Saturday 31 December 2011

2011: The ten best bits

Like all years, 2011 was mostly awful for those of us who have a fondness for liberty. However, I have managed to find ten highlights to bring you cheer as the year comes to an end.

10. EU consultation backfires

It all seemed so easy for the European Commission: quietly launch a public consultation on tobacco regulation, pack it full of responses from NGOs and fake charities and, voila!, the EU can declare huge support for plain packaging and huge opposition to lifting the ban on snus. Alas, for our penniless European masters, the NGOs barely turned up, but the public did. Result: very little support for more bans and lots of support for harm reduction policies.

Naturally, the EU disregarded the consultation and claimed to have suddenly found a bundle of supportive responses which they won't let anyone see. Ah, sweet democracy.

9. Junk scientist caught and sacked

All he wanted to do was come up with evidence to show that meat-eaters are anti-social louts, but things unravelled for "social psychologist" Diederik Stapel in October when an investigating committee found that he had "made up or manipulated data in dozens of papers over nearly a decade". The academic fraudster was finally exposed after his students noticed that his data fitted Stapel's pre-existing beliefs a little too perfectly. Sacked in disgrace, one hopes in vain that his example will act as a warning to other politically-motivated social scientists.

8. Malta gets mugged by reality

Having heard about the miraculous effect of smoking bans on heart attacks—arguably the most egregious case of systematic scientific fraud of the last ten years—the people of Malta were expecting great things when they conducted a review of hospital admissions. Alas, the country's heart attack rate had risen since the ban and they had neglected to employ a junk scientist to manipulate the figures to show otherwise.

Failing to twig that they had been tricked by the likes of Jill "let me smooth that our for you" Pell and Anna "pants on fire" Gilmore, the hapless Maltese issued the figures in a report with the unintentionally hilarious title "The Smoking Ban: The Malta Paradox".

7. BBC finally admits that drinking has been declining for years

In which the BBC admitted the truth it had been so carefully obscuring throughout the noughties.

It's difficult to open a newspaper without reading about the alcohol problems that exist in the UK. Recent headlines include "Binge drinking costs NHS billions", "Hospitals reel as drink cases soar" and "Alcohol abuse to cost NHS an extra billion"

And this week, figures from Alcohol Concern suggest the number of people being treated in hospital for alcohol misuse has more than doubled in eight years.

But behind these stories is an unexpected truth - Britons have been drinking less and less every year since 2002.

They didn't make a big deal of this admission—it featured in a little magazine article—and they made it up to their friends at the BMA by producing the most outrageously biased pro-temperance television programme of the year, but at least it was there. If we're lucky, maybe in 2012 they'll acknowledge that obesity hasn't risen since 2002 as well?

6. BMA caught pulling numbers out of the air

Of all the junk statistics that are used to justify a smoking ban in cars, the one you really don't want to cite if you're an "evidence-based" anti-smoking campaigner is the one that was debunked in a prestigious peer-reviewed journal in 2010. But when the British Medical Association earnestly informed the media that smoking in a car creates 23 times more smoke than would be found in a smoky bar, it apparently forgot that the Candian Medical Association Journal had told advocates to "stop using the 23 times more toxic factoid because there appears to be no evidence for it in the scientific literature".

The open and shut nature of the case forced the BMA to retract the silly claim. Having insisted that a single cigarette smoked in a moving vehicle with all the windows open creates 23 times more secondhand smoke than a pub full of smokers, they replaced it with the claim that ten cigarettes smoked in a stationary car with all the windows up and the ventilation off creates 11 times more smoke. Not quite the same thing, that, but it mattered not because the media had moved on and virtually no news outlets let their readers in on the cock-up.

5. Stanton Glantz roundly mocked for Smokefree Movies madness

It's always amusing when normal people suddenly become aware of deranged characters like California's mad professor Stanton A. Glantz (I can't say what the A stands for, but its an anagram of 'earholes'). In March, the paranoid mechanical engineer got himself in the news when he attacked an animated film called Rango which depicted people doing the worst thing in the world. It was true, said Glantz: "A lot of kids are going to start smoking because of this movie." Cue hilarity from across the media and blogosphere, of which the best came from the website Filmdrunk:

Let me be very clear about something: Stanton Glantz is not a real person. He can’t be. An anti-smoking advocate named Stanton Glantz who lives in San Francisco and makes conclusory doomsday statements like “A lot of kids are going to start smoking because of this movie” sounds like something even Michael Bay would dismiss as being too on-the -nose. No, I’ll not be fooled by this.

Look, I don’t want kids smoking any more than the next guy (provided the next guy isn’t Joe Camel). But these morons who take it upon themselves to try to eradicate tobacco use from the planet one city ordinance and petition at a time need to be stopped. I’m sorry if your enjoyment of the park is lessened because Johnny Motorcycle lit up a Marlboro Light and the smell of smoke just drives you batty. But tough sh*t. I don’t like country music, but I’m not going to go out and picket every Keith Urban concert. As I said up top, I can understand banning smoking in tight, confined spaces like bars or airplanes for the health of consumers and employees. But when your argument devolves into “ALL MOVIES WITH SMOKING SHOULD BE RATED-R REGARDLESS OF CONTEXT,” then you’re no longer doing a service to your cause.

And you’re an asshole.

And I hate you.


4. Dutch government decides to treat electorate like grown ups

Wailing and gnashing of teeth were inevitable when the Dutch government decided to relax the smoking ban and slash funding of the neo-prohibitionist tobacco control outfit STIVORO.

A bunch of concerned advocates (ie. people who would be out of work if their governments also slashed tobacco control spending) wrote a tear-stained letter to The Lancet with the wonderful title 'Can the Dutch government really be abandoning smokers to their fate?' If stopping harassment and vilification is leaving people to their fate, then yes, they were.

The Dutch health minister, Edith Schippers, has said that "the state is not a nanny" and that she wants to allow "adults to decide for themselves over lifestyle decisions." Public health professionals across Europe looked at each other in bewilderment.

3. McDonalds outwits San Francisco food fascists

Bone-headed Californians decided that Happy Meals were the cause of obesity and so banned the practice of giving toys away with fast food. McDonalds duly obeyed and started selling toys separarely for ten cents while giving the proceeds to charity. The result?

Happy Meal sales haven’t slowed down, McDonald’s is making even more money, and parents are now spending an extra 10 cents per kid every time they stop by the golden arches.

Tee, and furthermore, hee.

2. Bigot crushed in Stony Stratford

Risible neurotic local councillor decides that there will be no more smoking on his watch and moves to ban people lighting up in the streets of Stony Stratford. ASH gives him their support but hundreds of more liberal-minded people flock to the town to register their disgust. Local residents disown him, the motion is rejected by 148 votes to 2 and Councillor Paul Bartlett - for it is he - may not be a councillor for much longer.

1. Alcohol Concern loses government funding

In October, there was terrible news for the nation's second least popular fake charity when the government decided that there was no need to keep shovelling hundreds of thousands of pounds at a temperance group which did nothing but slag them off. Having bit the hand that fed it once too often, Alcohol Concern was left without state-funding. Faced with the prospect of having to collect donations from the public like charities are supposed to do, its CEO, Don Shenker, immediately jumped ship. Shenker is now desperately hoping that any future employees don't Google his name.

Happy New Year.

Friday 30 December 2011

March of the morons

Some pitiful news from Australia:

Cancer sparks legal action over smoking fumes

Peter Lavac, a Sydney lawyer, fitness fanatic and champion surf skier, thought something was wrong when he was not breathing as freely.

