Wednesday 29 February 2012

Failure, failure, failure

A study published this week in Addiction reveals that the Italian smoking ban had no lasting effect on smoking prevalence and quit rates. The researchers found that there was a brief decline in the number of smokers when the ban came in, but that the smoking rate returned to pre-ban levels shortly afterwards.

Findings: Among males, smoking prevalence decreased by 2.6% (p = 0.002) and smoking cessation increased by 3.3% (p = 0.006) shortly after the ban, but both measures tended to return to pre-ban values in the following years. This occurred among both high and low-educated males. Among low-educated females, the ban was followed by a 1.6% decrease (p = 0.120) in smoking prevalence and a 4.5% increase in quit ratios (p < 0.001). However, these favourable trends reversed over the following years. Among high-educated females, trends in smoking prevalence and cessation were not altered by the ban. Among both males and females, long–term trends in the daily number of cigarettes, which were already declining well before the implementation of the policy, changed to a minor extent.

Conclusion: The impact of the Italian smoke-free policy on smoking and inequalities in smoking was short-term. Smoke-free policies may not achieve the secondary effect of reducing smoking prevalence in the long-term, and they may have limited effects on inequalities in smoking.

This study closely echoes the findings of a paper published last year in PLoS (mentioned on this blog in November) which reported a large increase in the use of nicotine replacement 'therapy' when the smoking ban was introduced in Scotland, but no long-term change in the nation's smoking prevalence. It also echoes another study published this month which found no change in the number of nurses smoking in France after smoking was banned in the workplace.

All of this runs counter to the widely held belief that smoking bans encourage smokers to quit. By contrast, new evidence continues to appear showing the efficacy of snus as a smoking cessation aid.

Among male quitters under the age of 45 years, 45.8 % of those who had used snus on their last attempt to quit were current non-smokers (OR = 1.61, CI 1.04-2.29), while 26,3 % of those who had used NRT were current non-smokers.

59.6 % of successful quitters and 19.5 % of unsuccessful quitters who had used snus as a method for quitting smoking had continued to use snus on a daily basis after quitting.

Conclusion: Norwegian men frequently use snus as a method for quitting smoking whereas women are more likely to use NRT. The findings indicate that switching to snus can be an effective method for quitting smoking.

You may also recall the study from 2010 which revealed that graphic warnings on cigarette packs had no effect on the quit rate (or initiation rate)—again, in contrast to the excitable claims made by 'tobacco control professionals'.

There were few changes post implementation of the picture health warnings in the number of health effects recalled or participant’s perception of risk... There were no differences post implementation of the picture health warnings in the number of smokers reporting forgoing a cigarette when about to smoke one or stubbing out a cigarette because they thought about the health risks of smoking... Among young people, the impact of picture health warnings was negligible.

The evidence is mounting that the neo-prohibitionist approach of incremental bans is a busted flush, whereas the harm reductionist approach is not only more civilised, but is more effective in helping people who want to quit do so, rather than hassling and belittling people who don't. As I've said before, tobacco control is not a results-driven business. No one gets sacked for making the wrong call, they just move onto the next policy and hope nobody notices.

The priority for the neo-prohibitionists this year is plain packaging and the usual tired claims are being wheeled out about "overwhelming evidence"which exists only in their imagination. Will the politicians fall for it one more time or will they demand—at long last—that tobacco control be judged by past performance?

UPDATE: In the comments, "Big" Dick Puddlecote brings my attention to yet another example of failure.

Smoking levels among adults in Northern Ireland have not reduced in the last five years, the health minister has said...

The Executive has introduced smoke-free legislation in public areas such as the workplace, bars and restaurants. It has increased age requirements and developed smoking cessation services. There are also measures to scrap vending machines and remove displays of cigarettes in shops...

Smoking prevalence among adults has remained around 24% since 2007 and for manual workers that rate is 31%.


Monday 27 February 2012

Mission creep

I wrote an article for the Yorkshire Post last week about plain packaging and the phenomenon of mission creep.

