Friday 30 July 2010

The root of all evil

When I wrote the last post about the public health cash torrent shifting from tobacco to obesity, I hadn't spotted that Carl V. Phillips had already written a much better piece about it at the Ep-ology blog.

It is pretty clear that this “controversy” has been engineered by those worried about losing their unending supply of anti-tobacco funding, taking advantage of their current power and influence, including with the press, to defend their empire against anyone with another priority. 

In the same article, Stanton Glantz is quoted, “Given that tobacco kills four times as many people as obesity does, why is the government putting more money into obesity?” Since he seems to be believe that passing exposure to second hand smoke causes 1/3 of all heart attacks, I can only assume that he actually thinks that is a valid argument. But sadly, most others seem to miss the point also: What matters is the marginal effect of additional spending.

Meanwhile, as Smokles reports, the aforementioned mechanical engineer, cardiologist and all-round Renaissance man Stanton Glantz has popped up in Tobacco Control claiming that shifting smokers towards tobacco products which are 99%-100% less harmful will not result in less harm.

Promoting smokeless tobacco as a safer alternative to cigarettes is unlikely to result in substantial health benefits at a population level.

A slight improvement on the conclusion given when Glantz presented the same study to a conference last year:

Promoting smokeless tobacco as a safer alternative to cigarettes will not result in a reduction of harm and may lead to an increase in harm at the population level.

I don't have the full study to hand so I can't say whether it was paid for by organisations which have a stake in promoting pharmaceutical nicotine.

Whoever it was, I'm sure their motives were pure...

Thursday 29 July 2010

Is the bank closing?

Apologies for the light blogging, dear reader. I'm very busy with other things, including a heated debate involving my latest book (see here, here, here and here for the tip of that iceberg).

I'll be back with more news and views from the dark side of prohibition at the weekend. Until then, I see that The New York Times is reporting that the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) is diverting its vast wealth away from tobacco control and towards obesity. (And yes, RWJF's primary funders Johnson & Johnson sell a number of weight-loss drugs, as well as making nicotine replacement drugs.)

Tobacco Funds Shrink as Obesity Fight Intensifies

When the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation decided in 1991 to take on Joe Camel, it became the nation’s largest private funding source for fighting smoking. The foundation spent $700 million to help knock the cartoon character out of advertisements, finance research and advocacy for higher cigarette taxes and smoke-free air laws and, ultimately, to aid in reducing the nation’s smoking rate almost by half.

But a few years ago, the Johnson foundation, based in Princeton, N.J., added another target to its mission, pledging to spend $500 million in five years to battle childhood obesity. As the antiobesity financing rose to $58 million last year, a new compilation from the foundation shows, the organization’s antismoking grants fell to $4 million.

And RWJF are not the only ones to be shifting focus.

The steep drop-off in private funds illustrates the competition under way for money as public health priorities shift. In the race for preventive health care dollars, from charities and from federal and state government sources, the tobacco warriors have become a big loser...

The 1998 Tobacco Master Settlement Agreement between 46 states and cigarette companies provided more than $200 billion through 2025. For a while it financed preventive programs like the “Truth” media campaign from the antismoking group American Legacy Foundation. But as states used money elsewhere, “Truth” spending declined, to a low of $35 million last year from $104 million in 2000.

Naturally, uber-zealot Stanton Glantz is not happy about being moved further down the trough.

Stanton A. Glantz, director of the Center for Tobacco Control Research and Education at the University of California, San Francisco, asked, “Given that tobacco kills four times as many people as obesity does, why is the government putting more money into obesity?”

From a European perspective, the funds allocated to tobacco control remain eye-wateringly huge. Whilst I would never condone the government giving money to lobby groups, the amounts received by ASH (England) and its wealthier little sister ASH (Scotland) are peanuts compared to the billions enjoyed by American groups. And yet the smoking rate in America is virtually identical to that of Britain. Does this mean that British anti-smoking groups are exceptionally effective or are American anti-smoking groups exceptionally useless? Or are they both simply irrelevant?