Knowing smoke was getting into his air from a flat below where a chain-smoking couple lived, he tried to get them to stop. Unsuccessful, he then approached the body corporate, strata title management and the tenancy tribunal, but to no avail.

He consulted a respiratory specialist, Professor Matthew Peters, who told him to monitor his condition. "From this data and my symptoms, Professor Peters concluded on the balance of probabilities that my symptoms and decrease in lung function were caused by the second-hand cigarette smoke," he said.

No responsible physician would make such a statement. 15% of lung cancers occur in nonsmokers and there are 40 different risk factors for the disease—there is no evidence that being in a flat near another flat where people smoke is one of them. On the contrary, such a hypothesis flies in the face of both science and common sense. What kind of an idiot is this Professor Peters?

Professor Peters, chairman of Action on Smoking and Health, said there was no lower limit for exposure to smoking. "If you can smell smoke, it is hurting you," he said.

Aha! Not just any old doctor, then. This is a guy who has argued for smokers to be denied surgery, who shills for GlaxoSmithKline and who has taken pleasure from hounding smokers out of every conceivable 'public' place in the über-nanny state of Australia. Now, having lied to his patient, he intends to persecute two innocent people who have retreated into their own home—the only place left for them to smoke. Let's not beat around the bush here, friends, this guy is the lowest of the low.

Professor Peters told Mr Lavac, 65, and his wife to reduce their exposure. After living in their flat for 18 months in 2005-06, they moved. In March, 2008, Mr Lavac felt unwell. A CT scan detected a shadow at the top of his right lung, and a biopsy confirmed cancer...

Mr Lavac, who had never smoked, lost a third of his right lung. His surgeon and Professor Peters told him that, on the balance of probabilities, the lesion had been caused by passive smoking.

Yes folks. We live in a world in which professors of medicine tell people that they have developed lung disorders because they lived in a flat for 18 months above people who smoked. This is the state of hypochondria and intellectual retardation we have reached in the last days of 2011.

You can watch this cretin below, if you can stomach it. He mentions that his patient had never smoked and reported no secondhand smoke exposure and so, in his weird little world, it must have been tobacco smoke magically seeping in from a neighbouring building wot done it. At this rate, Australians will be burning wickermen and ducking witches before the end of the decade.


I didn't want to say too much about Peter Lavac in this post as he has clearly suffered a brush with death. His disbelief at contracting lung cancer is sadly typical of people who think they don't "deserve" to suffer ill health because they have followed all the rules of public health

“How could this possibly happen to me?” asks Peter. “I was at the peak of my physical strength and power. I’d never smoked, I never drank alcohol, I never did drugs, I was an athlete."

However, as Mag points out in the comments, Mr Lavac has a back story himself. He is a member of the Non-Smokers Movement of Australia and lobbied parliament for a draconian smoking ban in 2006.

The coincidences are coming thick and fast, are they not? ASH and the NSMA are both small organisations with limited memberships and yet it just so happens that the "victim" of fourth-hand smoke (or whatever it is) is a prominent lobbyist for NSMA and the doctor who says his story checks out just so happens to be the chairman of ASH.

Gee, what a small world.

Thursday 29 December 2011

Absurd logic

Earlier this month, the Department of Health announced that it would be launching a public consultation on plain packaging before the end of the year. They have since delayed it until the spring, but the British Heart Foundation was clearly all geared up for the earlier deadline. How else to explain this spurious propaganda appearing three days before new year?

Branded cigarettes safer, say 25%

More than a quarter of young smokers believe cigarettes in "glitzy" and branded packaging are less harmful than those in packets with a plain design, a charity has warned.

A report by the British Heart Foundation (BHF) found that just over 25% of regular smokers aged 16 to 25 thought a branded cigarette pack was less harmful than another based on the packet design alone.

This refers to the fact that people can still remember when (low-tar) Marlboro Gold were called Marlboro Lights. That was not so very long ago so it is hardly surprising. The BHF do not consider the fact that Marlboro Gold will still be called Marlboro Gold even if plain packaging is introduced and, therefore, a minority of people will consider them to be less harmful—or, to put it another way, that Marlboro are more harmful. Being prohibitionists, they never contemplate the consequences of their actions. Action is all that counts. But unless they plan mass brainwashing of the population, the plain packaging ruse will have no effect on the misconception they profess to be concerned about.

Betty McBride, director of policy and communications at the British Heart Foundation, said: "As informed adults, we know that smoking is a deadly addiction that kills half of all smokers.

Why does the British Heart Foundation—a charity—have a "director of policy"? Is this really what people donate their money for?

"But young people are not always fully aware of the risks, and the power of branding holds more sway."

Firstly, it is highly unlikely that young people are not fully aware of the risks considering the multi-million pound anti-smoking campaigns in every media, as well as at school. Secondly, in case you hadn't noticed, "young people" are not allowed to buy cigarettes and by the time they are able to buy them they are "informed adults". Even if they obtain them illicitly in the mean time, they will find extensive, graphic health warnings on every pack. If these do not make them "fully aware of the risks", the fault lies with the anti-tobacco policy-makers who created them.

But for do-anything, say-anything campaigners like the BHF's director of policy, nothing is ever enough...

"Tobacco advertising is rightly banned in the UK. Yet current glitzy packaging clearly still advertises tobacco on the cigarette box."

Tobacco advertising is indeed banned. I vividly recall organisations like the BHF celebrating all those years ago when the UK introduced a total and utter ban on tobacco advertising and sponsorship. They celebrated because the ban was so "comprehensive". There was not a word from them about any "loophole" which allowed cigarette packaging because, as everyone understood, packaging is not advertising. Only very recently, as the anti-smoking movement searched for new barrels to scrape, have they attempted to redefine advertising to include colours and logos.

She added: "It's an absurd loophole the tobacco industry takes full advantage of to lure in new young smokers."

This is abject nonsense, but expect to hear much more of it next year. The alcohol, food and pharmaceutical industries should take note. 'Junk food' and alcohol are not allowed to be advertised before 9pm. Most drugs cannot be advertised at all. Alcohol may also soon be subject to a total ban. Why, then, should children have to be "exposed" to the "advertising" of "glitzy packaging" every time they step foot in a shop or walk past a window? Won't somebody think of the children? Something must be done, etc. etc.

Either packaging is advertising, in which case products which cannot be advertised on television should be sold in plain packaging from covered shelves, or it is not, in which case some semblance of a free market should remain.

It is not, of course. Never in history has a logo on a product been considered advertising. Even the fruitiest loops of the anti-smoking fraternity never viewed it as such until necessity became the mother of invention. They will resort to anything to get their way, but their corruption of the English language must be resisted by every industry before the neo-prohibitionists take the "next logical step."

The hyper-inflation of beer

Amongst my stocking fillers this year was a book titled The Book of Beer Knowledge from which I give you these statistics:

Pint of milk

1971: 5p

2007: 32p

= 640% increase

Pound of steak

1971: 60p

2007: 408p

= 680% increase

Sliced loaf

1971: 9.5p

2007: 88p

= 926% increase

Pint of beer

1971: 12p

2007: 224p

= 1867% increase

Aside from the enormous, above-inflation rise in the price of beer—despite the temperance lobby's disingenuous assertion that alcohol has become more "affordable"—I'm struck by how much the price of a pint has increased even since 2007.

The book was published by CAMRA so £2.24 pint was presumably the average cost of real ale, but anecdotal evidence tells me that the price must have risen to around £3 in the four years since, no? Does anybody have some 2011 prices to complete the picture?