The tendency of pressure groups to move towards increasingly extreme positions is a familiar political phenomenon.

When the successful activist can only recapture the intoxicating feeling of victory by finding new causes to champion, the result is “mission creep”.

Take the Smokefree Action Coalition, for example. Originally formed to campaign for the smoking ban, they have since lobbied for graphic warnings on cigarette packs, higher tobacco taxes, a retail display ban and a ban on vending machines. It is a tribute to their campaigning prowess that politicians have capitulated to all these demands, but this string of easy victories has left them scraping the policy barrel.

The link is here if you want to read it all.

Thursday 23 February 2012

Backing the USSR

Chris Oakley has written a very interesting article at Liberal Vision about politically motivated doctors' groups attempting to emulate Soviet temperance campaigns.

In an academically inept, blatantly political piece published in The Lancet, a group of liver doctors who in their conceit, believe themselves experts on the causes of alcohol abuse rather than its consequences, propose Gorbachev’s 1985 crackdown on alcohol in the Soviet Union as a template for alcohol control in the UK.

Go have a read. Fascinating history and a sound analysis.

On a barely related note, you can listen to me arguing with a plain pack proponent on BBC Radio Humberside earlier today (23 minutes in). Barely related because I mention the USSR right at the end. Hear here.

Wednesday 22 February 2012

Humorous magazine celebrates 20th anniversary

The Tobacco Control journal—soft, strong and thoroughly absorbent—is celebrating its 20th anniversary, although Anna Gilmore has been working on a computer model which claims it's actually been around for 1,000 years once you make adjustments. To commemorate this occasion, the organ has produced a free issue with a whole section on 'Endgame Visions'. 'Endgame' is the codeword for prohibition and will be featuring in the forthcoming 15th World Conference on Tobacco or [sic] Health. Book early to ensure disappointment, for it has such sessions as:

09:00 – 10:30 - Endgame ideas: Dangerously radical, visionary leadership or both?

15:45 – 17:45 - Planning for a tobacco endgame

Whilst e-cigarettes spread around the world entirely by word of mouth and Sweden enjoys its snus-driven record low lung cancer rate, our prohibitionist friends will be sleepily contemplating such questions as...

11:00 – 12:20 - Harm reduction: Are there "safer products"?

I'm guessing their answer will be: "Yes, but only the stuff made by Pfizer and Johnston & Johnston."

Back at Tobacco Control, we have the same over-optimistic 'endgame' rhetoric, with articles entitled 'What are the elements of the tobacco endgame?' and 'How smoking became history: looking back to 2012'. Would it be impolite to mention that there are more people smoking today than ever before, or that there will be more people smoking tomorrow than today?

It just seems kind of weird to be talking about eliminating smoking when global consumption hits a new peak every day. And even if it wasn't, it's very brave of Stanton Glantz—a man renowned for being economical with the truth—to pen an article entitled 'Pinocchio shows how to end the tobacco epidemic' (I kid you not.)

This rich seam can wait till another day to be mined. For now, let's raise a glass and celebrate what Tobacco Control has been doing better than any other journal for two decades: publishing unspoofable, illiterate, policy-driven garbage under the mantle of science. You may have seen headlines like this yesterday:

Scientists call for smoke-free areas outside pubs

Scientists, cool! I wonder if they are this sort of scientist?

Or this sort of scientist?

Let's examine the credentials of our lead researcher:

Janet Hoek joined University of Otago Marketing Department in 2009; she was formerly a Professor of Marketing at Massey University. Her first degrees were in English Literature, with minors in Botany and Zoology, and her Masterate examined irony in Beowulf, a very early medieval poem. The weak employment market for medievalists prompted her move from the Dark Ages to the Dark Side, and she subsequently completed a post-graduate diploma in marketing and a PhD.

This lady sounds, if anything, rather overqualified for Tobacco Control and, unusually for that journal, her study didn't involve typing in key phrases into Google. Instead, she interviewed real people. And not just people—actual smokers! Well, not actual smokers (you can't risk the thirdhand smoke), but social smokers.