Friday 23 July 2010

It's a bad news business

Some very good news today from the Office of National Statistics (this, from the BBC ):

Death rates in England and Wales are at their lowest-ever recorded levels, official figures show.

Yet again.

Despite health concerns surrounding rising levels of obesity and alcohol use, death rates for both men and women fell by about 5% in 2009 from 2008.

Could it possibly be that those health concerns have been exaggerated just a tad?

Separate research released last year predicted that babies born today in the UK and other wealthy nations could expect to live to 100.

Not that this this will stop people like David Kessler telling us that children born today will die before their parents. Never, you will note, 'younger than their parents'—which is what they actually mean. They deliberately leave the phrasing open to imply that parents will outlive their children. Either way, they're wrong and every year new life expectancy figures show that they're wrong.

But, as I mention in Velvet Glove, Iron Fist (pp. 300-303), there is a British tradition to bury these annual tidings of good news. This year they have been buried with this:

Health gap 'wider than in Great Depression'

The health inequality gap in Britain is greater than it was during the post-World War I slump and the Great Depression, a study suggests.

Guess which story the BBC is focusing on (magnifying glass required, bottom right)...


I think we can file this one under 'the next logical step'...

Thailand currently has the most draconian anti-tobacco laws in Asia and was amongst the first to adopt both the display ban and the graphic warning. The effect has been the uglification of everyday life in the name of public health. We Brits have already seen graphic warnings on cigarette packs hit our shores and the display ban may or may be winding its devious way towards us (see last post).

Meanwhile, Thailand is motoring ahead and now plans to put graphic warnings on alcohol.

Thailand is pressing ahead with its plan to force alcohol manufacturers to carry graphic picture warnings on the bottle after the policy was cleared of trade barrier concerns by World Trade Organisation members.

Here are some of the charming images under consideration (they will have to cover at least 30% of the can or bottle)...

The slogans read (clockwise from top left): 'Drinking alcohol causes hypertension and liver cirrhosis', 'Drunk driving causes disability or death', 'Drinking alcohol leads to unconsciousness and even death', 'Drinking alcohol leads to adverse health effects and family problems'.

And why not? Once we accept that one hazardous product must be adorned with photographs of death and disease, what's stopping us doing it to them all?

Therein lies the simplistic beauty and the hideous logic of the slippery slope. And food will be next.

Tuesday 20 July 2010

The Dark Market Redux

Some readers will recall the infamous 'Dark Market' e-mails which came to light last year. These e-mails revealed how Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) and the Department of Health worked together to brief politicians with implausibly low estimates of how much England's tobacco display ban would cost to implement. They continued to cite these figures even after their own source told them they were unrealistic.

I published a summary of these documents at the time, but the discredited pricing is only one part of the jigsaw. MPs and peers were also misled about the popularity and effectiveness of this controversial legislation.

I have now written up a full history of the campaign to ban tobacco displays in England. This includes the Dark Market e-mails alongside evidence showing how the public consultation was weighted towards groups funded by the Department of Health. It also shows how ASH claimed that the legislation would reduce underage smoking despite the empirical international evidence suggesting nothing of the sort.  Finally, it details how false and misleading statements continue to obscure the truth about the cost and efficacy of tobacco display bans.

This is the Dark Market Redux...


In October 2009, the House of Commons voted to ban the display of tobacco products in shops. This report reveals how MPs and peers were repeatedly misled about the cost, popularity and efficacy of this legislation.

E-mails released under the Freedom of Information Act show how Action on Smoking Health (ASH), Cancer Research UK and the Department of Health (DH) briefed MPs and peers with unrealistically low estimates of the cost to retailers and continued to do so even after their own source made them aware of their error.

The government now accepts that the cost of complying with the law will be ten to forty times greater than the estimate given to MPs and peers at the time of the vote.

The Department of Health’s consultation paper was dominated by groups funded by the DH. The DH did not acknowledge the participation of groups like the Tobacco Retailers Alliance until the press accused Ministers of “cultivating a fake grassroots movement in order to make a position appear more popular than it really is.” (‘Government “fixing health consultations” with taxpayer-funded groups’, The Telegraph, 02.01.09).