Wednesday 28 December 2011

Everyone needs sugar - let's tax it!

An op-ed in the New Zealand Herald calls for a tax on sugar. Nothing special about that, but the article—written by one Tony Falkensteinuses so many of the neo-prohibitionist's rhetorical tricks that it should be regarded as a classic of the oeuvre.

It starts with the inevitable argumentum ad tobacco:

Remember the Marlboro man who rode across billboards, cigarette hanging from his lips? Remember Benson & Hedges, which sponsored the tennis, Rothmans which sponsored the cricket? - all brands promoting healthy living when the exact opposite was the truth.

Ignoring the fact that tobacco isn't essential to human life but sugar is, Falkenstein then draws a spurious comparison:

It took a tax to dramatically slow smoking addiction; a tax on sugar and fat products would do the same.

And let's have that parallel with tobacco again...

Thirty years ago nobody would have imagined that cigarette advertising would be banned, workplaces would be smoke free, and that cigarettes would attract an excise tax of 24c a cigarette.

Perhaps not, but thirty years ago there were people who warned that the anti-smoking campaign would set a template for food faddists, teetotallers and other puritans and cranks. This was always strongly denied, but it is now glaringly obvious that they were right.

We now have two newer addictions - sugar and fat.

These are not addictions, let alone "new" ones. Fat and sugar are essential to sustain life, hence the body naturally desires them.

These are the major cause of Diabetes 2

Hardly the "major cause". According to Diabetes UK, the causes of diabetes are many and varied:

You should ask your GP for a test for diabetes, if you:
  • are white and over 40 years old
  • are black, Asian or from a minority ethnic group and over 25 years old
  • have one or more of the following risk factors.

The risk factors

  • A close member of your family has Type 2 diabetes (parent or brother or sister).
  • You're overweight or if your waist is 31.5 inches or over for women; 35 inches or over for Asian men and 37 inches or over for white and black men.
  • You have high blood pressure or you've had a heart attack or a stroke.
  • You're a woman with polycystic ovary syndrome and you are overweight.
  • You've been told you have impaired glucose tolerance or impaired fasting glycaemia.
  • If you're a woman and you've had gestational diabetes.
  • You have severe mental health problems.

He continues:

Sugar is an addiction...

No. No, it isn't. a gentle weaning off the addiction will make it more manageable for consumers as well as giving manufacturers time to adjust the composition of their products.

The excise tax I propose would be 20 per cent on all products with more than 10 per cent sugar content.

Apples and mangos are 15% sugar. Bananas are more than 50% sugar. Are you sure you've though this through?

Each year the sugar content bar would reduce by 1 per cent , so that in seven years the 20 per cent tax would apply to all products with more than 4 per cent sugar,which is considered an acceptable level.

This would mean a sin tax on all fizzy drinks, of course. But it would also mean a sin tax on most fruits, all smoothies, all desserts and a good proportion of yoghurts. From taxing Marlboros to taxing grapes in thirty years. If this is not a slippery slope, what is?

Of course, the food industry is equated with Big Bad Tobacco.

The food and beverage industry, like the tobacco industry before it, can afford to outgun health spending for its own benefit.

And there is the usual appeal to the economy:

The country cannot afford the cost of diabetes, and a sugar tax will force the industry to adopt better standards, and consumers to reduce their addiction.

If the country cannot afford diabetes, how can it afford a Pigouvian tax levied to pay for diabetes? The idea, surely, is to be Pareto efficient?

And finally, the massive conflict of interest. Who is this Tony Falkenstein who wants a 20% tax on all sugary drinks?

Tony Falkenstein, ONZM, is chief executive of Just Water International.

Just Water International makes its money from selling water coolers. Fancy that!

Tony Falkenstein: Rent-seeking shill

(Thanks to Ross for bringing this article to my attention.)

Tuesday 27 December 2011

What effect will a fat tax have?

From The Guardian:

Imposing a 10% "fat tax" on sugary drinks would help tackle soaring rates of obesity, according to new research by international experts.

Would it, by God? And your evidence?

"In testing taxation as an option for shifting beverage purchase patterns, we calculate that a 10% increase in the price of SSBs could potentially result in a decrease of 7.5ml per capita per day." A similar 10% hike in the cost of full-fat milk would also reduce consumption of it by 5ml per person per day and increased intake of reduced fat milk by 7ml per head every day, it adds.

Okay. So a 10% tax—essentially a tithe to be given to the Gods of public health—would reduce full-fat milk intake by 5ml a day, or 1,825 ml a year. That works out at 3.2 pints a year.

Doesn't sound like very much, does it? And indeed it's not. There are 380 calories in a pint of full-fat milk and 265 calories in a pint of semi-skimmed. If a 10% tax on full-fat milk makes people replace 3.2 pints of full-fat with 3.2 pints of semi-skimmed, they would reduce their calorie intake by 368 per year ((380-265 = 115) x 3.2 = 368). This works out at one calorie per day which is, to all intents and purposes, nothing.

But there is more. The fat-taxers seem to think that consumption of reduced fat milk will increase by 7ml a day—more than offsetting the 5ml fall in full-fat milk consumption. Why they believe this, I know not, but let's roll with it for a moment.

A 7ml increase is 2,555ml a year, ie. four and a half pints a year. If this is semi-skimmed, this is an extra 1,166 calories.

If it is skimmed milk (195 calories per pint), it would be an extra 858 calories.

Remember that people will supposedly lose 1,216 calories because the fat tax makes them reduce their full-fat milk consumption by 3.2 pints.

So if they switch from full-fat to semi-skimmed milk, they will lose fifty calories per year—a whopping 0.1 calorie per day! (1166 - 1216 = -50). Just watch that flab fly off!

Even if they switch to skimmed milk, they will lose only 358 calories per year, ie. one calorie a day (858 - 1216 = -358).

As for reducing consumption of "sugar-sweetened beverages" by 7.5ml a day, there are 400 calories in a litre of Coca-Cola, so a reduction of 7.5ml works out at 3 fewer calories per day. This, of course, assumes that people would replace their Coke with water or nothing at all. If they substituted something "healthy", like an Innocent Smoothie, they would wind up consuming more calories because a typical litre of smoothie contains more than 500 calories. (But we don't mention that because middle-class people like them.)

Since the average adult male needs 2,500 calories per day to maintain a healthy weight, the idea that a reduction of 0.1 to 3 calories would "help tackle soaring rates of obesity" must be described as extremely fanciful. It would, however, be an effective way of clawing more money out of the hands of the hapless electorate on the pretext of health. And that, dare I say, is the real appeal.

Vested interests

Dr. Theodore Dalrymple has written a typically incisive article about the Dutch government's decision to reduce the amount of taxpayers' money spent on anti-smoking groups. You might recall the squeals of discontent from various tobacco control employees in a recent letter to the Lancet. That the authors of that letter depend on draconian anti-smoking policies for their livelihoods has not gone unnoticed by Dalrymple.

It seems to be beyond the imagination of anti-smoking campaigners that someone might support the right to smoke on grounds of principle and not of narrow personal interest. The item, brief as it is, gives a flavor of the often bile-filled writing of anti-smoking campaigners:

It would be a matter of no little shame to a country that prides itself on a compassionate and inclusive ethos if its government were to abandon smokers to their fate. Every death that ensued would not just be the responsibility of the tobacco industry, which continues to promote its lethal product, but also of every politician in the Dutch Government who chose to look the other way and allow it to happen.