Any fool can survey a dozen people to get the answer they want, but Professor Hoek didn't do that. She surveyed thirteen people to got the answer she wanted. Now, there are some people—cynics, sceptics, party-poopers and so on—who would say that if your sample group is in danger of being outnumbered by your research team, then perhaps you should have broadened the survey. Janet didn't feel the need to do that. She and her colleagues conducted "13 in-depth interviews with young adult social smokers aged between 19 and 25 years and used thematic analysis to interpret the transcripts."

The nay-sayers might tell you that the bit about "thematic analysis" is just a bit of guff to quell suspicions that this was a chat with a handful of impressionable young people who had been given $25 (New Zealand dollars) to talk to some anti-smoking folk. Nothing could be further from the truth. This is science. The woman has been trained in marketing, for flip's sake. She would never tried to manipulate anyone.

The subjects were all nonsmokers who had the occasional tab when they were on a night out. We all know people like this. They are the scourge of our city centres on a Friday and Saturday night. They are the people who have successfully given up buying cigarettes. As one respondent said:

“so yeah, that’s part of my rationalizing, if I’m not buying them, I’m not a smoker. If I’m only getting them off people, then it’s not an issue. Because I’m not wasting my money.”

Temperance campaigners will be pleased to hear that alcohol gets a fair bit of the blame, as this fantastically eloquent participant explains:

“Um, you’re more relaxed so you don’t really mind smoking. I dunno, somehow it makes it ... how do you say that, makes it easier to smoke somehow, I’m not sure how, yeah.”

Another scrounging wretch is quoted as saying:

“well everyone else will be out smoking. You don’t want to sit inside on your own and just drink so you’re like ok, I’ll jump up and have a ciggie with you.”

This phenomenon mentioned in that last comment is, of course, an unintended consequence of smoking bans, which helps explain why smoking bans do bugger all to reduce the smoking rate (as Spain has just found). In so far as we should change policy to accommodate these whiny misfits, it should be to relax smoking bans (as Hawaii has just done). This being Tobacco Control, however, that option is not just off the table, but has been knocked off the table, set on fire, stamped on and swept under the carpet. Instead...

Because alcohol plays such a pivotal role in facilitating social smoking, extending smoke-free areas to the outside of bars would decouple drinking from smoking in this environment... Introducing smoke-free outdoor bars could reduce social smoking by removing cues that stimulate this behaviour and changing the environment that facilitates it. Such a policy would eliminate the current intersection between smoke-free and smoking spaces and create a physical barrier that, for some, would make accessing the smoking zone too difficult.

Funnily enough, banning smoking outdoors just happens to be the 'next logical step' for the readers of Tobacco Control! What extraordinary serendipity that this piece of 'science' appears in 2012 just when it was needed for worldwide press release, despite being a dog's breakfast of half-witted statements of the obvious from New Zealand youth.

A moment's thought tells you that if smoking is banned outside pubs then the dwindling number of smokers who still go to pubs will stop altogether, and where will that leave their social smoking friends? Back home with the smokers drinking cheap beer and smoking endless cigarettes, that's where.

But that's just common sense and real-life understanding and, as such, has no place in the world's leading anti-tobacco comic. So, with its survey of thirteen inarticulate morons to guide policy, let's hear it for Tobacco Control as it moves into its third decade of lowering the intellectual standards of the Western world. Cheers!

Monday 20 February 2012


I've done a number of interviews today re: the Adam Smith Institute plain packaging report. Here's two of them...

Firstly, versus Deborah Arnott of ASH on the Today programme.

Secondly, versus a woman from CRUK on Victoria Derbyshire's Five Live show (from 1 hour 10 minutes in).

