Sunday, 29 May 2011

ASH: Still strangers to reality

The Independent has published a little puff-piece for ASH which has all the balance and thoughtfulness you would expect from an article which treats Deborah Arnott and Anna Gilmore as authorities. It's mainly about tobacco consumption in the third world but the real intent of the piece is to push plain packaging, as becomes clear in the final paragraphs. The logic is that industry arguments are always wrong and therefore they are wrong on plain packaging. Of all the examples the Independent could have used to decorate this fallacious argument, they concentrate on the damage done to the pub industry by the smoking ban. Or rather the lack of, because to ASH and their useful dupe at the Independent, this is a 'myth'.

A study from Action on Smoking and Health (ASH), out this week, scrutinises the credibility of economic arguments used by the industry to fight back against legislation. For example, when Christopher Ogden, chief executive of the Tobacco Manufacturers Association, said in 2010 that the smoking ban had severely threatened the pub and bingo industry because of lost jobs and livelihoods, the reality was a little different.

Really? Then the Independent obviously knows something that the country's biggest bingo operator doesn't.

Gala Coral, operator of Gala Bingo, says growth prior to the smoking ban was running at 10 per cent. "Since the ban, we have seen a very sharp fall in revenue and admissions," says Neil Goulden, chief executive of Gala Coral. "The smoking ban is entirely responsible for that, he adds."

So what's ASH's evidence?

Data from the Office for National Statistics shows a net increase in the number of people visiting pubs since the smoking ban.

No it doesn't. This is what the ONS survey reported:

Three-quarters (75 per cent) of drinkers who visited pubs said that the change had not affected how often they went to pubs. Respondents were as likely to say that they went to pubs more often now than before the restrictions (12 per cent) as they were to say that they went less often now (13 per cent).

The percentage of women who visited the pub about the same amount since the smoking
restrictions were introduced has decreased from 80 per cent in 2008 to 73 per cent in 2009.
Conversely [sic], the percentage of women who said they were less likely to go to the pub following the restrictions has increased from 9 per cent to 14 per cent over the same period.

The survey says nothing about how long people spend in the pub—much less, if beer sales are any indication. Self-reported evidence of this kind can be unreliable because respondents can use it as a chance to express their approval/disapproval of the ban, rather than tell us whether it's actually changed their behaviour. Nonetheless, this survey certainly doesn't suggest an increase in the number of pub visitors. And that's hardly surprising as you would have to be living on Neptune not to have heard that pubs have been closing at the fastest rate in British history. Pubs closing at the rate of 50 a week despite more people going to them sounds rather incongruous, does it not?

We can argue about the reasons for the great pub crash that began in 2007 until the cows come home, and it's clearly multi-factoral, but ASH are not prepared to settle for saying that they don't think the smoking ban has been the main cause. They have to go further and deny that pubs are in crisis at all. In fact, they think pubs are flourishing.

The next factoid in the Independent article is only ever used by ASH, so there can be no doubt that it was they who offered it to the clueless hack responsible for the article...

When England went smoke-free in 2007, the number of premises licensed for alcohol increased by 5 per cent, and it has continued to grow every year since.

It is indisputable that Britain has lost more than 6,000 pubs since the ban came into effect in 2007. (The figures are here.) And yet ASH try to imply that numbers have increased. Their figures don't relate to pubs, of course, but to alcohol licenses, and since the Licensing Act came into force in 2005, there has certainly been a big increase in the number of licenses handed out. This is partly because it's easier to get one, and partly because the law now obliges you to get one for even the smallest occasion. ASH might think it's jolly nice that there are more coffee shops and garden fetes that have alcohol licenses, but it's got nothing to do with the smoking ban or the pub industry.

This Canute-like refusal to face reality is only possible in the world of single-issue zealot. As I said last time I wrote about this subject, every fact supports the view that the smoking ban has seriously damaged the pub and bingo industries.

It fits what publicans have been saying:

The readers' poll showed 77% of licensees think that trade has suffered as a result of the ban. Almost two thirds (63%) say business is worse than expected, and 72% predict a "challenging" or "very challenging" outlook for their business. Three out of five licensees said they had let staff go or reduced their hours. In addition, 73% want the ban lifted.

It fits what market analysts have been saying:

Pubs have sold 175 million fewer pints in the past year as a direct result of the smoking ban, according to market analysts AC Nielsen.

It fits what pubgoers have been saying:

There's no need for any fancy statistical analysis of trends over time. Just ask the customers.

It fits what the share prices of the Pubcos have been telling us:

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.