What of the responsibility of the smokers themselves?

Of this, not a word: they are putty in the hands of the tobacco companies and their government, scarcely human in fact. Apparently, Dutch smokers would stop if they knew about the effects of secondhand smoke, which are harmful additionally to first-hand smoke. A strange psychology indeed!

What if someone wrote a theoretical defense of the right to smoke, but put at the end that he had received money from the tobacco companies and indeed was employed by them? A cry of “vested interest!” would deafen.

Do go read the rest.

Monday 26 December 2011

Kicking Edgar Allan Poe

"Quiantest thoughts, queerest fancies come to life and fade away.

What care I how time advances?

I am drinking ale today."

- Edgar Allan Poe

Happy boxing day.

Friday 23 December 2011

The magic 25%

A handful of anti-smoking extremists have long hoped that smoking is linked to breast cancer. The pink ribbon breast cancer campaign is arguably the best-publicised and best-funded initiative in pubic health. Because breast cancer is the most common form of cancer amongst women, even a small association with smoking would allow tobacco control advocates to claim that millions of cases could be prevented by stamping out tobacco.

The problem is that there really isn't any reason to think the two are related. Sixty years of epidemiological research has failed to find a link and, unlike with diseases of the lung and airways, there is no obvious causal mechanism. As recounted in Velvet Glove, Iron Fist (pp. 236-38), neither the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) nor the American Cancer Society believe there is a link and even the otherwise outré Surgeon General's report of 2006 didn't claim smoking to be a cause of breast cancer.

Outside of California, it is generally accepted that breast cancer is not a smoking-related disease. Inside California, things are always a little different. From his pulpit at UCSF, Stanton Glantz has been insisting on a connection for years, and the California Environmental Protection Agency (Cal-EPA) conducted a meta-analysis in 2004 which found an association between breast cancer and passive smoking. When the American Cancer Society expressed reservations about this meta-analysis (amongst other flaws, it excluded a notable cohort study which would have wiped out the association), Glantz went berserk and referred to doubters as "religious fanatics", thus displaying an extraordinary lack of self-awareness.

Glantz has been at it again this month following a review of breast cancer risks conducted by the Institute of Medicine. Getting rather excited at the prospect at linking arms with the pink-ribbon campaign, he overstated the conclusions of the IOM report and announced:

It's time for the large breast cancer advocacy groups to join the tobacco control community.

Glantz seems to think that the IoM report implicated smoking (and passive smoking) as a cause of breast cancer. That is not how I read it, nor is it how the New York Times read it. What the IoM actually found was this:

The evidence also indicates a possible, though currently less clear, link to increased risk for breast cancer from exposure to benzene, 1,3-butadiene, and ethylene oxide, which are chemicals found in some workplace settings and in gasoline fumes, vehicle exhaust, and tobacco smoke.

This was the only reference to tobacco in a 700 word press release. In the report itself, the IoM say that they cannot rule out a link, but that the evidence is equivocal. Tobacco remains a "possible" cause in the same way that mobile phones were found to be a possible cause of brain cancer in a recent IARC report. In other words, the collated evidence does not suggest a causal link, but some studies have found an association.

There are two interesting aspects of the breast cancer/smoking hypothesis. The first is that there was barely a hint of a link for the first 40 years of epidemiological research, as the IoM acknowledge:

Before 1993, more than 50 epidemiologic studies examined the relationship between breast cancer and exposure to tobacco smoke. Although the quality of studies was highly variable, the better conducted studies did not suggest a causal relationship (Palmer and Rosenberg, 1993). An IARC review published in 2004 included studies conducted before 2002, and it relied heavily on a pooled analysis of 53 case–control and cohort studies by the Collaborative Group on Hormonal Factors in Breast Cancer Study (2002) that contended that apparent associations with smoking were confounded by alcohol consumption. The IARC (2004) conclusions were that neither active nor passive smoking was associated with increased risk of breast cancer.

In any other field of research this would be enough to put the matter to bed, but tobacco control was flooded with money in the 1990s and so it continued. This coincided with the rise of ultra-low risk epidemiology and cherry-picked meta-analyses which, in turn, was accompanied by the burden of proof being relaxed in the science to the point where statistically insignificant findings were taken seriously.

Breast cancer is a very common disease and smoking is a very common behaviour. Given these facts, any association between the two should have been evident very early on (by the 1950s, if not even earlier). That no one found an association despite smoking being the most studied risk factor of the twentieth century strongly suggests that none exists. "If smoking was a major cause of breast cancer, we would have found it by now," says Dale Sandler, chief of the NIEHS Epidemiology Branch.

Those who say that smoking (active or passive) causes breast cancer are making an extraordinary claim and, despite efforts being redoubled in the last fifteen years, there is no extraordinary evidence and very little ordinary evidence.

From the IoM report:

Active smoking 

The summary risk ratio was 1.10 (95% CI, 1.07–1.14), indicating a weak association with increased risk for early initiation of smoking. For women who smoked only after a first pregnancy, the summary risk ratio was 1.07, but it was not a statistically significant increase in risk (95% CI, 0.99–1.15). A subsequent report from the NHS found a statistically significant increase in risk associated with greater smoking intensity (i.e., pack-years of smoking) from menarche to a first birth (p for trend <0.001) (Xue et al., 2011). At 1–5 pack-years of smoking before a first birth the hazard ratio (HR) is 1.11 (95% CI, 1.04–1.20); for 16 or more pack-years, the HR is 1.25 (95% CI, 1.11–1.40).

No increase in risk was evident for pack-years smoked from after a first pregnancy to menopause. For 31 or more pack-years, the HR was 1.05 (95% CI, 0.92–1.19). However, pack-years of smoking after menopause may be associated with a slight reduction in risk (p for trend = .02) (Xue et al., 2011). For 16 or more pack-years of postmenopausal smoking, the HR was 0.88 (95% CI, 0.79–0.99).

... For women who started smoking between ages 15 and 19, the HR was 1.21 (95% CI, 1.01–1.44); whereas those who initiated smoking after age 30, the HR was 1.00 (95% CI, 0.76–1.32).

Brown et al. (2010) concluded that their data did not show a consistent association between smoking and significant increases in breast cancer risk among U.S.- or foreign-born Asian women. For example, the results for current smokers showed an OR of 0.9 (95% CI, 0.6–1.3) while ex-smokers had an OR of 1.6 (95% CI, 1.1–2.2).

A study that examined risk for triple-negative breast cancer found no statistically significant increase in risk over nonsmokers based on smoking status, age at initiation, or duration of smoking (Kabat et al., 2011). By comparison, women with estrogen-receptor- positive cancers (ER+) were at significantly increased risk with earlier initiation (< age 20: HR = 1.16, 95% CI, 1.05–1.28) and longer duration of smoking (≥30 years: HR = 1.14, 95% CI, 1.01–1.28).

These relative risks are low or non-existent and even the positive findings are often not statistically significant. The most interesting thing about these associations is that they are actually lower than the associations claimed for passive smoking.

Passive Smoking

A 2005 review by the California Environmental Protection Agency of various health hazards associated with exposure to secondhand smoke included a meta-analysis of 19 epidemiologic studies of breast cancer ... The meta-analysis produced an overall estimate for exposed women of RR = 1.25 (95% CI, 1.08–1.44) (CalEPA, 2005; also reported in Miller et al., 2007). When the analysis was restricted to five studies with more comprehensive exposure assessment, the overall estimate was RR = 1.91 (95% CI, 1.53–2.39).