Plain Packaging: Commercial expression, anti-smoking extremism and the risks of hyper-regulation

Today promises to be a bumper 24 hours of annoying prohibitionists, for it is the day the Adam Smith Institute publishes a paper I wrote about the ridiculous plain packaging proposals. I'll post the link to the report later [UPDATE: It is here.] but, for now, here is the Adam Smith Institute's press release.

Government’s plain packaging proposals for cigarettes will bring no benefits to public

• There is no evidence that the proposals will reduce consumption or give any public health benefit.
• Plain packaging may lead to an increase in the counterfeit cigarette trade, making cheap tobacco more easily available to young would-be smokers.
• The policy creates a dangerous precedent – plain packaging could be extended to other products such as alcohol and fatty foods.

Ahead of a public consultation on the plain-packaging of cigarettes, the Adam Smith Institute have released a report today (Monday) arguing that the proposals will do nothing for public health and are profoundly illiberal. There is no evidence that plain packaging will have any effect on existing smokers or the smoking rate. The policy represents a desperate attempt by the public health lobby and government officials to be seen as ‘clamping down’ on tobacco in an increasingly maniacal war on smoking.

No Health Benefits

The plain packaging rule is aimed at stopping non-smokers from making a decision to engage in a habit. However, there is no evidence that the colour and logos on a pack of cigarettes is an influencing factor on people choosing to start smoking. Indeed, in the case of increasing the graphic warnings on packs, a comprehensive Canadian study found that “the warnings have not made a discernable impact on smoking prevalence”. Previous studies show that packaging design does little to impact the smoking rate.

Smoking numbers have not changed since 2007 with the rise of the ‘denormalisation’ of tobacco and aggressive anti-smoker policies. Aggressive anti-smoking policies don’t appear to work. Furthermore, plain packaging has been recognised as the weakest and least popular of ASH’s (Action on Health and Smoking) 12 anti-smoking policies proposed in 2008.

The Slippery Slope

Apart from the lack of health benefits there is also the risk that such a policy would be introduced for alcohol, fatty foods or sugary drinks. What happens today in tobacco tends to happen to other unhealthy products tomorrow. In fact, this slippery slope trend has already started in Australia, where they are currently planning to introduce plain packaging. As soon as the Australian government had approved the policy they swiftly moved on to look at how this could be applied to alcohol. Once plain packaging is enshrined in law for tobacco it will be easily extended to other lifestyle choices. That’s why the Adam Smith Institute argues the nanny state juggernaut must be stopped in its tracks.

Counterfeiting and intellectual property

In order to introduce plain packaging the government would need to breach international trade rules and confiscate tobacco companies’ intellectual property, without any proof that this would yield public health benefits. Furthermore, there is reason to believe the policy will have a negative effect both on public health and the tobacco industry.

Already 1 in 9 cigarettes around the world is counterfeit, with counterfeit cigarettes often having two to three times the level of heavy metals found in legitimate brands. Plain packaging will mean the standardising of cigarette packaging, which will help illicit trade. The policy is likely to boost the black market in the UK, offering cheaper cigarettes more likely to lure young and new customers. Any illicit trade can only hinder efforts to reduce smoking, so plain packaging proposals may in reality be damaging for public health.

Plain packaging, if introduced, would be a triumph of a dogmatic minority over the public. It would be an indiscriminate, illiberal law with no basis in evidence, reason or commonsense, whilst masquerading as a public health initiative. Author of the report Plain Packaging: Commercial expression, anti-smoking extremism and the risks of hyper-regulation, Christopher Snowdon, adds:

“It is extraordinary that a government which claims to be against excessive regulation should be contemplating a law which even the provisional wing of the anti-smoking lobby considered unthinkable until very recently. It seems that fanaticism has become institutionalised and a handful of extremists have become the de facto policy makers in matters related to tobacco. The public are gradually waking up to the fact that these neo-prohibitionists will never be satisfied. There is always another cause to campaign for, always new demands to be met. If it is not smoking, it is drinking. If it is not drinking, it is eating.

