Thursday, 23 June 2022

Minimum pricing continues to go wrong

"Minimum pricing is one of the stronger policies the Scottish Government has come up with"

Minimum pricing in Ireland has very predictably led to people driving to Northern Ireland to buy booze, as the Irish Times reports.... 

In the car park of Seamus McNamee’s off-licence, First and Last, located just minutes north of the Border, are vehicles from all over the country.

The customers, some of whom have travelled from the likes of Carlow, Wexford and Roscommon specifically, reflect the surge in business the Jonesborough retailer has experienced from the South of Ireland, following the introduction of minimum unit pricing (MUP) in the Republic.

“Since the Irish Government introduced MUP, it’s just been gradually crazy with people from southern Ireland. Since March, and then the last bank holiday weekend, it’s just been crazy. We’re run off our feet,” Mr McNamee said.

“It’s hard to quantify the increase because of the pandemic, but I’d say it’s jumped up another 30 to 40 per cent.”

Slabs of beer are the most popular for those travelling cross-Border, Mr McNamee said, as they have been most affected by the new law.

“It used to take us maybe three or four weeks to sell a pallet. Now, since MUP, we would be doing three to four pallets of Coors or Bud per week.”

Consumers are buying in bulk, too, and buying for four or five members of the one family at a time.

“They’re coming with a list and getting their bits and pieces here. You can get a spend of between €200 to €400, up to maybe €2,000 or €3,000.”

Meanwhile in Scotland, where the case for minimum pricing is in tatters, a 'public health expert' is doing an impression of Comical Ali.

A PUBLIC health expert has rubbished a Tory MSP's claim that minimum alcohol pricing isn’t working in Scotland.

In May 2018, Scotland became the first country in the world to set a base price for each unit of alcohol sold - driving up the price of cheaper booze.

Dr Sandesh Gulhane, Tory MSP for Glasgow region, claimed during a meeting of the health committee in Holyrood that the scheme was failing and that the most vulnerable were cutting back on food to afford the high prices. 

Indeed. Here is what the report concluded:

The introduction of a £0.50 MUP in Scotland led to a marked increase in the prices paid for alcohol by people with alcohol dependence. There is no clear evidence that this led to reduced alcohol consumption or levels of alcohol dependence among people drinking at harmful levels. 
... People who struggled to afford the higher prices arising from MUP coped by using, and often intensifying, strategies they were familiar with from previous periods when alcohol was unaffordable for them. These strategies typically included obtaining more money by reducing spending on food and utility bills, increasing borrowing from sources such as family, friends or pawnbrokers, running down savings or other capital, and using foodbanks or other charities. In line with this, the policy increased the financial strain felt by a significant minority of people with alcohol dependence.

However, Professor Petra Meier told MSPs that she didn’t agree with his assessment of the policy and said it was one of the “stronger policies” the Scottish Government has come up with without full control of tax powers and alcohol duties. 

... Meier, director of the SIPHER Consortium which analyses the long term impact of health policies, said that she didn’t agree with Gulhane’s assessment.

She added: “It's working on the whole. There are some very heavy drinkers who may not have the opportunity to cut down their drinking who then substitute for food spending. I don't think that's a problem of the price you put on alcohol, I think it's a problem on the health services that haven't been available." [what?! - CJS]

... Meier added that for very dependent drinkers the policy “hasn't had many detrimental effects, but there has been some substitution with big purchases”.

This is delusional stuff. There is literally no evidence that minimum pricing is working. The evaluations looking at heavy drinkers, crime and hospital activity all found no evidence of any benefits. 