In 2006, the U.S. Surgeon General’s report The Health Consequences of Involuntary Exposure to Tobacco Smoke, which included consideration of many of the same studies as the California review, concluded, “The evidence is suggestive but not sufficient to infer a causal relationship between secondhand smoke and breast cancer” (HHS, 2006, p. 13). The conclusion was based on a review of the findings from seven prospective cohort studies, 14 case–control studies, and a meta-analysis of all of these studies. The meta-analysis found that women who had ever been exposed to secondhand smoke (10 studies) were at increased risk of breast cancer (RR = 1.40, 95% CI, 1.12–1.76).

The idea that passive smoking is more dangerous than active smoking is patently absurd, but that didn't stop ASH (USA) hyping Cal-EPA's meta-analysis with this headline in 2005:

Secondhand Tobacco Smoke More Dangerous Than Smoking Itself

It is fitting that an organisation that endorses so much flim-flam should wind up embracing the principles of homeopathy, but any reasonable person understands that the dose makes the poison. In its understated way, the IoM acknowledges that it is a tad unlikely that people who inhale less than 1% of the dose inhaled by smokers would be at greater risk.

For most other smoking-related diseases, the relative risks are much stronger for active smoking than passive smoking. Thus findings of equivalent or stronger relative risks for breast cancer with passive smoking than with active smoking are difficult to explain mechanistically.

And yet these perverse findings exist and they require explanation. At first glance, it seems that the epidemiological research into breast cancer and tobacco don't tell us very much at all. Certainly, they don't tell us very much about the environmental causes of breast cancer, but I think they tell us quite a bit about the state of epidemiology. They show how easy it is to find a relative risk of around 1.25 (ie. a 25% increase) in an observational study. It takes only moderate recall bias or deficiencies in a study's design to come up with such associations. In the case of secondhand smoke and breast cancer we can surmise that the associations are false because there is no link with active smoking, but it is curious that the claimed associations with other diseases also fall in the same ultra-low bracket, regardless of the magnitude of the risk from active smoking.

Smokers are around 1,000 to 2,000% more likely to develop lung cancer. The passive smoker's excess risk is said to be around 25%.

Smokers are around 70% to 100% more likely to develop coronary heart disease. The passive smoker's excess risk is, again, around 25%.

Smokers are not any more likely to develop breast cancer, but the passive smoker's excess risk is said to be—you guessed it—25%.

Despite huge variations in the effects of smoking, the effects of secondhand smoke—if we are to take the epidemiological studies at face value—are remarkably consistent. Consistent with each other, that is. Not consistent with the rest of science.

Wednesday 21 December 2011

Reason reviews The Art of Suppression

I'm delighted to see that Reason magazine has reviewed The Art of Suppression and compares it favourably with the recent PBS documentary about Prohibition...

The new Ken Burns and Lynn Novick documentary Prohibition is a five-and-a-half-hour missed opportunity to demonstrate why bans on substances are doomed from the start. Fortunately, for those who want to understand the irresistible lure of all types of prohibitions, there is Christopher Snowdon’s The Art of Suppression: Pleasure, Panic and Prohibition Since 1800. Although Snowdon’s comprehensive history will never reach as many people as the PBS series, The Art of Suppression makes the case that Burns seems to go out of his way to avoid: that prohibition of products that people desire, whether alcohol a century ago or Ecstasy today, is bound to fail miserably.

Deploying a colorful cast of characters, Snowdon, a British journalist whose first book, Velvet Glove, Iron Fist (2009), documented the history of anti-tobacco campaigns, tells the story of prohibition’s broader context. He brings to the task the stinging humor reminiscent of H.L. Mencken, whom he quotes in describing one of the book’s central villains, the Anti-Saloon League lawyer Wayne Bidwell Wheeler: “He was born with a roaring voice, and it had the trick of inflaming half-wits.”

Please go read the whole thing.

You can buy the book here (UK) and here (rest of the world).

Tuesday 20 December 2011

The limits of cigarette taxation

Today's blog post is at the Adam Smith Institute. While ASH deny that higher prices cause smuggling, the Irish have realised that further cigarette taxes will make them less money.

Laffer curve spotted in Ireland

Monday 19 December 2011

Strange unintended consequences

Some saucy news from Manitoba, Canada...

After smoking in public places was banned in 2004, happy hour crowds dwindled in bars across the province.

Lies, all lies! Stanton "black is white" Glantz has conducted studies into this and has proved that smoking bans are good for business. Why do bar-owners around the world continue to deny this? The fools!

In a bid to woo customers back to his lounge, Ron Petryna, the owner of the Headingley Hotel, began running conventional Friday night bingo games.

And why not?

"We started off giving away pretty tame stuff -- cases of pop or boxes of candy," Petryna says. Then he recalled a Ladies' Night promotion he`d witnessed south of the border -- one that climaxed with a few rounds of "naughty bingo" where female participants went home with vibrators and such.

"So we began to introduce adult toys into our own bingo games," says Petryna. "Next we added special martinis and cocktails named after the games. This all evolved from there."

Oh, I say.

"This all" refers to the fact that Manitoba has quietly become the undisputed erotic bingo capital of the world. Sure, you can find comparable goings-on in places like Toronto, Ont., Portland, Ore. and Orlando, Fla. But "dirty bingo" or "X-rated bingo" or however it's billed in those burgs isn't a standard occurrence. Not like it is at Dick's Dylan's, the Stock Exchange Hotel and the Riverside Inn, to name a few local nightspots that now host erotic bingo on a weekly basis.

Tis a frenzy of x-rated bingo in Manitoba.

"Last weekend was the busiest it's ever been, in fact; we had a 28-girl bachelorette party and a soccer team from the U of M. We ended up having to seat people at the pool tables so that everybody could play."

A full house, if you will.

"My first reaction was that it sounded kind of skanky," says Kaisaris. "We don't do strippers here -- we're not that kind of place -- but I quickly discovered that erotic bingo isn't like that at all. It's good clean fun." (Good, clean and free: none of the bars we visited charges people to take part.)

Nowadays, erotic bingo at "The Nob" is definitely a family affair...

Steady on. You're just being silly now.

You can read more of this smut here.

Sunday 18 December 2011

A true sports personality

I'm not usually very interested in BBC Sports Personality of the Year, but I notice that Darren Clarke has been nominated this year. Clarke has been described as a "walking, smoking, Guinness-drinking counterblast to the notion that the modern professional golfer has to be a finely-tuned athlete with a six-pack." He smoked his way to victory at this year's British Open and then stayed up all night on a nineteen hour bender. His manager, Chubby Chandler, says he plays better when he's fat. Clarke does not disagree.

"I'm not going to change anything that I do. I think it would be very poor of me if I was to change the way I am because of a few people's opinions. That's not going to happen.

"I drink a little too much, smoke a little bit too much and enjoy myself a little bit too much at times. But when it comes down to it, I'll put my head down and work whenever I really have to."

I can think of no better way of driving the Righteous to distraction this Christmas than by having this fine athlete win Sports Personality of the Year. Please vote and vote often. You know it makes sense.

Friday 16 December 2011

The Hitch on snitches

Christopher Hitchens (1949-2011)
The death of Christopher Hitchens earlier today robbed the world of one of journalism's most eloquent and articulate voices. Here he is speaking about the nanny state in 2004...