Plain packaging is the most absurd, patronising and counterproductive policy yet advanced under the disingenuous pretext of ‘public health’. It will serve only to inconvenience retailers, stigmatise consumers and delight counterfeiters. Those who would dictate what we eat and drink are already incorporating plain packaging into their plans. It’s time to say ‘Enough.’ The monomaniacs have had their own way for too long.”

ASH got hold of the report early doors and came up with their own press release on Friday...

Tobacco industry “invisible hand” behind Adam Smith Institute ‘plain packs’ report

A report by the Adam Smith Institute published today in advance of a public consultation on tobacco packaging advances the views of the tobacco industry, namely that putting cigarettes in plain standardised packaging would have no public health benefit, would increase the illicit trade in tobacco and would set a “dangerous precedent” for other products.

All of these arguments misrepresent the truth and ignore the fact that glitzy packs are designed to attract new young smokers to replace the100,000 in the UK who are killed each year by their habit.

Firstly, there is now a large body of evidence to show that plain packaging will be effective. Experimental studies and surveys from around the world show that plain packs are less appealing, strengthen the impact of the health warnings, and make the packs less misleading.

Secondly, there is no evidence that plain packaging will lead to an increase in tobacco smuggling. Existing packs are already easily counterfeited. Plain packs will still have to have covert markings, tax stamps and health warnings that are required on current packs so they will be no easier to counterfeit. And the argument that it will “breach international trade rules and confiscate tobacco companies’ intellectual property” is also fallacious, according to the tobacco industry’s own legal advice, revealed in litigation.

Thirdly, the “domino theory” i.e. that once a measure has been applied to tobacco it will be applied to other products is patently false. The same argument was used against the ban on tobacco advertising, but 9 years after the tobacco ban in the UK, alcohol advertising is still permitted with no sign of it being prohibited. Tobacco is a uniquely dangerous consumer product which is why there is a WHO health treaty (the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control) to regulate tobacco use.

Deborah Arnott, Chief Executive of ASH commented:

“Why would the tobacco industry and its allies be so vehemently opposed to plain packaging if they weren’t so frightened that plain packaging would work? [Er, if you read the report, you'll find out—CJS] The Adam Smith Institute, by publishing this report, is acting as the mouthpiece for the tobacco industry, as it has done on many previous occasions. It should come as no great surprise that the Institute takes a pro-tobacco line but it should be more transparent about its association with Big Tobacco.”

The Adam Smith Institute has in turn responded to the 'Big Tobacco' allegation...

We commissioned this report ourselves because it reflects our free market, libertarian ideology. Indeed, the Adam Smith Institute does not do commissioned research.

However, there are a couple of tobacco companies that have corporate subscriptions at the Institute. The revenue from this – while welcome – is not terribly significant. It amounted to less than 3 percent of our 2011 income. Moreover, neither of these companies has played any role whatsoever in the production or editing of this report. We take our independence very seriously.

The British Medical Journal asked for a response from me so I sent them this. As they probably won't publish it, I'll post it here:

I'm pleased that Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) are familiar with Adam Smith's "invisible hand" concept despite their obvious contempt for free markets and free societies. As usual, they offer not a shred of evidence that plain packaging will deter people from smoking. Their claim that counterfeiters' lives will not be made easier by making cigarette packs look virtually identical is as credible as their belief that plain packaging will not inconvenience retailers.

ASH say that it is "patently false" to think that "once a measure has been applied to tobacco it will be applied to other products". Have they been living in a cave for the past five years? The British Medical Association is currently demanding that graphic warnings be placed on wine bottles. Where does ASH suppose they got that idea from? The BMA also wants - in their own words - "a complete ban on [alcohol] advertising as has been done very successfully with tobacco." Activists in Australia are already calling for junk food to be sold in plain packaging. Rather than denying these facts, ASH should be proud that they are blazing a trail for busybodies, cranks and authoritarians of all varieties.

Fun and games...

Sunday 19 February 2012

A prohibitionist writes

Are you ready? Then we'll begin.

