Monday 30 January 2012

Plain talking

The British anti-tobacco industry is preparing to launch it's latest attempt to justify its existence. A public consultation on plain packaging is expected in March and the Department of Health's various sockpuppets (ASH, Fresh, Smokefree SouthWest etc.) will spend an enormous amount of taxpayers' money getting its employees and supporters to click on websites and send postcards.

The pseudo-journal Tobacco Control has helpfully published a "study" to help campaigners overcome objections from the public. Being Tobacco Control, the methodology is the tried-and-tested 'messing about on the internet' approach, in this instance the inappropriately named Becky Freeman has been reading comments on news stories.

Results Of 117 relevant news items, 41 included 1818 reader comments. 1187 (65.3%) comments contained no reference to plain packaging, and mainly addressed a tobacco tax rise announced at the same time. The comments about plain packaging were more than 2.5 times more likely to oppose than support the policy. The dominant argumentative frame, comprising 27% of oppositional comments, was that plain packaging would be ineffective in reducing smoking. Online reader poll results showed equal support for and opposition to plain packaging.

Conclusions The results of this study can be used by tobacco control advocates to anticipate opposition and assist in reframing and counteracting arguments opposed to plain packaging.

So most people oppose it and most people think it won't work. The reaction of tobacco control is therefore to 'reframe' the issue so things like popularity and efficacy don't get in the way. All in a day's work for ASH et al.

And if they succeed, will the professional zealots leave it there? Of course not. Having passed a plain packaging law in Australia, the crusaders have already skipped onto their next objectives.

LICENCES to puff, foul-tasting cigarettes, and financial incentives to stop smoking are next in a bid to help the nation quit a $5 billion addiction to tobacco revenue before the end of the next decade.

You read that right: they want the government to make cigarettes "foul-tasting". And you'll need a license to smoke them. These are the people who once claimed that all they wanted was no-smoking sections in restaurants, remember.

Simon Clark has recently launched a website to allow the sane majority to voice their opposition to all this nonsense. I have written a short blogpost touching on some of the main issues around plain packaging. Do have a read and be sure to sign up on the right-hand side of the page.

Saturday 28 January 2012

A work of art

The Guardian recently kicked off the campaign for plain packaging this week with an interview with that sad old sociologist Simon Chapman who seems to think that the tobacco industry finds him fascinating:

"They dislike me intensely because of my prominence and persistence. But I also confuse them because I'm very against the censorship and rating of films because of their tobacco content."

"Hey, look at me—I'm only half-mad!"

Expect much more about plain packaging in the next few months. The Department of Health has lined up its usual NGOs and fake charities to persuade the public that a policy that is so preposterous that even the most deranged anti-smoking headbangers have only recently endorsed it, should be a priority as we slide back into recession and the EU goes bust.

It won't surprise you to hear that I see plain packaging as a gross infringement of intellectual property, private property and the free market. That it will be extended to other products in due course I consider to be a near-certainty. It is a lunatic idea dreamt up by people who have long since run out of ideas. The entire self-serving and deceitful cabal of 'tobacco control professionals' should be put out to grass. They have done enough damage. Chapman is very proud that the Australian supernanny state has banned e-cigarettes and snus, for example—these people should be in a smokefree prison cell.

David Hockney has better things to do that smack down pointless wowsers like Chapman, but he has done so all the same in today's letters section and it is quite glorious...

Why doesn't Mr Chapman debate with a good and satisfied customer of the tobacco companies (Plain packs will make smoking history, 25 January)? Someone who has seen what will replace it as a smoothing, calming contemplative helper. Someone whose friends died of alcohol consumption, not tobacco. Someone who has smoked for nearly as long as he has lived. Someone who knows about the fanatical attitude of haters of tobacco. Someone who is not so naive about advertising and packaging.

Someone who has almost outlived a fanatical anti-smoking father. Someone who is fed up to the teeth with people who think they really know what health is. Someone who is not afraid of the cowardly, crooked politicians who stifle the debate about pleasure in the now. Someone who knows that time is elastic. Someone who knows how easy it is to lie with statistics. Someone who is not a professional agitator, who knows there is no such thing as a professional smoker but knows there are hundreds of dreary, professional, highly paid anti-smokers.

Someone who thinks laughter is good for you as it drains fear from the body. Someone who has something better to do than to try and control the quiet lives of others. Someone who knows we are all a bit different and is fed up with the growing regimentation of people. Someone who knows that smokers can live perfectly average-length lives but heavy drinkers rarely. Someone who is shocked by the growing conformity among people, and what that might mean for a reasonable free society. Someone who prefers the centre of Bohemia to Australian suburbia. Someone who knows we have to die.

David Hockney
Bridlington, East Yorkshire

Taxi for Chapman...

David Hockney's contribution to culture

Simon Chapman's contribution to culture

The Smoking Years

For those who didn't, or couldn't, watch it when it was on the telly earlier this month...

Thursday 26 January 2012

Sheer heart attacks

Long time readers will have seen quite a few graphs like the one below over the years (for example here and here). They show the number of people admitted to hospital with heart attacks in a country. In this case, the country in England. I have previously used NHS hospital data to show that the English smoking ban had no effect on England's heart attack rate, contrary to a claim made by Anna "pants on fire" Gilmore. (In fact, the data in that graph came from her study; she just chose not to show it in a chart.)

You can see the non-effect of the ban (started July 2007) in the graph below. Clearly, there is a consistent, gradual downward trend, but no big dips. There are slight increases in the downward trend in 2005 and 2010, but these can hardly be attributed to a ban that started in 2007.

You knew this already, right? I only mention it again because this graph comes from a new study in the British Medical Journal which looks at the the heart attack rate in England between 2002 and 2010. So, just in case you think I've been making up the data these past two years, let this assure you that I have not.

The six page study does not mention the smoking ban at all and its data clearly do not support the notion that the ban had any observable effect on heart attack admissions. The big story is that deaths from heart attack have halved since the turn of the century. This is great news, but it has obviously been a steady process which has come about for a multitude of reasons.