ASH and the DH briefed ministers with incorrect figures purporting to show a dramatic decline in youth smoking in countries which had implemented display bans. Although ASH later blamed a “technical error” for these false figures, misleading statistics continued to be cited in the press and in Parliament. To this day, there is no credible evidence that display bans reduce youth smoking.

Crucial information was denied MPs at the time of the vote. The draft regulations were not available in the House of Commons library and were not sent by e-mail prior to the debate, contrary to claims made by the minister during the debate.

MPs and peers were unaware of the economic damage the legislation would do to small retailers and newsagents in addition to the cost of compliance.

The campaign of misinformation surrounding the tobacco display ban raises serious questions about the validity of the ‘government lobbying the government’ to achieve predetermined objectives. It illustrates the power of unelected bureaucrats and state-funded pressure groups to influence the democratic process.

Download the full PDF here

(This dossier was presented at a committee meeting of the House of Commons on 20.07.10)

Friday 16 July 2010

Pub trade still ignoring the elephant in the room

It's never a pretty sight when big business colludes with big government, but there is something frankly pathetic about the way the pub industry has conducted itself in recent years.

Every British government in the last twenty years has displayed nothing but contempt for the pub trade. The industry has been regulated and taxed to the brink of disaster. In every battle, the state has sided with neo-prohibitionist health groups who couldn't care less whether pubs live or die (or 'evolve' into sterile licensed cafes and coffee shops, which is effectively what's happening).

And yet, time and again, the pub industry comes back like a battered wife, pretending nothing's wrong and believing that this time it will be different. Stuck in the middle is the consumer, who gets it from both sides. Smokers already know that the pub industry isn't interested in sticking up for them, and now drinkers are getting the same treatment. Or, more precisely, those drinkers who have had the audacity to desert pubs since the smoking ban.

The economics of this are so simple. If you cast out 12 million smoking customers, they will buy their alcohol from supermarkets and drink at home. In a catastrophic misjudgment of cause-and-effect, the pub industry chooses to believe that people suddenly—out of the blue—decided to start buying alcohol from supermarkets in July 2007, thus deserting the pubs. Since this alcohol is cheaper than it is in pubs then, QED, all they need to do is raise the price of supermarket alcohol and all will be well.

And so, strange bed-fellows that they are, the pub industry finds itself in an alliance with the temperance groups in campaigning for more expensive booze. Adam Fowle, the CEO of Mitchell's and Butlers, has come up with the catchy phrase 'binge pricing'. Alcohol Concern must be kicking themselves for not coming up with it first. Playing the role of public health guardian, and resolutely ignoring the smoking ban-shaped elephant in the room, here he is writing for the Morning Advertiser:

The recently enacted mandatory code rightly bans irresponsible promos in the on-trade. Pubs cannot offer “all you can drink for £10”. However, most supermarket offers would drown a man for £10.

The government’s focus on the on-trade is unbalanced as the majority of alcohol is now purchased in the off-trade, with nearly 70% being bought from supermarkets. We believe a level playing field between the off-trade and on-trade should be the minimum requirement.

Yes, it's the fabled 'level-playing field' argument. We've heard that before, have we not? Like in this Mitchell's and Butlers press release from 2006:

There are now two alternatives before Parliament: either the retrograde, food based ban proposed in the Health Bill, which would incentivise large numbers of pubs, mostly in less affluent areas, to remove food and revert to a smoking and drinking offer only; or a full ban with no exemptions. We believe that the level playing field outcome of a full ban would be much the better of the two alternatives.

And how did that work out for Mitchell's and Butlers? Let's have a look at the share price...

You'll notice that the collapse of the share price began almost on the dot of July 1st 2007. Recession? No—that didn't start until October 2008, by which time the company had lost 75% of its value. Supermarket booze? 'Twas ever thus. Bad management? Perhaps, but the story is the same for all the pub companies.

This, for example, is Punch Taverns...