It fits what economic theory predicts will happen when a externality is imposed on a business; it fits what the pub industry did predict would happen; it fits what has happened in other countries, in other states and in other cities.

The only thing it doesn't fit is the rhetoric of anti-smoking groups like ASH:

"Smoke-free polices are not only good for health, they are good for business. Evidence shows that in countries where smoke-free laws have been introduced, trade has generally increased."

Amanda Sandford, ASH, 2003


Anonymous said...

It's interesting to read the comments following this article in The Independent. ASH has its troops out in number so this was probably a pre-planned strike. Some of the posters are there because of bereavement (not that that gives them the right to persecute others) but many of the posters come from the planet Zog!!!

Anonymous said...

These are the thoughts of the anti-smoking puritans:

'For adults who are willingly smoking, they deserve to die in pain as they have received enough warnings and discouragement.'

' A parrot of ours died after spending a life in a single smoke filled room, courtesy of a massive inoperable tumour on his tongue.'

'Just one breath of it passively in the street tightens my lungs.'

'The problem with smoking is the uncontrolled child abuse, by parents smoking near their children poisoning them.'

' My employer now refuses to allow 'smoke breaks' due to the thousands of hours of lost productivity per year allowing these smelly addicts to go off and smoke. They also refuse to employ smokers due to their constant 'chest infections' they blame for their sick days.'

'smoking is just it in an enclosed room, so I don't smell it, or have to breath it. and so that my duaghter never knows about it, die there so that no one else has to clear up your mess and it doesn't involve the NHS and then yes I will respect your personal choice'

'I don't care if smokers want to smoke - just don't do it near me. Stay well away and keep your cancer causing smoke away from my healthy lungs'

'I wish all smokers would die prematurely '

'Smoking and passive smoking is proven to harm and be fatal...yet we breathe in other people's smoke which harms and can kill us. Yet there is no law to defend us from is the same as walking around with a deadly weapon like a knife...'

How can anybody try to fight this utter hatred ??

JJ said...

Anon 20:09

Were all these comments on one thread. If they were you can reliably conclude that ASH have been trawling the net and defecating.

Anonymous said...

All on one thread from

DaveA said...

I have written to the ONS this afternoon asking for the breakdown of licenses from 2000-2010 by title and use. I hope they keep these figures.

Michael J. McFadden said...

Chris, I think you're being a bit too kind to Arnott et al when you say it's simply hard to see how they arrived at their stated conclusion about "more people." From the statistics you cite I'd say they pretty much flat out lied and that the Independent displayed gross journalistic irresponsibility in not doing at least a bit of fact-checking before publishing the piece.

Would they publish an article written by "The Osama Fan Club" describing how the British and American Secret Police captured Bin Laden five years ago and had been secretly torturing him in an invisible chamber hidden behind Big Ben's clock before finally replanting him in Pakistan so they could shoot him in a raid? Or would they ask for some backup for such a story?

I'm not that familiar with The Independent though. Perhaps they're the equivalent of our US supermarket tabloids with headlines about how President Obama teleports up the the Mothership in orbit around Saturn every weekend to report on how well he's managing their future human cattle production.

In any event, they have a clear responsibility to publish an opposing/corrective piece based upon your blog article here. VERY well done!!!


James Higham said...

And so the game goes on. Determine your policy, set up an authoritative body, publish the findings you need.

Anonymous said...

Evidence, ethics, hubris and the future of second‐hand smoke policy
Simon Chapman
Correspondence to: Professor S Chapman
School of Public Health, University of Sydney, Sydney, NSW 2006, Edward Ford Building A27, Australia;

Anonymous said...

" has generally increased"

What trade? Notice how there is an implication that trade in industries where smoking is a relevant factor has increased, but that is not what she says. "Trade has generally increased". In other words, she is trying to take credit for any general increase in trade.

But they are experts in this sort of non-statement, aren't they?

Anonymous said...

I have submitted a complaint to the Press Complaints Commission regarding the use of the ONS statistics to claim that Mr Ogden is telling lies about the loss of business in pubs and bingo halls.

We shall see what they say.

We should be peppering the Press Complaints Commission with complaints of this nature. ASH et al should not be allowed to get away with their implied lies.

Anonymous said...

WE should also be peppering the Charity Commission.

Anonymous said...

Indeed, Anon.

I would say that one complaint to the Press Commission or the Charities commission is worth a thousand comments on a newspaper site. I mean, does anyone at the newspaper actually read the hundreds of comments?

What would these commissions do if they received, say, hundreds of complaints? In a sense, that is the Achilles Heel of Tobacco Control. The word 'charity' and ASH etc are not mutually compatible.