If someone tells you that the heart attack rate fell after the smoking ban, they are not lying, but they are not being entirely truthful either. Pick any event of the last decade and the heart attack rate fell afterwards. Pathetic as this post hoc logic is, it has been the basis of one of the biggest scientific scams of recent years.

The hubris of CAMRA

Dick Puddlecote has the story of the Campaign for Real Ale's latest head-in-the-sand efforts to save the great "community pub". You know a place is in trouble when people start putting the word "community" in front of it (see also "community Post Office"). Pub closures peaked at 52 a week in the second year of the smoking ban and the rate is now a still-worrying 16 a week.

In an expensive-looking report, the Real Ale Twats have found a correlation between smoking rates and pub closures, but choose not to draw any policy conclusions from this. Instead, they play their usual game of blaming supermarkets for selling cheap alcohol (which was being sold cheaply before the smoking ban) and pleading for tax cuts and special favours (which they didn't need before the smoking ban). The one piece of government action that could make people actually want to go to pubs again does not get a look in (the Morning Advertiser—trade mag to the pub trade—doesn't even mention the ban in its report).

Perhaps CAMRA still believes in its own self-deluding pre-ban propaganda, of which Dick has unearthed a beautiful example...


CAMRA is urging publicans to prepare for a boost in demand for real ales following the banning of smoking in all pubs in England from 1 July this year.

And pub goers will now be able to savour the flavour of real cask ales as the fog of tobacco smoke is finally blown out of pubs and bars throughout the UK.

In Wales, CAMRA reported a boost in demand for real ale after the earlier ban of smoking there from 1 April.

...The research also indicated that after the smoking ban over 6 million pub goers in England and Wales expect to visit pubs more often and 840000 people who never go to pubs said they will do after the ban. And 68% of smokers said the ban will not affect their pub going habits, with only 3% of adults saying that they would not visit pubs as a result of the ban.

Paul Moorhouse continued: ‘We expect a minority of smokers to be put off going to the pub. But this will be offset by more use of pubs by others who will welcome the smoke-free environment. And with over two thirds of real ale drinkers being non-smokers, we expect it to be real ale that will benefit the most from this new trade. Any pubs that do not offer real ale are encouraged to stock one to attract this new clientele.’

Peace in our time, CAMRA?

The Pub Curmudgeon and The View from Cullingworth have more to say about CAMRA's uselessness.

Tuesday 24 January 2012

ASH: The government in drag

I recently mentioned the possibility that ASH (England) may have lost its government funding. Maybe they have, maybe they haven't, but the anti-smoking pressure group was certainly sucking on the teat of the state in 2010/11, as its latest accounts show.

Department of Health: £220,500

ASH International: £152,657

Supporting charities: £393,833

Donations: £15,365

Total: £782,355

ASH International is funded by Pfizer, which perhaps explains ASH's eagerness to promote Pfizer's psychotic stop-smoking drug Chantix/Champix.

The supporting charities are the British Heart Foundation and Cancer Research UK, so if you don't like indirectly funding neo-prohibitionist pressure groups, you might want to avoid them in the future and donate to other charities.

The Department of Health grant is for a project called 'Capitalising on Smokefree'. This is the third year in a row that taxpayers' money has been diverted to this mystery project. Although we pay for it, no details have ever been made public. If I was a cynic, I would say that it involves ASH being given money to manufacture support for Department of Health policies.

And that leaves £15,365 of donations from the public, meaning that one of the country's most powerful and influential "charities" gets less than 2% of its income from the general public's voluntary donations. However, it gets 28% from involuntarily donations through the tax system and a further 50% from donations given to different charities which are then diverted to ASH.

I do believe that means that ASH continues to be what it has always been: a fake charity. They are the government in drag; they are the Department of Health's sockpuppets; they are the state lobbying the state. Why are smokers being forced to pay for their own vilification?


Number 11 in ASH's list of 'objectives' for 2010/11 is:

To be sensitive to the concerns of the smoker.

Wow. Just wow.

They said it couldn't happen

Can something be banned just because some people don't like the smell of it? Of course it can. It's happened all over the world and now—thanks to that non-existent slippery slope—it's happening with perfume and aftershave.

New Hampshire May Ban Perfume for State Employees

State employees in New Hampshire who douse themselves in Chanel before heading into the office may be in for a shock. If New Hampshire’s House Bill 1444 passes, state employees would be banned from spritzing their favorite perfumes during the work week, the Union Leader reports.

This seems rather silly. After all, getting a whiff of perfume isn't a health issue.

“It may seem silly, but it’s a health issue,” Michele Peckham, the state representative sponsoring the bill, told the Union Leader.

I stand corrected. It's just that Multiple Chemical Sensitivity (for that is the 'health issue') is a load of old cobblers (more details at Quackwatch).

“Many people have violent reactions to strong scents.”

Maybe they do, maybe they don't. Maybe they associate fragrances with 'man-made chemicals' and maybe they have a psychological problem. Whatever the source of the problem, it is not one that has any grounding in science.

Susan McBride, a constituent with a sensitive nose, started the conversation about banning offensive scents in the workplace back in 2008 when she sued the city of Detroit, claiming that the scent made it tough to breathe, thus keeping her from doing her job, Yahoo! Shine reports.

Readers of Velvet Glove, Iron Fist might remember this lady. She's nuts.

The city awarded McBride $100,000 and a city ordinance against scented body products. 

More fool them. Now they've opened the floodgates to every hypochondriac, tree-hugger and chemophobe in the USA.

Expect this one to run and run. After all, it's new secondhand smoke...

Monday 23 January 2012

'Quit-or-die approach not working' shocker

Surprise, surprise...

Despite recent ecstasy-related deaths, Vancouver dealer says business is booming

Sam's workday usually starts late in the afternoon as Vancouver's aggressive partiers begin looking for a way to chemically enhance their fun.

Most nights of the week, a host of twenty- and thirtysomethings call Sam's work phone throughout the evening and into the early morning looking for ecstasy and cocaine. Despite recent headlines about the deadly PMMA-laced ecstasy pills, Sam's phone still rings with clients searching for a good time.