Nowhere in the article is it mentioned that Petra Meier was the head of the Sheffield University group that did all the modelling for minimum pricing. This modelling was virtually the only 'evidence' that the policy would work and it turned out to be deeply flawed. 
Long time readers may recall that Meier had no experience in the field of alcohol research (or modelling, as far as I can see) until she spotted a gap in the market for government-commissioned minimum pricing modelling. Having expressed an interest in alcohol research, she was immediately embraced by neo-temperance activist-academics like Robin Room and Tim Stockwell. 
She has done rather well out of it. She is now a professor and, in 2019, received £5 million from the unwitting taxpayer to set up her SIPHER outfit which employs many of her chums. Last year, she received the ultimate accolade from the temperance lobby when she was made president of the weirdo cult anti-drinking organisation, the Kettil Bruun Society (named after the godfather of the ridiculous 'whole population approach'). 

It must stick in the craw that some of her old Sheffield colleagues co-authored the Public Health Scotland evaluation that delivered such a blow to the cause two weeks ago, and it must be hard to admit that the work upon which your reputation rests was worthless junk, but that's just the way it goes sometimes.

Wednesday, 22 June 2022

What lockdown tells us about alcohol policy

I have a new study out today with the IEA looking at the extraordinary social experiment of lockdown and what it tells us about alcohol policy.
According to contemporary 'public health' ideology, harmful drinking is the result of 'commercial determinants', especially advertising, affordability and availability. If you clamp down on those then alcohol consumption will decline, and if alcohol consumption declines then harmful drinking will decline because - as the influential epidemiologist Geoffrey Rose put it...
‘… from the average alcohol intake of a population one can predict precisely the number of heavy drinkers. It is therefore likely to follow that changes in average consumption will lead to corresponding changes in the prevalence of alcoholism and in alcohol-related health problems.’
In March 2020, the number of licensed premises open in the UK fell by two-thirds and spending on alcohol advertising fell by half. Alcohol also became slightly affordable. 

As a result there was a dramatic decline in consumption and a commensurate decline in alcohol-related harm, right? 

Tuesday, 21 June 2022

Alcohol consumption is at a historic low, temperance lobby demands action

Public Health Scotland has just published the alcohol consumption stats for 2021. With the country in lockdown for much of the year, consumption remained unusually low, but it was not zero and therefore 
not low enough for the temperance lobby.
From the Scotsman...
Scots still drinking too much as drop in alcohol intake stalls

ALCOHOL consumption in Scotland remains too high, amid calls to increase the minimum unit price. 
Minimum pricing doesn't work. The evidence is in. Give it up.
An average adult in Scotland drank the equivalent of around two bottles of wine per week in 2021, based on estimates from alcohol retail sales.

Consumption also appears to have stalled after previously falling to a historic low.

Consumption fell in 2020 because people were locked down and the hospitality industry was closed for months. The same thing happened in most countries. It remained unusually low in 2021 for the same reason. It was never going to keep going down and it is very likely to rise in 2022.

The real question is whether alcohol-related deaths also fell to a 'historic low'. Reader, they did not. In 2020, they stood at a nine year high in Scotland. So much for the Scottish government's 'whole population approach' and the ludicrous 'single distribution theory' which dictates that "we can reduce alcohol related harm through efforts directed towards reducing the mean consumption in the population, because this will also reduce drinking among the heaviest drinkers and by extension rates of harm."

In 2020, purchase data indicated that 9.4 litres of pure alcohol - or 18.1 units - was sold per adult per week in Scotland, the lowest level since current records began in 1994. This remained the same in 2021. 

However, adults are advised not to exceed 14 units.

The 14 unit guideline is based on no evidence and was arrived at through a process that was frankly corrupt.

In 2021, off-trade premises such as supermarkets and other off-licences, accounted for 85% of all the alcohol purchased in Scotland, compared to 73% in 2019 and 90% in 2020.

If you close the on-trade for five months, that's what's going to happen.

It comes after a study published last week revealed that there was "no clear evidence" that minimum unit pricing, introduced in Scotland in May 2018, had reduced alcohol intake amongst the most harmful drinkers, with evidence that they had cut back on food and heating instead to cope with the increased cost.

Indeed it did. This is an important which Scotland's state-funded temperance groups are doing their best to ignore.