When Punch's profits started to slide in July 2007, it was blamed on a 'wet summer'. Since then, the company has lost 90% of its value. One hell of a wet summer, wasn't it?

If the level-playing field was the best option, one can only wonder what the worst option would have done to the pub industry. Still, here they are again, aligning themselves with their natural enemies and demanding a 'level-playing field'.

Except they don't want a level-playing field at all, what they want is special treatment...

Why not have a much lower rates bill for pubs and a higher one for supermarkets?

Why not lower duty rates for draught beer as opposed to a packaged product? Or what about a lower rate of VAT for alcohol sold with food, which is the policy they adopt in Italy? 

At heart, the problem is that people like Mr Fowle have forgotten—or are wilfully ignoring—the fact that pubs and supermarkets sell different things. It's about so much more than the cost of the liquid in the glass. Supermarkets sell the liquid, pubs sell the experience. And because they sell different things, there can never be a level-playing field.

Consumers aren't stupid. They've always known that they can get their alcohol much more cheaply from the off-trade. They pay (or paid) a premium to go to the pub because pubs sell atmosphere, comfort, entertainment and relaxation. Above all, they sell an environment. That environment changed dramatically in July 2007. For some people, it was a change for the better, but every economic indicator suggests that for pubs' core customer base, it was a change for the worse. People will not pay a premium to stand out on the street. Whether that premium is £2 or 2p makes little difference when there is a comfy sofa and a roaring fire back at home.

So, yes, it's not pretty when business colludes with government, but it's understandable when business feels it can maximise its profits. But when years of collusion have led to nothing but the decimation of your industry, isn't it time to grow a pair?

Tuesday 13 July 2010

Their freedom

Those of you who have seen some of the batshit crazy suggestions for laws to be created/repealed on the Your Freedom website might be surprised to hear that the first idea to be categorically ruled out by Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg is an amendment to the smoking ban.

Nick Clegg is, of course, a Liberal Democrat.

Allowing someone to set up a smoking club on their own property, which clearly sign-posts itself as a smoking club and doesn't force nonsmokers to enter is a liberal thing to do.

The whole Your Freedom exercise is supposed to be an exercise in direct democracy.

So if Mr Clegg is neither a liberal nor a democrat, what can we call him?

Dick Puddlecote and Leg-Iron have some suggestions...

Saturday 10 July 2010

Britain speaks its brains

This summary is not available. Please click here to view the post.

Thursday 8 July 2010

Speak for yourself, National Obesity Forum

So the British government has decided to stop spending tens of millions of pounds of tax-payers' money on anti-obesity advertising campaigns and instead spend tens of millions of pounds of the food industry's money instead.

From The Guardian :

Beer companies, confectionary firms and crisp-makers will be asked to fund the government's advertising campaign to persuade people to switch to a healthier lifestyle and, in return, will not face new legislation outlawing excessively fatty, sugary and salty food, the health secretary, Andrew Lansley, announced today.

I do like the use of the word 'asked' there, like a bank robber 'asking' the cashier the open the safe.

I find it hard to care too much about this. We'll end up paying for it either way and an industry-funded campaign won't be any less effective than Labour's state-funded campaigns. If anything, the industry might end up being slightly less profligate with the money it is forced, I mean asked, to spend.

What did make me choke on my proverbial cornflakes, however, was this :

But Tam Fry, of the National Obesity Forum, said he was "horror-struck" about the thought of getting industry involved in funding Change4Life.

He said it was "nothing other than a bare-faced request to bail out a cash-starved Department of Health campaign".

"The quid pro quo is that the department gives industry an assurance that there will be no regulation or legislation over its activities."

I'm sorry, but isn't this the National Obesity Forum that is overwhelmingly funded by the pharmaceutical industry—specifically those pharmaceutical companies that make weight-loss drugs? The same National Obesity Forum that consistently defends its sponsors' weight-loss drugs long after everybody else has recognised their dangerous and highly unpleasant side-effects?