Backstory here.

Sunday 22 January 2012

The cowardice of public health

The Lancet is unhappy about a recommendation from the NHS Future Forum that doctors "make every contact [between doctors and patients] count", ie. they pester us about our diet, drinking and smoking every time they see us. I share The Lancet's unhappiness. It's an awful idea and doctors won't do it anyway (I've said it before, but since I criticise public health so much, it bears repeating: every GP I've ever met has been likable, sensible and not at all like their evil twins in public health. Never mistake 'public health professionals' for real medics).

Lecturing the patient on their lifestyle choices during this time is likely to appear rushed and inappropriate, especially if doctors see the task as a box-ticking exercise. There is a high risk that such an approach will leave the patient feeling frustrated, resentful, and reluctant to return.

Indeed so. Mandatory hectoring would be a terrible idea. It's not that I think that health advice is a bad thing, it's just that it should be relevant and timely.

Having said that, if I'm going to receive health advice I'd rather it came from a qualified GP who has actually met me, not some distant bureaucrat with an advertising account and an axe to grind. This is where I part company with The Lancet, which doesn't seem to approve of the concept of advice at all.

Effective, evidenced-based public health measures do not include nudging people into healthy behaviours or getting NHS staff to lecture patients on healthy lifestyles. They include measures such as raising taxes on cigarettes, alcohol, fatty foods, and sugary drinks, reducing junk food and drink advertising to children, and restricting hours on sale of alcoholic drinks. 

Quelle surprise. This is, after all, The Lancet, where whatever the question is, bans and taxes are the answer.

Here we see the true moral cowardice of public health. They know that any doctor who harasses his patients in the same way that 'public health professionals' harass the population will be assaulted on a daily basis, so they hide behind the government, goading it on to ever greater illiberalism. The public will still feel "frustrated" and "resentful" at having their money and liberties stolen, but they will vent their frustration on politicians, not GPs. Like all bullies, 'public health professionals' are cowards at heart.

The government should show true leadership and make effective legislation the cornerstone of their public health strategy. Focusing on other approaches is foolish. The nudge and nag approaches need one thing: the firm elbow.

The firm elbow, indeed—for when nudging and nagging is no longer enough! You can't say you haven't been warned. Does anyone else find it perverse that politicians want people to get health advice and doctors want to make laws? When exactly did this job swap happen? And would The Lancet care to set up a Doctors' Party and run for office so we can see just how much popular support there is for the firm elbow?

Saturday 21 January 2012

Etta James RIP

Friday 20 January 2012

High prices and smuggling: nothing to see here, says BHF

Last week, the Economist produced an article about sin taxes which made the fairly obvious statement that...

...when duties rise so do the incentives to get around them, by buying abroad or on the black market. This is particularly common with cigarettes, which are easy for individual smokers to import. In 2000 non-duty consumption reached a peak of 78%, according to the Tobacco Manufacturers’ Association—a consequence of the weak euro as well as a sudden increase in taxes of inflation plus 5%.

Pretty uncontroversial, but not to the British Heart Foundation, who have a letter published today:

SIR – Your article on sin taxes in Britain (“The high cost of virtue”, December 31st) took at face value claims by the Tobacco Manufacturers’ Association that cigarette smuggling in Britain peaked in 2000 as a result of high taxes and a weak euro. In fact, the affordability of tobacco has not changed greatly in the past ten years, while cigarette smuggling has halved. Tobacco smuggling is weakly affected by price.

If smuggling is only "weakly affected by price", it would be interesting to know what the real reason is for people buying and selling contraband tobacco. Maybe they just do it for a laugh. Why does Ireland, Britain and Canada have the worst smuggling problems if not for the fact that they have the highest prices? How much tobacco is smuggled from high tax countries to low tax countries? None at all because the whole point is get a cheaper price.

Contrary to the BHF's glib assertion, cigarettes have, in fact, become both more expensive and less affordable—the price has risen by about 90% since 2000. Inflation has risen by 30-40% in that time and although I cannot get precise figures on average wages, I am confident they have not risen by 90%. It should also be remembered that smokers are more likely to be on lower incomes, and the people who buy smuggled tobacco are likely to be on still lower incomes. Affordability measures based on median wages do not tell the whole story, despite both the heavy emphasis placed on them by both the anti-tobacconists and the temperance lobby.

Secondly, notice that the BHF uses the peak of tobacco smuggling (2000) as their baseline. According to HM Revenue and Customs, the illicit cigarettes made up 11% of the market in 2009/10. This is a decline since the 21% peak of 2000, but BHF make no mention of the illicit rolling market, which continues to make up half of the entire rolling tobacco market. Nor do they mention counterfeit cigarettes which were hardly ever seen in 2000, but which are a major problem today.

As I wrote at the ASI recently, the connection between price and tobacco smuggling has not gone unnoticed by customs officials in Ireland who have spotted the Laffer curve that has taken shape as prices have risen.

Initially, tax rate rises do increase tax revenue, however beyond a certain point tax rate rises may actually start to decrease revenue. The main causes for such decreases are that high levels of taxation either cause economic activity to reduce (the disincentive effect of higher taxation) or economic activity to switch to the shadow economy.

This is all pretty obvious stuff unless you happen to be an anti-smoking campaigner, in which case the laws of economics that apply to ever other product can be rejected as tobacco industry propaganda.

Wednesday 18 January 2012

Campus smoking bans

Who would say something as stupid as this?

"We don't want your car to be a safe haven"

Read my blog post at the Adam Smith Institute to find out...

Tuesday 17 January 2012

The murderous insanity of the War on Drugs

A batch of Ecstasy pills in British Columbia has been contaminated with a dangerous substance called PMMA which is similar to PMA, also known as Death, Dr Death and Chicken Powder, and is five times more toxic than MDMA.

You might infer from their names that Death is not such a nice drug as Ecstasy. You would be right. PMA has been linked to a number of fatalities in the past and PMMA appears to be causing similar carnage.

