of old age in rich countries when people are dying from easily preventable infectious disease in the developing world. Some people hoped that appointing an African as Director-General of the WHO would put the organisation back on course, but instead he is ramping up the rhetoric. Take this ridiculous tweet, for example...

It's only a matter of time before he starts telling us how many jumbo jets this equates to. I enjoyed this response...

This is all part of the build up to a big WHO conference in New York next week which will see the 'NCD Alliance' call for taxes on sugary drinks to stop people dying in their beds at the age of 99. See my Spectator post from May for more on this surreal crusade.

Tuesday, 18 September 2018

The over-provision of 'public health' ignorance

From The Times...

Call to tackle the ‘retail clusters’ that help cause ill‑health in Glasgow

Not this nonsense again?! How many times are we going to have to go over this? Retailers go where the demand and footfall are. If there was 'over-provision', the shops would close down.

Many of Glasgow’s most deprived areas are populated by “health-damaging” retail clusters that offer easy access to alcohol, fast food, cigarettes and gambling.

The finding, by researchers from Glasgow and Edinburgh universities, has prompted calls for tighter regulation to reduce the density of unhealthy outlets.

That was the intention, of course. There is no academic justification for the publication of a study that shows, for the umpteenth time, that city centre high streets have more off licences and bookmakers than the leafy suburbs.

“Our local environment shapes what we have access to and what we can afford,” said Linda Bauld, professor of health policy at Stirling university.

“The density of fast food, gambling, tobacco and alcohol outlets in deprived areas is almost certainly contributing to the health gap between rich and poor. This density can be changed through local planning processes and also through regulation.”

The question that people like Bauld can never answer is why, if businesses can make people engage in certain activities by merely existing, do retailers not 'target' wealthy areas where people have more money to spend? What kind of capitalist would waste his coercive powers on people who have little disposable income?

Miles Briggs, the Conservative MSP and the party spokesman on public health, has called for “determined local authority action” to tackle the problem.

 Ah yes, the Conservatives.

Frank McAveety, the Labour former leader of Glasgow council, said: “Clearly there is overprovision in some working class areas, creating a fatal combination of bookies, fast food shops and off-licences. There has to be a fundamental look at the legislative framework around overprovision and where powers lie and can be applied.”

The only over-provision I can see is a surplus of economically illiterate 'public health' studies written by people who don't understand supply and demand.

And yet, right at the end of the article, we get this...

Laura Macdonald, a co-author of the study, hopes the findings will influence change...


...but said: “We cannot ascertain why outlets are colocated in deprived areas — it could reflect shopper convenience or because retailers purposely choose areas close to populations with greater demand for specific goods.”

Yes, Laura! And the truth shall set you free!

It is both, of course, and that is all there is to say.

Monday, 17 September 2018

Insufferable bastards

Public Health England had their annual conference last week with 1,600 delegates. It's probably best not to think about how much it cost the taxpayer.

Head honcho Duncan Selbie (salary: £220,000) kicked off proceedings with a speech in which he paid tribute to my Twitter #content. You can watch it below from 11 minutes 43 seconds...

The best of the quotes pertains to PHE being "insufferable bastards". Whilst I wish I had said this - and it does sound like the kind of thing I might say - I can't find any evidence that I did. And whilst I did indeed call Selbie an overpaid, parasitic quangocrat, this was in relation to his decision to stop everybody smoking by 2030 and not, as he claims, the recent advice to have two days off drinking a week. 

This suggests - not for the first time - that Big Dunc might not have full mastery of the facts. But there is no doubt that he is doing an outstanding job by his own criteria...

Friday, 14 September 2018

Snowdon and Delingpole

James Delingpole's excellent podcast is the only podcast I always listen to. If you haven't subscribed to it yet, you should do so. If you haven't, you can listen to the latest edition, featuring my good self, below...

Thursday, 13 September 2018

Mexico's sugar tax flop

Who could forget Mexico's sugar tax? Introduced at the start of 2014, it is the jewel in the crown of the growing movement to tax sugary drinks (and 'junk food', which Mexico also taxes). The Lancet describes it as a 'success', as does Bloomberg. A couple of studies have concluded that sugary drink sales fell appreciably after the tax was introduced, although these claims appear to be false

The World Health Organisation didn't wait to see if the taxes on soda and 'junk food' had an effect on obesity before it started campaigning for them. But in 2016, it said...

Mexico’s soda tax has reduced sales of sugar-sweetened beverages. Time will tell whether the tax helps to reduce obesity prevalence as well.

Now the wait is over. The years have passed and the jury is in. As Mexico News Daily reports...

Mexico’s obesity numbers are up nearly 4 million in 4 years to 24.3 million

Close to 4 million adult Mexicans joined the ranks of the obese between 2012 and 2016, a result of food insecurity and undernourishment according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

In 2012, 20.5 million adults were considered obese, a figure that has since risen to 24.3 million.

Great success!

No other media outlet has reported these facts and the 'public health' lobby will ignore them. Real world evidence counts for nothing in this racket, but I wouldn't be surprised to see a study published soon claiming that obesity has fallen as a result of the taxes, based on an activist's 'computer model'.

PS. I'm quoted in this Euractiv article about sugar taxes: 

“If taxes on soft drinks were a pharmaceutical drug, they would never be licensed by a medical authority”. “The costs are significant while the benefits are wholly unproven. Soft drink taxes might be a good way to raise revenue and a nice way for politicians to feel that they are doing something, but they do not qualify as an anti-obesity policy. They are remarkably ineffective as a way of getting people to reduce their consumption of sugary drinks.”