When the complete ban on smoking in all public places was enacted in California, I called up the assemblyman who wrote the legislation and I said: “I’ve just discovered that bars are not going to be able to turn themselves into a club for the evening and charge a buck for admission for people who want to have a cigarette. You won’t be able to have a private club. You won’t even be able to have a smoke-easy, if you will, in California.”

And he said, “That’s right.”

I said, “Well, how can you possibly justify that?”

And he said, “Well, it’s to protect the staff. It’s labor protection legislation. We don’t want someone who doesn’t want to smoke, who doesn’t like it, having to work in a smoky bar.”

And I said, “You don’t think that if there were bars that allowed it and bars that forbade it, that, sooner or later people would apply for the jobs they preferred, and it would sort of shake out?”

He replied, “No. We could not make that assumption.”

So we have to postulate the existence, if you will, of a nonexistent person in a nonexistent dilemma: the person who can find only one job, and that job is as barkeep in a smoking bar. This person must be held to exist, though he or she is notional. But everyone who actually does exist must act as if this person is real.

...The worst part is that the staff has to become the enforcers. The waitresses have to become the enforcers. The maitre d’ has to become the enforcer. He has to act as the mayor’s representative. Because it’s he who is going to be fined, not you. If you break the law in his bar, he is going to have to pay.

So everyone is made into a snitch. Everyone is made into an enforcer. And everyone is working for the government. And all of this in the name of our health.

Now, I was very depressed by the way that this argument was conducted. There were people who stuck up for the idea that maybe there should be a bit of smoking allowed here and there. But they all said it was a matter of the revenue of the bars and the restaurants. That was the way the New York Times phrased it.

In no forum did I read: “Well, is there a question of liberty involved here at all? Is there a matter of freedom? Is there a matter of taste? Is there a matter of the relationship of citizens to one another?”

And something about it made me worry and makes me worry still. The old slogan of the anarchist left used to be that the problem is not those who have the will to command. They will always be there, and we feel we understand where the authoritarians come from. The problem is the will to obey. The problem is the people who want to be pushed around, the people who want to be taken care of, the people who want to be a part of it all, the people who want to be working for a big protective brother.

Read the full article here.

Thursday 15 December 2011

Anna Gilmore returns

Anna Gilmore's new study doesn't seemed to have generated much media attention, perhaps because any editor looking at the headline of the press release is likely to think "well, duh":

Smoke free legislation linked to drop in second-hand smoke exposure among adults

Levels of second-hand smoke exposure among non-smoking adults fell by almost 30 per cent after smoke free legislation was introduced in England in 2007, researchers in the Department for Health have found.

...Professor Anna Gilmore, who directed the study, said: “The importance of this study is that it examines the impacts of smoke free policies on adults’ exposure using a specific biological-marker of smoke exposure (rather than self-reported exposure) while simultaneously controlling for underlying declines in exposure.

“To our knowledge it is the first study to do this. The fact it shows marked declines in adult exposure provides further evidence of the important public health benefits of smoke-free policies.”

What, if any, are these "public health benefits"? The study looked at cotinine readings in nonsmokers before and after the English smoking ban and found that they fell by 27%. Cotinine itself is perfectly harmless, but it is a bio-marker for nicotine which is, in turn, is a proxy for "secondhand smoke exposure". Nothing wrong with that, nor is there anything surprising about cotinine readings falling as a result of a total smoking ban in 'public' places.*

The graph below (which comes from the study) shows saliva cotinine levels in nonsmokers before and after the ban (click, as ever, to enlarge).

'SFL' indicates the start of the 'SmokeFree Legislation'. What is most striking about this graph is how much cotinine and, it must be assumed, secondhand smoke exposure declined before the smoking ban. After the ban, cotinine levels did not change for people living in smoking households and Gilmore found that people in social classes IV and V experienced no reduction in secondhand smoke exposure at all (inevitably, this leads to her calling for "further efforts to reduce SHS exposure to benefit those who remain most exposed.")

Only nonsmokers from social classes I to III who live in nonsmoking households saw a decline in their saliva cotinine levels. Gilmore claims that this decline was greater than would be expected from the long-term trend, although none of her graphs appear to support this.

Gilmore's track record gives us no particular reason to trust her assertion that the smoking ban accelerated the existing trend towards less secondhand smoke exposure. However, it is obviously very plausible that a smoking ban would have this effect so, for the sake of argument, let us agree that there was a 27% drop in saliva cotinine readings as a result of the ban.

Her data show that before the ban (1998 to 2007), average cotinine levels in nonsmokers' saliva fell from 0.36 ng/ml to 0.14 ng/ml. After the ban, this declined continued and, by the end of 2008, cotinine levels were at 0.071 ng/ml.

The question is: so what? Is this decline—which sounds impressive when described as a 30% fall in secondhand smoke exposure—of any practical significance? How do these levels compare with actually smoking?

A systematic review of cotinine readings found that the average smoker has a saliva cotinine reading of 318 ng/ml. This is more than 2,250 times greater than levels found in nonsmokers before the ban.

This difference is so vast that it is difficult to show it visually. The graph below shows cotinine levels of nonsmokers in 1998, 2007 (pre-ban) and 2008 (post-ban) compared with a typical cotinine reading from a smoker. If you click to enlarge, you may just be able to see the nonsmokers' data.

While smokers have average cotinine readings of 318 ng/ml, the smoking ban reduced the average nonsmokers' levels by 0.0019 ng/ml. This is beyond negligible. Whether before or after the ban, we are talking about truly homeopathic levels of exposure. It takes a leap of faith to believe that reducing 'exposure' levels from 0.03% of a smoker's level to 0.02% of a smoker's level really constitutes "the most significant and beneficial public health intervention for a generation". Far from showing us how effective the smokefree legislation has been in tackling the passive smoking peril, this study reminds us how overhyped the peril was in the first place.

* However, it is wrong of the press release to describe a 27% fall in nonsmokers' cotinine levels as meaning that "second-hand smoke exposure among non-smoking adults fell by almost 30 per cent". This suggests that if all secondhand smoke was eliminated, cotinine levels would fall to zero. This would never happen because nicotine, and therefore cotinine, exists at low levels in various nightshade vegetables.

Wednesday 14 December 2011

Yes, it's all about prohibition

An anti-smoking group calling themselves Tobacco-Free Washington have taken their crusade to its logical conclusion by demanding the prohibition of tobacco. Under their proposed law, possession would be a class C felony. Sale would be a class B felony.

Yes, I am serious and so are they. Initiative 512 reads...

(1) It is unlawful to sell, manufacture, or possess any tobacco products including, but not limited to, cigarettes, cigars, and smokeless tobacco.

(2) A person who:

(a) Sells or manufactures any tobacco product is guilty of a class B felony punishable according to chapter 9A.20 RCW; or

(b) Possesses any tobacco product is guilty of a class C felony punishable according to chapter 9A.20 RCW.

(3) For the purposes of this section, “tobacco product” includes any product containing tobacco or nicotine that is expected or intended for human consumption.

The prohibitionists are now looking for 300,00 signatures to move Initiative 512 forward. The good news is that they have used a clumsy definition of tobacco products which includes pharmaceutical nicotine 'therapies', so the bill will meet strong opposition from Big Pharma and the various anti-smoking groups they fund.

You have to laugh at the guy who is behind this law. Dr Ed Dolan is a dentist who doesn't sound too bright (you can listen to the half-wit here). Whenever prohibitionists are looking for a handy precedent to seem less nuts, it's only a matter of time before they point to seat-belts laws. They are, after all, one of the few laws which are imposed on people for their own good.