A batch of ecstasy believed to be behind a spate of recent deaths in Calgary may have been tainted with a lethal chemical never before found in the street drug, according Alberta’s chief medical examiner.

Five people have recently been found dead with PMMA in their systems. All had taken tainted Ecstasy. The police know what batch is contaminated and they know what it looks like. They know what colour the pills are and they know what the stamp is. So what are they doing to prevent more fatalities?

Absolutely nothing.

Police in British Columbia are reluctant to tell the public what unique, colourful markings are on ecstasy pills suspected to be packed with a lethal additive linked to five deaths in the province over concerns users will believe they're sanctioning the rest.

Lisa Lapointe said while some police agencies have been voluntarily handed samples of the suspect pills, they've decided against putting photos online.

"We don't want to give the impression that these are the tablets that are risky, and other tablets are safe," she told reporters.

"At any time, any tablet can be contaminated with anything."

RCMP and police in Vancouver and Abbotsford have all promoted the message that no drugs are safe, while shying away from providing specific details around tracking the substance's source or revealing what stamps the pills bare [sic].

This is just appalling. In their desire to 'send a message' that all drugs are bad, these negligent imbeciles are prepared to conceal information from people that might save their lives. Why is there PMMA in the Ecstasy supply in the first place? Because of the War on Drugs. Why won't they give users health information that will drastically reduce their risk? Because of the War on Drugs.

This is, of course, the same quit-or-die mentality that allows snus and e-cigarettes to be banned because they may or may not be a 100% safer alternative to cigarettes. It is harm maximisation in action and it is utter madness.

Monday 16 January 2012


Today sees the release of a new book from the Institute of Economic Affairs called ...And the Pursuit of Happiness. It was inspired by David Cameron's idea of basing policy on Gross National Well-being rather than Gross National Product. In my view, this is a fatuous distraction from real policy and is likely to be hi-jacked by various special interest groups.

We have a fairly good idea of what makes people happy—a lasting marriage, friends, a good income, community spirit, nice weather, religious belief, children—but the government is unable to provide any of these. There are basic services the state can offer which alleviate misery, but generally the nation's happiness can be best secured by politicians getting out of the way and allowing us to pursue it.

I warmly recommend the IEA's book to you and not just because it contains a chapter written by myself. It's available to buy or as a free download here. There is also an event to mark its release at the IEA next Wednesday—details here.

Friday 13 January 2012

An evening with the New Economics Foundation

Over at the IEA blog...

Has ASH lost its funding?

I have just come across a question asked in Parliament last year concerning ASH's Department of Health funding. As you may know, Alcohol Concern recently lost its DoH grant and has been forced to behave like a charity by relying on donations from the public, rather than money taken from people who profoundly disagree with their neo-prohibitionist agenda. This exchange implies that ASH might have suffered the same fate.

Asked by Lord Naseby: To ask Her Majesty’s Government how much public money was given to Action on Smoking and Health in 2009–10; how much was budgeted for 2010–11; and whether this will be cut in 2011–12. [HL8180]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Health (Earl Howe): Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) received funding of £210,000 in 2009-10 and £220,000 in 2010-11 through the department's Section 64 General Scheme of Grants to Voluntary and Community Organisations. ASH received these grants specifically to carry out a defined project entitled Capitalising on Smokefree: the way forward.

ASH did not make a grant application to the department's Third Sector Investment Programme: Innovation, Excellence and Service Development Fund for 2011-12. The department currently has no other plans to provide ASH with funding in the next financial year.

This statement is not unequivocal so don't uncork the champagne just yet, but ASH have been a bit quiet recently. What do you think?

Tuesday 10 January 2012

Bad news for Big Pharma

From The Guardian:

Nicotine replacement has no long-term benefit when quitting smoking

Chewing nicotine gum or using nicotine-replacement patches offers no advantage in keeping smokers off cigarettes in the long term, according to scientists. They say that while nicotine-replacement therapies (NRTs) could be useful in the early stages of combatting withdrawal, public health bodies should reconsider their reliance on these techniques as a way to reduce the number of people who smoke.

Ouch. Looks like taking nicotine isn't a good way of giving up nicotine after all. Who'd have thought?

John Britton and Deborah Arnott pop up in the article to defend their friends in the pharmaceutical industry.

Saturday 7 January 2012

Carrying an e-cigarette is forbidden at UCSF

The University of California, San Francisco—the home of anti-smoking über-zealot Stanton Glantz—has banned students from using and carrying e-cigarettes across campus, inside and out.

To provide a smoke-free environment for its faculty, staff, students, patients, and visitors, UCSF shall be a smoke-free campus.

The policy, which has been flagged up by Glantz on his blog, applies to all "University-owned or leased property, buildings, space, and University-owned passenger vehicles and moving equipment" and includes all "smoking tobacco products".

To the scientifically illiterate goons at UCSF, "smoking tobacco products" includes products which are not smoked and do not contain tobacco.

Smoking tobacco products means inhaling, exhaling, burning or carrying any lighted or heated cigar, pipe or cigarette (traditional or e-cigarette).

Just unbelievable.

Friday 6 January 2012

Today's blog post...

... is about The Spirit Level and is at the Adam Smith Institute blog.

Thursday 5 January 2012

Lennox Johnston in his own words

BBC Timeshift: This is not Lennox Johnston

Some of you may have watched the BBC 4's Timeshift programme last night (The Smoking Years, available on the iPlayer and to be repeated several times in the next week). Aside from the last ten minutes, I thought it was a very good piece of television with some excellent archive footage and some fine guests, ahem.

If I had a quibble—and of course I do—I would say that it greatly exaggerated the impact of the anti-smoking group GASP, which was fairly inconsequential, while downplaying the influence of ASH, the BMA, and the government in changing behaviour.

I was pleased to see a bit of coverage about Dr Lennox Johnston for what I believe to be his first television appearance. Readers of Velvet Glove, Iron Fist will be familiar with him and I'd like to add some more flesh to the story by reproducing some of his correspondence in the British Medical Journal. These letters are fascinating for what they tell us about a zealous anti-smoker born before his time as well as what they show us about the medical establishment in the mid-twentieth century.

