Tuesday 28 September 2010

You can't rip people off, that's our job!

Blackadder: How would you like to earn some money?

Comte de Frou-Frou: I would not like to earn it. I would like other people to earn it and give it to me. Just like in France in the good old days!

On a few occasions over the last decade, Action on Smoking Health have got upset about (alleged) price-fixing between tobacco companies. It happened in 2003:

"We ... hope that the OFT carry out a thorough probe and are not fobbed off by industry spin," said Amanda Sandford, of anti-smoking group Action on Smoking and Health. If the consumer is being ripped off then this should be exposed."

And again in 2008:

“The hypocrisy of the industry knows no bounds,” said Deborah Arnott, the director of Action on Smoking and Health. “While complaining bitterly about tax increases, these companies have been raising the price of cigarettes to fill their own coffers while hiding behind the screen of tax rises.”

Coming from people who call for higher cigarette prices at every opportunity—and who barely conceal their contempt for the consumer—this righteous anger might seem baffling. If raising the price of cigarettes reduces smoking, what does it matter whether it is the government or the industry that does it?

But that is to disregard two of the key components of the modern anti-smoking movement: fanatical hatred of the tobacco industry and an unquenchable thirst for money.

Readers will be no doubt be thrilled to hear that Prof. Anna Gilmore, the world's greatest scientific mind and a woman of unimpeachable integrity, has now started dabbling in economics. In an article published the impeccably peer-reviewed Tobacco Control magazine, Gilmore uses the concepts of market failure and barriers to entry as an excuse to curtail tobacco industry profits. The only problem is that she doesn't understand what market failure is and the barriers to entry are entirely the result of tobacco control's own policies (ie. banning advertising).

Like ASH, Gilmore wants higher cigarette prices, but not unless the state (and state-funded researchers in the anti-tobacco industry) get to keep the spoils. Here's a sample paragraph...

This situation benefits the tobacco industry while disadvantaging the consumer, and reducing potential benefits to population health and the public purse. The extreme profitability of cigarettes gives tobacco companies both the incentive and the resources to fight public health measures designed to reduce tobacco consumption, and an enormous interest in opposing anything that could disrupt the current cigarette-dominated nicotine market. The pricing power of these companies also creates significant economic rents for the tobacco companies which ought to be captured by the state and used for wider social benefits.

Where to begin with such guff? We could start by asking when tobacco control suddenly started worrying about smokers being "disadvantaged" by higher cigarette prices or anything else? We could ask exactly which "public health measure" has been successfully fought by the tobacco industry in recent years? And does not the industry have a right to defend itself, and its customers, against Gilmore and her ilk in any case? Who really has an "enormous interest in opposing anything that could disrupt the current cigarette-dominated nicotine market"? Was it the industry that banned snus in the EU? Is it the industry that is banning the e-cigarette around the world? Or is it the puritan wing of tobacco control aided and abetted by the pharmaceutical industry? And in what kind of society do profits from a legal industry get "captured by the state" for no reason other than that its opponents resent its wealth and wish to have it for themselves?

Carl V. Philips has written an excellent post about Gilmore's latest train-wreck of a study over at ep-ology ('Anna Gilmore adds junk economics to her junk epidemiology portfolio') so there's no need for me to say any more. Here's a sample...

So this is their “radical” idea? Putting a new label on basically what is already being done, perhaps with a bit of nationalization of the companies, and making the absurd claim that this has something to do with the economic theory of market failures?

The most charitable interpretation is that this is just an attempt to use junk science as an excuse for a preferred policy, to transfer corporate profits to the government (something that can be done any number of ways that would work better if that is what government decides to do).

Well, I suppose given Gilmore’s demonstrated abuse of epidemiology there was no reason to expect anything else.

Incidentally, Gilmore's is the second article to be published recently in Tobacco Control which discusses ways of forcing the tobacco industry to hand its money over to public health 'professionals'. The other wants a 'polluter pays' principle and is discussed on the seldom updated TC blog (check out the swivel-eyed contribution from James Repace in the comments)

Is the anti-smoking lobby getting worried about where the next billion dollars is coming from? In these difficult economic times, it's always possible that someone in government might find better things to spend money on than a clique of unaccountable zealots whose policies don't deliver what they promise and whose research methods fall somewhere between charlatan and comedian.

One alternative way of raising money never seems to occur to them, but I will throw it out there. As downwiththatsortofthing notes, support for anti-smoking policies is always 80%. So why not ask all those hundreds of millions of people who support the movement to chip in a few dollars each? Y'know, like legitimate grass-roots organisations and charities do. No? It wouldn't work, you say?

Coercion and extortion and it is then.


Dick Puddlecote said...

"Prof. Anna Gilmore, the world's greatest scientific mind and a woman of unimpeachable integrity"

Mind if I just leave this here for a bit? ;)

Anonymous said...

"...support for anti-smoking is always 80%."

The latest Gallup poll (from July) on American attitudes on smoking bans may have escaped your notice, Chris. It demonstrates why we know better.

Gallup ran the results under the headline "Americans Want Smoking Off the Menu at Restaurants". (They could just as well have called it, "Most Americans Favor Smoking Bans in Restaurants, but Hardly Anywhere Else.")


Only 59% want smoking banned in, specifically, restaurants. Only 31% explicitly favor smoking bans in bars.

The 80% claimed by anti-smoking groups is, as you point out, far off the mark.

Gallup also published some of their historical data. While most are probably more interested in what people are thinking today, I found myself fascinated to find that a mere 17% of the population supported comprehensive smoking bans in any kind of public place in 1987.

In 1987, where were all the people who felt they needed to take showers? Or the people complaining about the smell? Why didn't people use such justifications for bans as "it makes my clothes stink" in 1987?

I'll lay off that topic for now. I have many thoughts on it.


Anonymous said...

Sorry for this off-topic message, but I've got excellent news from the continent. I just heard on the Flemish radio here in Belgium that a small part of the coalition agreement of the (probably) new centre-right government in the Netherlands, which has found its way to the press, has revealed that the current smoking ban in the Netherlands (in which also small bars and cafés without employees are currently affected)) will be amended, allowing (again!) those small bars to choose for themselves whether or not they'll cater for smokers.

As far as I know, the Netherlands will be finally the first country in Europe to repeal (slightly) the bully state, in favor of freedom to choose! (see e.g. http://www.trouw.nl/nieuws/nederland/article3228473.ece/_Nieuw_kabinet_wil_af_van_rookverbod_kleine_cafes_.html , in Dutch, for more details )

Best regards from Belgium,

Mr Anonymous (my apologies that I don't want to reveal my identity, but Google is watching me too much...)

P.S.: I follow quite regularly this blog, since I became already aware that most of the current anti-smoking legislation across Europe, in fact has its "intellectual" (sic) roots in the Anglosaxon World.