Weight-loss drugs like Alli (otherwise known as Orlistat), which has been found to have any number of nasty side-effects:

US authorities are investigating concerns an anti-obesity drug widely available over the counter at chemists may cause liver damage.
Orlistat went on sale under the brand name Alli without the need for a prescription in the UK in April.
The US Food and Drug Administration has received more than 30 reports linking the drug to serious liver injury.

This life-threatening side-effect goes alongside other known problems caused by the drug:

Diarrhoea and gas problems are to be expected if users persist in eating fat while taking the drug.
However, concerns have been raised over the medication's other possible side-effects. The FDA said the most commonly reported adverse reactions included the yellowing of skin or whites of the eyes, weakness and stomach pain.

Lovely stuff. Oh, and there's more...

It advised people who used orlistat [Alli] to seek medical advice if they experience possible symptoms of liver injury, in particular weakness or fatigue, fever, jaundice, or brown urine.
Other symptoms may include abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, light-colored stools, itching, or loss of appetite.

Alli is made by GlaxoSmithKline, which is one of the National Obesity Forum's most generous donors/sponsors. So who has spent the last few years pushing for this dubious pharmaceutical remedy to be made available over the counter? Step forward the National Obesity Forum (NOF)...

NOF welcomes the decision to allow Orlistat, the weight-loss drug, to be sold over-the-counter and has been working closely with GlaxoSmithKline [GSK] to ensure that its introduction to the market in May runs as smoothly as possible. 

Or take Rimonabant, made by another of NOF's sponsors—Sanofi Aventis. Actually, don't take it. Just know that this drug was launched in 2006 and got a warm reception from—who else?—the NOF.

Dr David Haslam, clinical director of the National Obesity Forum, said the drug offered a real opportunity to get to grips with the obesity crisis.
"The launch of Rimonabant is important news for patients who are overweight, with type 2 diabetes, or low HDL cholesterol or high triglycerides."

But within a year, the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency had received 720 reports of unpleasant side-effects, including psychiatric discorders and suicidal thoughts.

Despite a growing body of evidence that Rimonabant was unsafe, it was approved for NHS use in June 2008, leading the BBC to report "Controversial diet drug approved":

An obesity drug has been approved for NHS use in England and Wales, despite links to an increased risk of depression and suicide.
Rimonabant is already used by thousands of Britons, and, coupled with exercise, could help patients lose up to 10% of their body weight.
Scotland and the US have not approved the drug amid safety concerns. However, an obesity specialist welcomed the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) ruling.

This 'obesity specialist' was, of course, an NOF spokesman:

Dr David Haslam, the clinical director of the National Obesity Forum, said that he welcomed its approval for NHS use, and predicted that it would be prescribed to many patients.
He said: "We can be absolutely reassured that they have looked closely at the evidence and made an appropriate decision.
"This is a very good drug, and there are very many people who have tried everything else, including other drugs, with little success, who might benefit from it."

But within months of the NOF winning the campaign to have the drug approved, the European Medicines Agency said the risk of serious psychiatric problems and suicide were not worth the weight-loss benefits and recommended that use of the drug be suspended. By this stage even Sanofi-Aventis's own research had shown that use of Rimonabant doubled the risk of psychiatric disorders. The drug has never been approved by the FDA in America and it would go on to be banned in India. Still, the NOF defended it:

Dr Colin Waine, chairman of the National Obesity Forum, said: "My patients were doing very well on it, and they will now have to stop and come off it."

And then, as I mentioned earlier this year, there is Reductil, which was taken off the shelves after it was found to cause heart attacks. Reductil is made by Abbott Laboratories, who happened to pay for the National Obesity Forum's website, amongst other things. The ban was initiated by the European Medicines Agency and was supported by the UK Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency. But, as usual, there was one dissenting voice:

David Haslam of the National Obesity Forum said he was surprised by the decision and knew of no study proving that Reductil had led to a death from a heart attack or stroke.

Now, as far as I'm concerned, the National Obesity Forum can go on shilling for Big Pharma all they like—they may even be right about some of these drugs—but it's a bit bloody rich for them to complain about industry being involved with the anti-obesity campaign and warning about conflicts of interests and qui pro quos. If I was Tam Fry's boss, I would strongly recommend he keeps his mouth shut and hopes no one asks too many questions about their own funding.