The first letter is a reply to Johnston from another doctor. By 1950, Johnston felt vindicated by the work of Austin Bradford Hill, Richard Doll and Ernest Wynder showing a clear association between smoking and lung cancer. Many rank-and-file GPs remained largely unmoved, however, and this letter is typical in its focus on moderation (no talk of "no safe level" in those days!). He goes on to make light of the issue by comparing smoking with tea-drinking and kissing.

October 7 1950

Dr. A. LEWIS (London, W.9) writes:

Your correspondents, Drs. Lennox Johnston and F. C. Morgan (September 9, p. 630) would be far less likely to find themselves in a minority crusade if they were a little less sweeping in their assertions. Few doctors could fail to join them in a campaign against excessive smoking, nor could many fail to agree that the inhalation of tobacco smoke is unlikely to do good to any kind of cough whatever its aetiology.

But how far are Drs. Johnston and Morgan justified in announcing that failure to get rid of tobacco is probably the main cause of failure to get rid of tuberculosis ? The pathogenicity, infectivity, and chronicity of tuberculosis depend on several factors, and the extent to which these may be affected by smoking may not be so great as they would have us believe...

Not satisfied with this, Drs. Johnston and Morgan go on to argue that, because of its bad effect on tuberculosis (which most of us admit) and because of other ill effects of excessive smoking, all tobacco smoking could (and should) be abolished to the advantage of the community. Perhaps it could. But it is only one of the so-called " evils " with which a civilized community indulges itself. I feel, for instance, that a strong case could be made against tea...

I have no doubt that Drs. Johnston and Morgan could if they tried bring a good case on a sound scientific basis for the abolition of kissing. But if they charged all who failed to join them with promiscuous lasciviousness they could hardly be surprised if their accusations were met with ribald cries of " Whack ho ! "...

Until Drs. Johnston and Morgan can show that a little of what I fancy does me harm I hope the world will still find me willing to appreciate anything from a pipe and a glass of beer to a Havana cigar and a vintage brandy.

Johnston was more than a GP and amateur scientist. He was, above all, an anti-smoking campaigner. He was the president of the National Society of Non-Smokers for many years and bitterly resented the failure of epidemiologists to grasp the nettle and campaign for legislation (how times change). He hated Doll and Hill for stealing his thunder, but also for not taking what he saw as the obvious next step of demanding the abolition of smoking.

Johnston was overly optimistic about the chances of turing Britain smokefree. Despite being acutely aware of nicotine's addictive potential, he felt that if he was put in charge of a national stop-smoking campaign, he could get most smokers to quit at a stroke.

In this letter, he applauds Ernest Wynder's epidemiological research while taking a side-swipe at both him and Doll & Hill. He then outlines his own plan of action which will culminate in prohibition. Unlike modern anti-smoking campaigners, he does not pretend that smokers are a net burden on the health service. He accepts that smoking cessation will require nonsmokers to pay more in tax.

January 26 1957

Dr. E. L. Wynder's masterly deployment of the evidence in support of the carcinogenicity of smoking (Journal, January 5, p. 1) contrasts with the timidity of his "practical aspects of solving the tobacco-cancer problem." There is, of course, but one "practical aspect," one solution, as he must know, but, like Doll and Bradford Hill, he has avoided—very wrongly, in my view—stating plainly that tobacco-smoking should be stopped and that it is our duty to stop it, quickly. Instead, we continue to fiddle while Rome bums.

"All a physician can do," says Wynder, "is to present the facts to the public." He can do much more. He can state plainly what action should be taken and crusade his utmost for that action. Moreover, the mode and frequency of the presentation of the facts are important. Because of the inaccessibility of smokers to the facts against smoking, nothing less than their very frequent and blunt presentation by a non-smoker over a long period using every modern publicity device would be effective in eliminating tobacco-smoking, and in the end there would have to be compulsory prevention of smoking to cure a considerable hard core of addicts...

Taxation would have to be equitably redistributed, present-day smokers paying much less, and non-smokers much more, than in the past; and the tobacco labour force, buildings, and equipment would have to be redeployed and put to socially valuable work. Individuals can stop smoking, so also therefore can nations. Notwithstanding my criticisms, I recognize fully and gratefully Dr. Wynder's pre-eminent contributions to the cause of non-smoking.
I am, etc.,

Wallasey, Cheshire. LENNOX JOHNSTON.

By 1958, the Medical Research Council (MRC) had accepted a causal link between smoking and lung cancer, but, much to Johnston's chagrin, had called for little in the way of remedial action.

Johnston had form with the MRC. After being refused funding, he accused them all of being nicotine addicts, an allegation he repeats in this letter. Once again, he criticises Doll and Hill—who he continued to view as moral cowards—and repeats his belief that, "The nation's smoking could be cured almost overnight" if only the government were committed to abolishing tobacco as it had opium.

June 21 1958

SIR,-Tobacco consumption in England and Wales last year went up 4.8 million lb. (2.18 million kg.) and reached the record figure of 304.3 million lb. (138 million kg.).'

In its statement on "Tobacco Smoking and Cancer of the Lung" the Medical Research Council accepted the evidence associating smoking with a major part of the increase in lung cancer. This was tantamount to accepting the view that a major part of the epidemic of lung cancer now upon us is readily preventable because tobacco-smoking is readily preventable—it is no more difficult to prevent than opium- or hashish- smoking (which we now prevent), and large numbers of smokers stop smoking voluntarily. Yet the M.R.C. made no recommendations in this statement for preventing lung cancer by stopping people smoking. They were thus guilty, it seems to me, of a grave act of omission.

They followed the precedent established by their chief investigators on this subject, Dr. R. Doll and Professor A. Bradford Hill, of merely setting out the evidence and their conclusions, which carried an implied warning for smokers. But tobacco is far too powerful a drug of addiction to be abandoned, except by a small minority of smokers, in response to mere implied warnings about a remote risk—as the tobacco consumption figures testify. Such warnings have often, indeed, an immunizing effect. Many smokers have acquired such a degree of immunity to fear of lung cancer, as a result of repeated inadequate warnings over the past seven years, that they are quite unscarable: their protective emotion, fear, no longer fulfills its normal function where lung cancer is concerned.