Alison Douglas, chief executive of Alcohol Focus Scotland, said it was "encouraging" to see the decrease in drinking from 2020 sustained, but called on ministers to "optimise" minimum pricing by increasing it "at least in line with inflation". Campaigners have pushed for a hike from 50 to 65 pence per unit.

Ms Douglas added: "Alongside this we need restrictions on the aggressive marketing of alcohol and to reduce how easily available it is in our communities. 

In this racket there is zero accountability. Minimum pricing has failed and there is no good evidence to suggest that restricting alcohol advertising will work. Alcohol consumption is at the lowest level on record, but that hasn't helped anything. The people at Alcohol Focus Scotland should be stripped of their public funding, if not tarred and feathered. Instead, they are doubling down on minimum pricing and setting their sights on another futile policy.

In a sane world, the Scottish government would tell them to shove off.

Public Health Minister Maree Todd said: "Work on reviewing the level of minimum unit pricing is underway and we will be consulting on potential restrictions on alcohol advertising later this year."

Of course they are.

Sunday, 19 June 2022

Paul McCartney at 80

It was Paul McCartney's 80th birthday yesterday and he'll be playing Glastonbury next week. I've written about his 52 year post-Beatles career and his desire to be ordinary for Quillette

When the Beatles broke up in late 1969, Paul McCartney retreated to his farm in Scotland with his wife Linda and their children. If he had wanted to secure lifelong adoration, he could have stayed there and never released another record. His legend would have only grown. Instead, he set out to do it all again. He never wrote another ‘Blackbird’ or ‘For No One,’ but then who did? It is enough that he formed one of the most successful bands of the 1970s, wrote a string of smash hits, including one of the best James Bond songs and the UK’s best-selling single to date, made at least one classic album, and was still producing high quality work in his 70s. If the Beatles had never existed, Paul McCartney would still be considered one of the greats.


Saturday, 11 June 2022

Debating with Debs

I'm on holiday for a week so I will leave you with my debate with ASH's Deborah Arnott from yesterday. All three of the people on screen are ex-smokers but I get the impression that Debs is the only one who is still itching for a fag.

Friday, 10 June 2022

A swift half with Joanna Williams

It was great to talk to Joanna Williams yesterday about the silly Khan review and her new book about wokeism, the title of which I kept getting wrong but which you can buy here.

Thursday, 9 June 2022

Send in the clowns - Javed Khan's tobacco review

Javed Khan published his 'independent review of tobacco control' today and it is far madder than anyone expected. It's titled 'Making smoking obsolete', but it is full of supply-side interventions, including incremental prohibition. He doesn't seem to realise that products become obsolete when demand dries up, not supply.
Khan has consulted with the worst extremists in the 'public health' industry and grabbed every half-baked idea that has ever been proposed, including raising the smoking age every year, painting cigarettes green and putting individual health warnings on them, banning films which show people using tobacco from being broadcast before 9pm and have warnings flash up on screen when they do, banning people who live in social housing from smoking in their own home, banning smoking outside and hiking the price of a pack of cigarettes up to around £20. 
There's also lots of stuff about looting smokers and giving the cash to people in 'public health'. In fact, that is the first item on his agenda. This has ASH's fingerprints all over it. See if you can spot the difference between Khan's plan and the plan put out by ASH's puppet All-Party group last year. There isn't one.

In a way, it's good that he's given a voice to the mentalists because the public will finally realise that they are dealing with swivel-eyed prohibitionists. On the other hand, it leaves the government in a bit of a bind because they will be expected to act on at least some of the recommendations. I don't think they anticipated Khan to go native so quickly and so completely.
There's fun to be had in the appendix of the report in which Khan hears from focus groups made up of actual smokers and discovers that they are quite happy and just want to be left alone. 

Attitudes to smoking

There is a notable lack of drive or even inclination to quit smoking among many. 

Participants considered smoking was an essential tool for dealing with life. 

Attitudes to quitting

Awareness of health risks is high but can be rationalised, justified or ignored.

Quitting: attitudes towards support services

Not top of their mind; much disinterest in quit support services; some rejection.