Wednesday 7 July 2010

Soda wars

It's an old favourite of mine, so let's see that marvellous Stanton Glantz quote again:

"The 'slippery slope' argument is one that the tobacco industry has routinely raised to oppose policies against its interests, including smokefree policies, decisions by arts and cultural organizations not to accept tobacco money, advertising restrictions, and other policies. These predicted subsequent problems simply have not materialized"

Sure they haven't, and especially not in Stanton Glantz's stomping ground of San Francisco...

Coca-Cola is out, and soy milk is now part of San Francisco's official city policy.

Under an executive order from Mayor Gavin Newsom, Coke, Pepsi and Fanta Orange are no longer allowed in vending machines on city property, although their diet counterparts are - up to a point.

Well, I'll be damned.

That includes non-diet sodas, sports drinks and artificially sweetened water. Juice must be 100 percent fruit or vegetable juice with no added sweeteners. Diet sodas can be no more than 25 percent of the items offered, the directive says.

There should be "ample choices" of water, "soy milk, rice milk and other similar dairy or non dairy milk," says the directive.

"Ample choices" of the same restricted and not-very-popular products. Ain't choice great?

There is the usual dubious epidemiological study which ignores reverse causation...

The mayor's administration points to studies linking soda to obesity, including a UCLA one released last year that found adults who drink at least one soft drink a day are 27 percent more likely to be obese than those who don't...

And the usual, equally dubious, passive obesity argument...

...soda consumption is fueling the state's $41 billion annual obesity problem.

And here comes Mr Disingenuous...

"This is not about the soda police or a crackdown on soda," Winnicker said. "People absolutely remain free to choose to drink unhealthy sugary sodas anywhere they want."

Why does this remind me of John Banzhaf back in 1979?

"Bill, this isn't prohibition. You know it and I know it. We have no objection whatsoever if you and the other folks who want to smoke want to go into smokeasies and smoke all day long. We just object that you do it around us."

The San Francisco spokesman is right about one thing. You remain free to drink Coca-Cola wherever you like, even if you are no longer free to buy it anywhere you like.

But if giving people an ample choice of water, fruit juice and soy milk somehow fails to beat California's "$41 billion obesity problem" do you think that will be the end of the matter? Or do you, in fact, think that campaigners will complain about the "loophole" that allows vending machines on private property to sell these killer drinks? Is there any reason at all to believe that the war on "unhealthy sugary sodas" will end here? I suspect it has barely begun.

And let's not forget :

Even with no sugar added, fruit juice contains about the same amount of sugar as the same amount of soft drink. Because apples, oranges and grapes are naturally full of sugar. (No surprise there: Processed sugar comes from plants, usually corn or sugar cane or sugar beets.) The table below compares the sugar in 12 ounces of juice (no sugar added) with 12 ounces (one can) of Coca-Cola. If you look at the nutrition label on a can of Coke or fruit juice, the “carbohydrate” is mostly sugar. Four grams of sugar carbs equal approximately 1 teaspoon of sugar.

Click on the image below to enlarge:

Smoking ban might be reviewed yet

Taking Liberties and Conservative Home has got the news...

Brian Binley, MP for Northampton South, has tabled an Early Day Motion calling for a review of the smoking ban to stop the closure of so many pubs and clubs.

Over 2,000 pubs and clubs have gone to the wall in the last year and seven pubs a day are going out of business. They are under massive pressure to keep afloat and the smoking ban has further impacted on their plight.

When the bill was implemented on 1st July 2007 the Government said it would review the ban in three years' time, a review which now does not appear to be forthcoming.

Brian said: "Many pubs and clubs are finding it difficult dealing with the economic situation. The smoking ban has further impacted on many businesses and the trade is really struggling.

"I want to consider a balanced and proportionate amendment to the legislation which allows for segregated smoking rooms or areas within pubs, bars and clubs, provided that effective smoke extraction systems of an authorised standard are installed."