In the absence of any recommendations from the M.R.C., the Government, a lay body which consists mainly of smokers, put in hand measures of its own devising for ending the epidemic of lung cancer. These are a complete farce: the Government merely passed the buck to the local authorities. Cancer of the lung is not, of course, a local but a national problem, and only the national Government has the power to deal with it effectively.

The nation's smoking could be cured almost overnight and the great bulk of lung cancer prevented by a national anti-smoking campaign followed by legislation aimed at doing away with tobacco-smoking within a matter of months. The campaign would consist of educational talks at peak listening times on T.V. and sound radio on the effects of tobacco smoking on the human organism. Blunt warnings about the damage smoking does, coupled with firm injunctions to smokers to stop smoking, could be interposed from time to time between programmes. Everything connected with the campaign should be in the hands of non-smokers, since smokers are obviously pro-smoking, and anti-smoking words on their lips must be hypocritical, however much smokers may protest their sincerity. There is no objection to frightening smokers about the effects of smoking just as there is none to frightening children about the effects of fire.

The economic effects of the nation's stopping smoking would be a problem primarily for the Chancellor of the Exchequer. For too long have successive Chancellors shamelessly exploited the smoker's craving for tobacco to extort from him enormous sums in the form of taxation.
-I am, etc.,
President. National Society of Non-smokers

Three months after the previous letter, Johnston writes again. This time, he is responding to a doctor who has said that Johnston's anti-smoking campaign is unrealistically ambitious. He refutes this and calls for smokers to be scared and coerced out of their habit. Again, he cites the precedent of drug legislation.

September 6 1958

SIR,-The suggestion by Dr. B. J. Bouchd (Journal, July 12, p. 106) to the effect that a recommendation to prevent the major part of the present epidemic of lung cancer by stopping the smoking of tobacco would be outside the scope of the Medical Research Council is unfounded. " The [Medical Research] Council, by its constitution, has full liberty to pursue an independent scientific policy.... The programme [of research work undertaken by the Council] . . .includes . . . clinical, and laboratory studies of disease; its nature and causes, and methods for its prevention..."

I assure Dr. A. C. Woodmansey (Journal, July 5, p. 46) that my scheme for curing the nation's smoking in months was put forward seriously. He describes it as unrealistic. But what is there unrealistic about urging on the Government a (real) anti-smoking campaign followed by legislation aimed at, doing away with tobacco-smoking? We prevent the smoking of other drugs, notably opium and hashish, so why not tobacco? Dr. Woodmansey does not believe in deliberately frightening people. Nor do I, unnecessarily. But many smokers are so inaccessible to reason where their drug is concerned that the only hope of cure lies in scaring them (if you can!) sufficiently to break down their inaccessibility.

I am, etc.,
President, National Society of Non-Smokers

In this letter from 1971, Johnston is rightly keen to take credit for setting up the UK's first stop-smoking clinic. He admits that it was short-lived due to his belief that he could "turn the whole country for a time into a vast anti-smoking clinic." Although he begins by talking about nicotine addiction as a clinical addiction, he soon slides towards more emotive language.

Incidentally, it should be noted that Johnston uses the term "anti-smoker" in this letter and "anti-smoking" in many of his letters. It is occasionally claimed today that these terms were invented by the tobacco industry as more negative-sounding alternatives to 'tobacco control advocates' or 'smokefree campaigners'. As these letter show, that is not true.

4 September 1971

DR. LENNOX JOHNSTON (Wallasey, Cheshire) writes: It is perhaps worth recording that the first anti-smoking clinic in the world was started in Britain by me in November 1957. The application of the word "clinic" to a centre for the treatment of tobacco-smoking was crucial. It helped to respectabilize such treatment by bringing it into the orbit of clinical medicine. Previously, smoking had been generally regarded as merely or, at any rate, primarily a vice, and getting rid of smoking as a matter of "conversion"; and this, regrettably, was often sneered at as the province of goody-goodies.

My book firmly taught that smoking was a disease, a drug addiction; like most diseases, an intoxication by (in this case) nicotine, carbon monoxide, tar particles, and the other volatile toxic products of tobacco combusion.

Smoking is also, however, a vice. It is antisocial (or vicious) to pollute the air-space of a fellow man. I ran the clinic for over six months, then gave it up. My reasons were lack of medical and financial support, and increasing realization that it was not too much use curing a few smokers, then turning them loose in our tobacco-addicted society where many would be sure to be psychologically reinfected. I felt that the way to deal with tobacco addiction was to turn the whole country for a time into a vast anti-smoking clinic: give anti-smokers carte blanche on T.V. and on the radio, and stop all tobacco advertisements at a stroke...

When I was researching Velvet Glove, Iron Fist (2005-2008), I was unable to find out when Lennox Johnston died. Since then, I have been able to locate his BMJ obituary. He died in 1986 at the age of 86.

29 March 1986


Dr. L. Johnston, a retired general practitioner and antismoking pioneer, died on 18 January aged 86.

Lennox Johnston was born in 1899 and was educated at Ayr Academy and Glasgow University. He graduated MB, ChB in 1921, having served as a medical student in Royal Navy minesweepers in the North Sea during the first world war. He started to smoke at the age of 16 and continued for 12 years. Having thought about his compulsion to continue, he "wondered what would be the effect of stopping." It proved easier than expected, and what surprised him most was how much better he felt. A year or so later he relapsed, and on that occasion it took him "two agonising years" to give up. The salutary experience of the addictive nature of nicotine led him to carry out experiments on himself. In the days when well over half the adult population smoked, and before the mass of technical writings on the subject appeared, he published a book in 1958 entitled The Disease of Tobacco Smoking and Its Cure. In it there is a startling description of the systemic effects of acute nicotine poisoning when he accidentally sprayed a few drops of 40% nicotine solution on his hand, with almost fatal consequences.