Such a law, if it came in to existence, would likely illicit a lot of resistance from those who believe taking away their right to smoke is a violation of their civil liberties. So Dolan compares it to the seat belt law - a law that yes, infringes on civil liberties, but significantly increases the average life expectancy of someone living in Washington.

One of the main objections to seat-belt laws in the 1980s was that they would be the start of a slippery slope to banning smoking, drinking and Lord knows what else. "Nonsense!", said the campaigners, but here we are 30 years later doing just that.

Dolan does acknowledge that it treads on a slippery slope. 

Dude, you're calling for the possession of tobacco to be a felony. Possession of alcohol wasn't even a felony under Prohibition. You don't need to worry about treading on the slippery slope. You hurtled down that a while ago.

When [it was] suggested that if cigarettes are outlawed, then red meat and alcohol could be next, Dolan said he's not sure about what could happen regarding health concerns and laws.

At least this numpty doesn't try to deny it. It's the next logical step, innit?

Repetition, repetition, repetition

Knock, knock, knock at the door they go—the incessant whining designed to make the government sigh and give in, with the forlorn hope that maybe they'll finally shut up and go away. We saw it with the smoking ban. We saw it with banning below-cost alcohol.

And do they ever shut up and go away?

They do not.

Ban cut-price alcohol to save lives, leading doctors warn

In a letter to The Daily Telegraph, medical experts urge the Government to take “bold action” and follow the lead of Scotland by bringing in minimum prices for drinks.

Firstly, writing a letter to the Telegraph shouldn't be considered front page news, even in the Telegraph.

Secondly, quit it with this "bold action" stuff will you? You tried it last month...

The British Medical Association (BMA) is calling on ministers to bring in the "bold and courageous" ban for reasons of health rather than road safety.

There's nothing bold about putting up tax and banning things. It's cowardly and self-serving. Your attempts at flattery are nauseating and your cynicism is transparent.

Sir Ian [Gilmore—for it is he] is calling for a return to the higher prices of 20 years ago, when alcohol was about 50 per cent more expensive in real terms.

Does anybody understand what 'real terms' means any more? It means 'after adjustment for inflation', not 'compared with average wages'. As I never tire of pointing out, the Office for National Statistics has looked into this and concluded:

Between 1980 and 2008, the price of alcohol increased by 283.3%. After considering inflation (at 21.3%), alcohol prices increased by 19.3% over the period.

Actually, I do tire of pointing this out, so please stop it.

New figures were made public last week showing that twice as many people were being treated in hospital because of alcohol compared with 10 years ago.

New figures?! You must be kidding. The "twice as many people being treated in hospital because of alcohol" story appears more often than the crossword. It's done the rounds three times this year alone (in February, May and December).

In addition to reporting this "news" last week, the Telegraph reported it in May and August—using the same photo to illustrate it on each occasion. It was first reported back in 2008 and has appeared with unfathomable regularity ever since.

The repetition of the 'hospital admissions double' canard (and it is a canard) epitomises the campaign for minimum pricing, which is based on nothing more than a relentless, circling PR exercise by the UK Alcohol Health Alliance modelled on the smoking ban campaign. There is nothing in the article or the accompanying letter of any interest. None of it is new. It is the same hysterical half-truths masquerading as news.

And so, in the absence of anything interesting to write about, I will use the occasion to launch my new leisurewear collection. The Snowdon Winter 2011 collection includes two high quality white t-shirts (other colours are available) featuring simple but lovingly designed motifs which will give the wearer years of satisfaction.

Order now to avoid disappointment.

Tuesday 13 December 2011

Nicotine wars: Latest

There can now be little doubt that the EU's ban on snus is being maintained at the behest of the pharmaceutical industry. It is not about health. It is not about science. As the Swedish press recently reported, the battle lines are drawn:

In the battle over snus the world's largest pharmaceutical company is in one corner of the ring and the world's largest tobacco company in the other. The battle is about the hundreds of millions of smokers who are trying to quit. Big time lobbying is clearly visible in the EU snus debate. The tobacco industry was most successful in mobilising support for petitions via YouTube and the Internet, while the pharmaceutical industry has achieved success by more selective actions.

“There is clear competition between us and the pharmaceutical industry,” says Swedish Match's Public Affairs Director Patrick Hildingsson. “In the EU there are 107 million smoking consumers both our industries want to reach. The pharmaceutical industry does not want see the success snus has had in helping people stop smoking to spread outside Sweden.”

But Pfizer's Medical Director John Brun does not see snus as competition: “Absolutely not. Tobacco is a major health risk regardless of how it is consumed, which is why we have committed ourselves to reaching out from a health perspective in public debate.”

Pfizer—maker of Nicorette and Champix—does not see snus as competition?! How strange that they should waste so much their time and money lobbying for it to remain illegal (almost as strange as them funding studies into the economic impact of smoking bans). You'd think they'd have better things to do that worry about a niche smokeless tobacco product, unless of course they're worried that it's a more effective smoking cessation aid than their own products.

Instead, they're keen to rush the European Commission into producing its new Tobacco Product Directive, which will address the question of whether the snus ban is justifiable. The following is a letter Pfizer put its name to (along with Anna Gilmore, Luke Clancy and other useful idiots):

Dear President Barroso,

We are writing to you as a group of NGOs, charities, researchers, industry representatives and MEPs representing a majority of Member States and every major major political group, to urge you to bring forward the proposal for a revision of the Tobacco Products Directive at the beginning of 2012, as promised.

... As a signatory of the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control the European Union has a responsibility to implement measures which reduce tobacco use across Europe, and the revision of the Tobacco Products Directive is central to that. As this report will be so important, and undoubtedly controversial, the Council and Parliament will need time to thoroughly scrutinise and negotiate an effective revision. If we do not begin work at the beginning of 2012 we could be in real danger of having to restart the whole process after the 2014 elections. Given our commitment to the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control this is simply not an option.

We are of the view that further delays are not acceptable, and would appreciate if the Commission could inform us of a definitive timetable for the revision of the Tobacco Directive.

The only problem is that the EU's public consultation didn't exactly go Big Pharma's way...

Of the citizens who submitted their opinions, more than eight out of ten, 84 percent, support lifting the export ban on snus. 86 percent of government representatives and 74 percent of industry representatives wish to lift the ban. Only among lobbyists and NGOs is there a slim majority, 56 percent, who want to keep the ban on snus.

The consultation was a disaster for Pfizer because the anti-tobacco extremists neglected to get their NGOs and fake charities to respond en masse. Worse still, tobacco retailers in two countries organised petitions which generated 82,000 responses.

Mind you, those 82,000 people were probably tobacco users so the EU won't be counting them...

The EU Commission, however, dismisses a significant portion of the responses from the 82,000 citizens on the grounds that two-thirds are from Italy and Poland, where tobacco merchants organised petitions.

Some people say the EU is anti-democratic, y'know.

But even if we exclude these two countries, the majority is still for lifting the export ban on snus, 10-6, when respondents are broken down by country.

Bit of a bugger. What if we exclude the public altogether?

DN's review of the 400 responses in this group shows that even among the responses from parliamentarians, municipalities, government agencies and ministries a large majority, 71 percent, support lifting the export ban. 

Ouch! Surely there must be some way to fiddle the figures?

Even when only EU governments and ministries are included, there is still no majority against snus, but rather 3-3.

Damn it! How is the EU supposed to justify its arbitrary, scientifically indefensible prohibition when even politicians won't lend their support?

Oh well, there's only one thing for it...