The EDM calls on the Government to conduct a thorough review, supported by consultation with all parties and affected business sectors on the impact the smoking ban has had on public houses and private members clubs.

Brian said: "I understand that the Government has no plans to review the smoking ban at the present time and that makes me angry. The then Health Minister promised that a review would be held three years after the implementation of the ban but the Government is now saying that it has no plans to do so. That denial is simply unacceptable.

"I have tabled this EDM to put pressure on the Government to look into the impact the ban is having on the pubs and clubs trade and to conduct an urgent review.

"The EDM also calls for any changes to the smoking ban legislation to be made on the basis of evidence, fairness and proportionality whilst recognising the importance of pubs and clubs to the nation's social life and community wellbeing."

Mr Binley, as you will gather, wants to amend the smoking ban. The Department of Health doesn't want to amend the smoking ban. Mr Binley wants a review of the ban to see how it's gone. The Department of Health doesn't. That, I think, tells you all you need to know about how the ban's gone.

In somewhat related news, Dick Puddlecote has yet more evidence to show why smoking bans do NOT correct market failure, because the market had it right to begin with.

Monday 5 July 2010

If I was blogging...

Bit busy today but if I wasn't I would be writing about these stories...

Hospital smoking bans are a step too far in Toronto. Even someone who think smoking is "vile" agrees. An interesting op-ed...

Toronto’s Centre for Addiction and Mental Health is making a healthy choice. It’s bringing smoking back onto hospital grounds after instituting a ban in April.

As another anti-smoking group comes out with another study that 'proves' that smoking bans don't hurt the bar trade*, Dutch bar owners have other ideas...

Nearly half of the Netherlands' 5,630 bars openly defy a smoking ban that is two years old on Thursday, saying they risk financial ruin if they show puffing clients the door.

"If I prevent people smoking in my bar, it would mean bankruptcy for sure," Gerhard Sannes, owner of De Kachel (The Stove) bar in Groningen in the north east of the country told AFP.

"I tried it in the beginning, but my sales fell by 75 percent" in a two-month period, he said.

If the Dutch won't obey the law, will the Germans? Bavaria has voted for a stronger smoking ban...

Although voter turnout for the referendum was relatively low, at 37.7 percent, a full 61 percent of those casting ballots favored a complete ban on smoking, according to Bavarian election officials. The ban overturning an existing law will take effect on Aug. 1 — with an exception allowing limited smoking at this year's Oktoberfest.

Finally, the swine flu panic is looking more and more stupid in hindsight...

Just 12% of patients who got anti-flu drugs using the swine flu hotline and website actually had the virus, figures obtained by the BBC suggest.


Billions of pounds in public money were wasted worldwide on buying drugs to combat a swine flu "pandemic that never was", says Newport West MP Paul Flynn.

He has compiled a report on the H1N1 virus for the Council of Europe.

He told BBC Wales' Dragon's Eye the World Health Organisation (WHO) made a "terrible mistake" in causing panic.

* The study is from ClearWay Minnesota, who have form when it comes to being economical with the truth in these matters. See p. 233 of Velvet Glove, Iron Fist.

Saturday 3 July 2010

Smoking ban will not be reviewed

From the BBC :

'No plans' for smoking ban review

The government has dropped a planned review of the smoking ban in England.

The previous Labour administration had promised it would be looked at again in autumn 2010, but the coalition says it has "no plans" to do so.

Publicans - who feared a review would extend the ban into beer gardens and doorways, damaging trade - backed a campaign to partially lift the ban.

What can we make of this? A three year review was promised on several occasions but earlier this year it became crystal clear that the Department of Health was in no mood to carry out a genuine review (ie. with the possibility of the law being relaxed in the light of ASH's broken promises).

On the contrary, the review seemed set to open the door to even greater restrictions. (It was always absurd the have the DoH review it anyway since it was DoH-funded groups like ASH who campaigned for a total ban in the first place.)

In that context, The Publican is taking the cancellation as a sign that even if things do not get better for the pub trade, at least they will not get significantly worse.