After various experiments with nicotine to prove its addictive nature he did everything he could to promote non-smoking, his researches having left him in no doubt that tobacco smoking was "the biggest killer in the world." He carried on a singlehanded fight against the BMA initiated at the annual representative meeting at Brighton in 1956 and continued at the special representative meeting in May 1957, when he spoke against the suspension of a standing order that prohibited smoking at BMA meetings. He became a positive thorn in the side of the Medical Research Council as he conducted his active campaign: it is alleged that as a result of his persistence the council was stimulated to research the effects of smoking on health. Nowadays we realise how courageous his efforts were, but in those times he must have seemed to the uninspired like a latter day Don Quixote tilting at windmills. Only he could see the reality of his cause, and his dedication proved that he was fully justified.

It was fitting that Lennox and his wife were guests of the Royal College of Physicians in 1976 in honour of his pioneering work on smoking. In his address Sir Cyril Clarke likened Dr Johnston to Semelweis, whose discovery of the cause of a big epidemic of puerperal fever that resulted in many deaths in Budapest was not accepted or acted on by his colleagues until after his death. Fortunately, Lennox survived long enough to see his pioneering efforts bear fruit. As past president of the National Society of Non-Smokers he always took an active interest in its work even after his retirement.

In his home life Lennox was devoted to his wife, Frieda, and family. They enjoyed 55 years together. Besides his wife and son, Ivor, he is survived by two daughters, Heather and Sandra, and 10 grandchildren and one great grandchild.

Wednesday 4 January 2012


Three anti-smoking organisations have commissioned a group of academics to write a report which amounts to a begging letter for continued state funding. It talks about tobacco control "investment" (a word it uses fifteen times) and tries to persuade our impecunious political masters that spending taxpayer's cash on wowserism and junk science will save the country money.

To this end, they lean heavily on the much-mocked Policy Exchange report of 2010 which attempted to show that smokers were a burden on the economy. Unfortunately, all it really showed was that the Policy Exchange can't distinguish between private costs and public costs, financial costs and intangible costs, and externalities and internalities. Nor does it understand that savings need to be weighted against costs in cost-benefit analyses. And, for good measure, it is ignorant of the body of research showing that smokers more than pay their weigh in economic terms.

Never mind though, eh? All policy-makers really need to know when considering whether to throw more taxpayers' money at Tobacco Free Futures, Smokefree South West and Smokefree North East (for it is they) is on page 5:

Furthermore, whilst there has been a downward trend in smoking prevalence over several decades, this appears to have stagnated since 2007.

What happened prior to 2007 to bring down the smoking rate? Not a great deal by the standards of the anti-tobacco extremists—education, awareness, taxation and a ban on tobacco advertising.

What happened from 2007 onwards? One of the world's most draconian smoking bans (2007). Graphic health warnings (2008). Adverts showing fish hooks severing the faces of smokers (2007, below). Massive tax rises (20% increase since January 2010). Counterfeit cigarettes openly sold in the street (2010). Nutters demanding outdoor smoking bans (2011).

Since 2007, the UK has sat proudly atop of the 'Tobacco Control Scale' league table. Like Ireland, Britain did everything the anti-smoking 'experts' said we should. What has been the reward? Stagnation.

Denormalisation, division and extremism is not working. The primary goal of reducing smoking prevalence is not being achieved. The unintended consequences have been socially and economically disastrous. The neurotics and fanatics have been running the show for too long. The coalition should hold tobacco control accountable for this dismal record of failure and return to sensible smoking cessation programmes, believable educational campaigns and treating people like grown ups.

Slip of the tongue?

Last week, a new report was published by the Royal College of Physicians on the subject of drinking and sexually transmitted diseases. The conclusions weren't very interesting (there's a link between the two, would you believe?!), but one sentence stood out...

As already noted, there is good evidence that health promotion interventions at a societal level (such as increasing the unit price of alcohol) are more effective than health education messages directed at adolescents.

An interesting choice of words in the parentheses there, as we don't currently price alcohol by the unit. (No country does, so from whence does this "good evidence" come?) We can hardly increase the unit price when we don't charge by the unit.

Slip of the tongue? Perhaps the RCP expected minimum pricing to be law by the time their report came out. Or perhaps they were just getting ahead of themselves.

Either way, if those moral imbeciles in Westminster do give minimum pricing the green light, you can expect to see the words "increasing the unit price of alcohol" in every document from Alcohol Concern, the RCP and the BMA for years to come. Once that Pandora's Box is open, the demands for the unit price to rise will be endless and unforgiving.

Tuesday 3 January 2012

Wowsers foiled again

Shock news from the nanny state island continent of Australia:

Young binge drinkers have simply switched to cheaper booze to beat the Federal Government's controversial "alcopop" tax.

New research shows 15 to 29-year-olds have dodged the 70 per cent tax on popular pre-mixed drinks by changing their drink of choice.

The University of Queensland study found no significant reduction in binge drinking-related hospital admissions since the tax was introduced in 2008.

Well, well, well. Who could have possibly seen this coming? Those feisty Australian youngsters worked out that if they mix their own drinks, they could avoid paying tax on ready-mixed drinks. Those cheeky little larrikins.

Australians are the biggest consumers of alcohol in the Western world...


...ahead of the United Kingdom, the US and France.


OK, I'll give you the US, but aside from those lightweights...

Total alcohol consumption (litres, per capita) - World Health Organisation

Australia: 10.02

France: 13.66

UK: 13.37

USA: 9.44

Going from A-Z until I get bored, here are the countries that have a higher per capita alcohol consumption than Australia:

Andorra: 15.48

Armenia: 11.35

Austria: 13.24

Azerbaijan: 10.60

Belarus: 15.13

Belgium: 10.77

Bulgaria: 12.44

Croatia: 15.11

Czech Republic: 16.45

Denmark: 13.37

Bored now, but I think you get the picture. Do Australians really believe they are the "biggest consumers of alcohol in the Western world"? Perhaps they do. I dare say a lot of people in British think they are the biggest consumers of alcohol as well. Certainly, our 'alcohol charities' have no incentive to put the record straight and the media love the fantasy of 'Booze Britain'. Without the myth of exceptionally high drinking levels, who would support the temperance lobby's draconian policies?