A main barrier is a lack of desire to quit; but some actively do not want to engage.

Policy ideas

Reaction muted and negative. In some instances, negativity linked to perceived increased difficulty to smoke.

Student smokers (who took up smoking at university)

Students are positive, upbeat about the future.

Notably, most are without care about their smoking. 

No urge or desire to quit.

Generally minimal concern about ability to quit when they want to; related lack of interest in support services.

Ethnic minority smokers

Generally aligned with other smokers regarding situations, behaviour, and attitudes to smoking.

LGBTQ+ smokers

Generally aligned with other smokers regarding situations, behaviour and attitudes to smoking.

Oh well, never mind. It doesn't matter what smokers think. They're not 'stakeholders'.
We know how 'public health' lobbying works by now. There is a very clear playbook. The moment the government gets within two miles of a policy, they portray it as inevitable that it will become law. When the government fails to implement it, they accuse it of being in thrall to tobacco industry lobbyists. 
Within hours of the report being published, the spinning had already begun. 
Downing Street accused of blocking plans to raise legal smoking age every year in bid to appease Tory right 
There weren't any plans to block, of course.
Labour has raised concerns over links between David Canzini, Downing Street’s powerful deputy chief of staff, and tobacco companies, and demanded to know what role he had had in any watering down of plans on the new smoking laws.
... Mr Canzini used to work for Sir Lynton Crosby’s lobbying firm CT Group, whose clients include tobacco firms.
So tedious, but you know this government will buckle sooner or later.
I put out a comment with the IEA earlier...
“Javed Khan has managed to gather the most crackpot ideas from the fringes of nanny state extremism and compiled them in a single document. The idea of raising the smoking age every year would mean treating the adults of the future as if they were children forever. In years to come, perhaps we will see furtive 40 year olds hanging around outside shops looking for 41 year olds to buy them cigarettes.  

“Other bizarre proposals include painting cigarettes green, putting health warnings on individual sticks and banning people from smoking in their own home. He wants to ban films which show people using tobacco from being broadcast before 9pm and have warnings flash up on screen when they do. 

“His plan to ban smoking in beer gardens will be the final nail in the coffin of the pub industry, while his idea of hiking the price of cigarettes by 30 per cent overnight will be warmly welcomed by Britain’s tobacco smugglers who are already doing a roaring trade.

“It is easy to laugh at some of these proposals and Mr Khan should be thanked for providing some entertainment in these difficult times, but there is a non-trivial risk that a future government will be silly enough to implement them. Before filing this report in the bin, the government should make it clear that adults have the right to smoke and that efforts to reduce the smoking rate will not come at the expense of civil liberties.”
I'm also quoted in the Sun...

Christopher Snowdon, an author and head of lifestyle economics at the Institute of Economic Affairs, called the report "absolutely insane".

"I don't why the Government asked this guy to carry out a review," he blasted.

"He has gathered the most crackpot ideas from the lunatic fringe of the nanny state lobby and compiled them in a single document.

"It's an embarrassment."

Prof David Nutt isn't happy with it either:
"The ever-tightening ban on cigarette sales will simply feed an ever-growing black market. The Government is repeating the mistakes America made a century ago in its Prohibition of alcohol. The report points out that the UK is geographically “vulnerable” to illicit trade by criminal gangs. With the advent of free ports, this whole approach doesn’t make a lot of sense.” 
“The review contains muddled thinking, with proposals that make political impact rather than having any health impact or value."  
“It would be far, far better for the Government to focus on helping hardened smokers of all ages to switch to reduced risk products. That is how Scandinavia has beaten smoking. It has allowed its nicotine users to switch to snus which every scientist knows is vastly safer than smoking. For decades they have been reaping the health dividend from a product that doesn’t even cause oral cancer. That’s why Switzerland and the USA have authorised snus. But our Government continues to ban the world’s most successful alternative to smoking." 
Khan rejects snus in his report. He largely dismisses heated tobacco too.
Why did the government ask this guy to do the job again?