The European Commission's health directorate claims to have received responses from governments who in other ways support the ban on snus, but refuses to show them.


"You know that public consultation that went against us? You won't believe this, but I've just found a bunch of responses down the back of the sofa. Thousands of them, and all of them support the ban! 

Sorry, you want to what? Oh, you want to see them? Er, yes...erm...ah... Good Lord is that the time? I really must be going..."

Some people say the EU is corrupt as well, y'know.

However, there may yet be a glimmer of hope...

The European Commission has promised Sweden it will take another look at its ban of the tobacco product snus, which is allowed in Sweden but banned elsewhere in the European Union, the Swedish trade minister said on Wednesday.

Trade minister Ewa Bjorling said she had met EU Health Commissioner John Dalli and discussed the results of a survey of EU states about current tobacco laws.

“What I believe is most important is that you base your reasoning on scientific facts. That is what I try to tell Dalli, and I ask the question: Why do you still want to have a ban on Swedish wet snuff when there are other snuff products on the market in the EU, for example Pakistani snuff?,” Bjorling told Reuters.

This was the second time she raised the snus issue with Dalli.

“I think he was listening in a different way this time. The first time he dismissed it simply saying their goal is to get everything away for health reasons,” Bjorling said.

I suppose not dismissing the idea out of hand is some sort of step forward. Interesting to note that the real goal is total prohibition of all tobacco products, but I think we'd worked that out already.

Over yonder

A couple of blog posts are knocking around with my byline at the moment. In case you haven't seen them...

One is on the subject of the Dutch government finally giving smokers smoke respite.

The other is about the OECD apparently swallowing The Spirit Level's quack science. (And there's more on The Spirit Level authors' silly claims here.)

Sunday 11 December 2011

We warned you about people like this

"Bring on the nanny state"
Is it Hate Week or something? Just two days after Jonathan Waxman's demand for diet policing, The Independent on Sunday publishes an opinion piece by Joan Smith entitled...

Filling your face with popcorn is not a human right

Funny that, because I'm a human and I thought I had the right to fill my face with popcorn. It's my popcorn, my money and my body, and, in any case, popcorn can be a nutritious, low-fat, low-calorie food.

What are these human rights of which you speak? Is filling your face with celery a human right? Is reading a book a human right? Is going for a walk a human right? For that matter, is writing ignorant, bigoted columns for loss-making Sunday newspapers a human right? If not, according to the logic of the bilge that follows, the state should put a stop to it.

As a breed, Conservative politicians hate the nanny state. So do right-wing columnists, some of whom are still whining about the fact that they can't smoke in public places.

Any suggestion that the principles behind the smoking ban be extended to junk food prompts near-apoplexy, as though we have an inalienable right to consume as much high-fat, sugary rubbish as we wish.

At least Jonathan Waxman had the good grace to wait a few paragraphs before throwing in the 'we did it to smokers, now let's do it to them?' argument. Smith, on the other hand, dives straight in there. I'm sure you can guess where this is heading.

I've never been convinced that eating popcorn is a human right...

As in the UN Declaration of Human Rights, you mean? What straw man is this? Nobody has ever said that eating popcorn, or anything else, is a right enshrined in international law, but in civilised countries we have this convention that says that people have a right to do something unless it is specifically proscribed by law. Perhaps Smith would prefer to live in a society in which everything is proscribed by law unless specifically permitted. If so, I will happily pay for a one-way flight for her to emigrate to such a nation on the condition that she promises to never return.

...and the argument that governments shouldn't intervene in the nation's eating habits looks shakier than ever. According to an analysis carried out at the Wolfson Institute of Preventive Medicine and published last week, around 40 per cent of cancers could be avoided by a change in lifestyle blah, blah, blah...

This is the same study that Waxman was citing on Friday as his excuse for having the state decide what people eat and drink. Amongst other problems, this study assumes that someone who gets lung cancer, for example, would otherwise not have got any form of cancer had they not smoked. Since the biggest risk factor for cancer is age, this is quite a major flaw. I refer you to Nigel Hawkes' analysis of it over at Straight Statistics. Hawkes points out that more than 60% of the 'lifestyle-related' cancers are due to smoking—a risk factor which has hardly been under-publicised in recent years—but that for nonsmokers, "adopting a perfect diet, drinking no alcohol, eating no red or processed meat, and maintaining a body mass index of less than 25 would actually reduce total cancer incidence by 13.3 per cent. Many people might think the sacrifice scarcely worth the reward."

Indeed. Particularly since, as he also notes, the majority of cancer deaths registered in England and Wales last year involved people over the age of 75. Unless Joan Smith believes that the alternative to cancer is eternal life, what is it that she thinks people should die of?

That figure is bound to rise as more people exceed sensible weight limits, with one study published in The Lancet predicting that half the population could be obese by 2030.

That study, frankly, is bullshit in a ball gown. A glance at recent trends in obesity indicate that it is highly unlikely that half the population will be obese in 19 years time. On the contrary, the rate seems to be flattening out. Actual figures are shown on the left of the graph below. The Lancet's projection is on the right. As with the '40% of cancers' study, The Lancet's fanciful prediction was designed purely to inspire half-witted busy-bodies to write half-witted opinion pieces in which they demand authoritarian policies from half-witted politicians. Joan Smith has not disappointed.

The cost in extra health care alone would be about £2bn a year...

No it wouldn't.

Last week, cancer charities were keen not to blame individuals for habits that raise their risk...

Of course they were, you fool. The whole idea is to place the blame on the government because what these campaigners want is 'tough action' from the government. Everybody knows that the individual is responsible for what he eats, drinks and smokes, but the lobbyists are hardly like to say that, are they now? Do try to keep up.'s clear that many people find it hard to resist fatty food and cheap alcohol, which leaves government intervention the only serious option.

Well, let's not be so hasty. Are we sure that all the other possibilities have been exhausted? Have you, for example, considered the option of fucking off and leaving us alone?

It's worked with smoking, which used to be enjoyed by more than half the male population and has now dropped to a fifth. The success of campaigns against tobacco, from graphic health warnings on cigarette packets to high rates of tax and an advertising ban, provides an optimistic model of how self-destructive behaviour can be altered. 

Ah yes, the "model". The anti-tobacco blueprint. The tobacco control template. The start of that slippery slope which we were told for years was a figment of our imagination.

How the drinkers scoffed when we told them that they were next. How the nonsmokers chuckled when they were warned that pizza would one day be equated with cigarettes.

Seems like only yesterday, does it not? These complacent souls now find themselves with no leg to stand on. How can they argue with Smith's prescription—graphic warnings, high taxes, advertising bans? Presumably she agrees with plain packaging, retail display bans and denormalisation as well.

And why not? The provide an "optimistic model".

Where do we draw the line between smoking and drinking? Where do we draw the line between drinking alcohol and drinking Pepsi? We cannot. Once we have accepted the healthist world view, no principled and logically consistent objection can be made against photos of rotten teeth on soft drinks. Those who welcomed the 85% sales tax on cigarettes are in no position to oppose an 85% sales tax on bacon. They can only wriggle and squirm and hope the puritans tackle their pleasures last.

And so, in a sense, I welcome the likes of Joan Smith and Jonathan Waxman for finally coming clean and alerting us all about what is afoot.

Unless it wants to look criminally irresponsible, the Government should tackle weight and alcohol problems with the same ferocity. Bring on the nanny state, and ignore the predictable protests.

The lines are drawn. We tried to warn you, we really did. Now whose side are you on?