And do you think that the abject failure of the alcopop tax has led to apologies and resignations within the 'public health' movement? Do you imagine that politicians have become weary of their broken promises? Or do you think that one failed policy is being used as justification for another?

I think you know the answer by now...

It has prompted fresh calls for a minimum price on alcohol.

Of course it has. And what kind of people are making these calls?

"The price is the most important single determinant of alcohol use and misuse," said co-chair Professor Mike Daube from Curtin University.

Remember Mike Daube? He's the guy who wants graphic warnings on bottles of booze. He is also Mr. Slippery Slope, as I have mentioned before.

Mike Daube was the president of ASH (UK) in the late 1970s when he put that organisation firmly on the path to prohibition. If drinkers have any doubt that they're on the same trajectory as smokers they might take note that they're not just faced with the same rhetoric, but with the same personnel.

And it's no surprise to see the recently formed National Alliance for Action on Alcohol getting in on the action. These science-denying, "one drink can cause cancer" cranks are everywhere in Australia these days.

The National Alliance for Action on Alcohol says 40 per cent of 16 to 17-year-olds admitted drinking to get drunk, so any moves to raise prices would be supported.

Apart from this being a complete non-sequitur, I am so very tired of neo-prohibitionists punishing legal consumers for the perceived crimes of illegal consumers. If you want to stop 16 and 17 years "drinking to get drunk", may I suggest you enforce the laws that already exist rather than soaking the rest of us for taxes?

Any more lies you'd like to tell?

Cask wine is cheaper than bottled water, retailing for about $7.50 for four litres.


Sunday 1 January 2012

Peter Lavac - the whole story

I recently mentioned the bizarre case of Peter Lavac, who blames two people who lived in a flat below him for 18 months for giving him lung cancer and now plans to sue. The whole affair is as fishy as a barrel of haddock, not least because Lavac is a well-known nonsmokers' rights activist and the doctor who claims that his illness was probably caused by secondhand smoke "permeating" his apartment happens to be the chairman of ASH Australia.

My thanks to commenters on the previous post for pointing me to Lavac's testimony to a parliamentary committee on tobacco policy which is dated 1st May 2006. Despite being a member of the Non-Smokers Movement of Australia, Lavac describes himself in this document as a "private citizen". His testimony is filled with anti-smoking clichés and an obvious hatred of smokers.

We have laws to protect us from home invasion by thugs and criminals, yet inadequate laws to protect us from home invasion by toxic carcinogens transmitted by selfish ignorant idiots who do not give a dam [sic] about anyone else ... From the moment these people start sucking on their cancer sticks there is no escape ... Invisible smoking and non-smoking lines make about as much sense as having a non-urinating area in a swimming pool.

His testimony provides some crucial facts that did not appear in the recent news reports, which make a mockery of ASH's claim that his lung cancer (from which he has now recovered) was caused by second, third or fourth-hand smoke. Bear in mind that this testimony was given two years before the cancer was detected, but while he was still living in the apartment.

Not long ago I was diagnosed with a very serious life-threatening illness. One of the first things I did was to purchase a small apartment right on the headland on the edge of a cliff overlooking the ocean to take advantage of the fresh clean air coming off the sea. This, I felt, would be conducive to my recovery and treatment, and give me the best possible chance of beating my illness. The location is idyllic, the view spectacular, the atmosphere tranquil, but, most important of all, the ocean air is pure and pristine.

He does not specify what this life-threatening illness was, but judging by the importance of "fresh clean air", it is reasonable to assume it was some sort of respiratory disorder. Furthermore...

My current health problems are further aggravated and compensated by the fact that I am asthmatic, and have permanent scarring of my lungs from a bout of pneumonia several years ago.

It was at this cliff-side getaway that Lavac encountered two hated smokers who lived in a flat below. According to Lavac, "second-hand smoke constantly permeates my apartment" and according to the Sydney Morning Herald:

Professor Peters told Mr Lavac and his wife to reduce their exposure. After living in their flat for 18 months in 2005-06, they changed address.

And so, within months of giving his testimony to parliament, Lavac had moved house. He had only been there for a year and a half, and it was another 18 months before he fell ill again.

In March 2008, Mr Lavac was in a criminal trial in the Downing Centre, which happened to be filmed for an ABC documentary, On Trial.

"I got pretty sick but at the time I didn't realise just how sick," he said. "I had a bad flu that didn't seem to go away. After the jury verdict I got an X-ray done. I thought I had pneumonia."

A CAT scan detected a small dark shadow at the top of his right lung, and a biopsy confirmed it was cancer.

Here we have a guy with a history of pneumonia, respiratory illness and asthma. A man who had scarred lung tissue long before he moved to his mountain retreat and who had only moved there in the first place because he had a "very serious life-threatening illness".

Both scarred lungs and pneumonia are risk factors for lung cancer:

Tuberculosis and pneumonia can leave scarring on the lungs. The scarring is a risk factor for lung cancer development, specifically adenocarcinoma.

Asthma is also an independent risk factor for lung cancer:

The combined results from five case-control studies--that presented data limited to individuals who had never smoked--showed a 1.8-fold increase in lung cancer risk among asthmatics (95% confidence interval (CI) = 1.3-2.3).

Attributing a case of lung cancer to any single cause is a fool's game—which is why his case will fail if it ever gets to court—but Lavac had at least three identifiable risk factors for the disease which had nothing to do with tobacco. It is plainly nonsense for ASH's chairman to claim that "on the balance of probabilities" Lavac's lung cancer was caused by living for 18 months by the ocean near some people who smoked on the balcony below him. This would be a ludicrous thing to say at any time, but it it is still more absurd when the patient had at least three known risk factors.

You be the judge, because I seriously doubt that a real judge will ever be asked to decide. This is a publicity stunt to launch ASH's campaign against smoking at home. Nothing more, nothing less.