As the BBC points out (in a fairly balanced article, albeit buried deep in their website):

The issue remains controversial with the public - with calls for the ban to be reversed among the most popular suggestions on a new government website, Your Freedom, asking the public for ideas on which existing laws and regulations should be repealed.

Ah, the Your Freedom website! Now up and running, it has already fallen victim to the ignorant, the illiterate and the mentally deranged, as well as the large chunk of the British public who don't take these things entirely seriously. Various people seem unable to come to terms with the idea of a UK government repealing laws and instead have suggested yet more stupid pieces of legislation to bring in. No doubt David Miliband has been taking notes.

It's worryingly difficult to tell the spoof suggestions from the sincere. Amongst the gems so far...

I think that all Baked Beans served in Europe should be made by Heinz.

Cyclists should be insured and carry a registration plate

Why should criminals be incarcerated in prisons in this country. We could buy land in Africa and put the offenders there.

Impose a 100% 'environmental' tax on all fireworks sold

Ban drinking in pubs. This will cut down on anti social behaviour. Make them all drink tea instead.

Smokers & Obese Pay For Respatory [sic] Related Illnesses on NHS. I take care of my body and its hard work. I don’t see why I should pay for people who don’t do the same.

dont ell [sic] me how to disipline my kids. iwas [sic] smacked it has not hurt me any.

Invade France. Lets face it, it will be easy enough won't it? Lets just send half a dozen troops over on EuroTunnel and watch the french try to surrender to them as soon as they arrive.

Abolish unemployment.

Get rid of all landlords. Everyone should own their home.

Maximum 20 mins work then a break at school. Students only expected to work for 20mins before having a 5 min break at school

Finally, and inevitably...

Removal of pointless government websites

To better use taxpayers' money, the government should close down all of its websites that function merely as talking shops, since they are a waste of server space and everyone's time. Asking people what laws they want changed is an open invitation to waffle at length about things of which we have little understanding. All that happens is that people are conned into thinking they have a stake in the decision-making process. They don't. This is a waste of everyone's time.

Wouldn't it be better if - instead of participating here - people went back to work and did something to help the economy?

Friday 2 July 2010

That's one way of putting it

One for Biased BBC?

Life expectancy for everyone in England improved under Labour, and now stands at almost 78 years for men and 82 years for women.

That's one way of putting it. Another way of putting it would be to say that life expectancy has improved for, ooh, let's see, the last hundred years.

Say no more

At the time of writing, the government's "what law do you want us to repeal?" website has crashed under the weight of exceptionally heavy traffic.

A damning verdict on 13 years of Labour authoritarianism or evidence that the present incumbents can't even host a website without cocking it up? You decide.

Thursday 1 July 2010

The silly season begins

Looks like July has come around again....

From The Telegraph (and all other newspapers):

Ryanair to sell £5 tickets for standing-room only flights

Ryanair is planning to run flights where passengers stand during the journey at a cost of just £5 per ticket.

Well done Ryanair. You've got my attention.

Michael O'Leary, the airline's chief executive, will set out proposals today that include charging customers to use the loo.

Outrageous! Is there nothing those chaps at Ryanair won't do to keep prices down?

Or not. Let's be sensible here, none of this is going to happen. There is no way in the world that Ryanair are going to be allowed to run flights with passengers standing up. Nor are they ever going to charge people to use the toilet. It's a massive publicity stunt to remind millions of people about the Ryanair brand and their low prices (£5, no less!).

Not only is this bollocks, it's very old bollocks. From The Sun in July 6th 2009 (italics in the original):

RYANAIR boss Michael O’Leary wants passengers to STAND on the budget airline’s flights — in a bid to pack in more people and boost profits.

The controversial Ryanair boss is always looking for ways of saving money.

Earlier this year he announced that he intended to charge passengers a pound to spend a penny on board.

He also unveiled plans for planes with just one toilet instead of three, which he said would allow six extra seats to be crammed in.

Is there so little going on in the world that newspapers need to regurgitate the same old advertisements news stories about Ryanair? By a remarkable coincidence, Michael O'Leary has a book out at the moment. Fancy that.