Abolish the Food Industry

Bang! That's the headline of this piece from The Atlantic. It sprang from the biro of Raj Patel. Dick Puddlecote's readers may recall the name. He thinks that each hamburgers "costs" society $200 in terms of environmental destruction and obesity. That is nonsense but, as we shall see, nonsense is Mr Patel's middle name.

He begins his article with a line of which the Daily Mash would be proud...

In the fall of 2008, San Francisco polished its progressive credentials by banning something.

Isn't that beautiful? I wish I'd thought of that. The essence of both "progressives" and the city of San Francisco encapsulated in one simple sentence.

He is referring to a ban on pharmacies selling cigarettes. This leads him to discuss tobacco advertising...

Joe Camel isn't familiar to children today, as he was in the 1970s

The first Joe Camel advertisement appeared in 1988, but never mind.

He then moves seamlessly onto alcohol...

Alcohol is similarly circumscribed, again with an eye to public health and, again, with a particular concern for young people.

And then comes the kicker...

But if public health is a legitimate reason to curb corporations' advertising to kids, why limit bans to cigarettes and booze, and not include, say, unhealthy food?

A very familiar argument, of course—the proverbial slippery slope. Last week we saw a textbook case of how one ban on "corporations' advertising to kids" snowballs; see JuliaM's post at Orphans of Liberty. Patel's article is one long attempt to blur the distinction between products while rehabilitating the reputation of prohibition. After giving a shout out to last month's risible 'toxic sugar' article, he brings his argument to its logical conclusion.

Why allow an industry that profits from the sale of unhealthy food at all?

Boom! He gets from a ban on cigarettes in pharmacies to the abolition of the food industry in three easy steps. This is world-class stuff.

The history of banning things is admittedly inglorious. 

No fooling.

The war on drugs, Prohibition, and censorship have few fans.

More than you might think, Raj. Take Robert Proctor, for example, who has recently published a weighty tome about smoking in which he calls for tobacco prohibition. Patel very much admires Proctor, of course, but dare not mention the P word. Instead, he talks about 'abolition'.

[Proctor] doesn't want to ban smoking. The language of abolition -- not prohibition -- is well chosen. Proctor doesn't yearn for the criminalization of smokers, nor does he foresee the end of cigarettes or tobacco.

See, he's not one of those nasty prohibitionists. The very idea!

He's simply arguing that the industry that profits from it oughtn't to exist in a society that has a minimum concern with public health. If you want to smoke, you're free to grow and cure your own tobacco, he suggests.

Gee, thanks. Nice of you to compromise on that, Proctor.

Look, here's the thing. People were free to make their own alcohol during Prohibition. Drinking was never illegal. Prohibition "only" outlawed was the sale, import and manufacture of alcohol. Just like Proctor, the prohibitionists blamed an industry for a habit which they detested. They thought that if they put the industry out of business, drinking would virtually disappear. They couldn't imagine that people drank because they liked it, just as today's tobacco prohibitionists cannot imagine that people smoke because they like it.

There is no difference whatsoever between Proctor's position and the position of the Anti-Saloon League. Indeed, the Anti-Saloon League was more moderate in that they allowed alcohol to be sold under certain conditions (religious ceremonies, medical use etc.). Proctor is, in the most literal sense, a prohibitionist.

And so is Patel...

...our food choices are far from free, in no small part because of the commercial and cultural power of the food industry. Weaned as most of us are on Big Food's free speech, we ought to be suspicious of our instincts when it comes to food.

What fresh sophistry is this? Free speech makes us less free? This is the rhetoric of every totalitarian—that "true" freedom comes from restricting freedom. That speech should be free unless the government doesn't like what is being said.

The food industry is an oligopoly that has transformed not only what we eat but how we eat it, and what we think of food.

The food industry is not an oligopoly. Their are millions of farms, millions of individual retailers and millions of independently owned restaurants. The very fact that food is so cheap is a reflection of the competitive market. If you don't like McDonald's and Tesco, you can go to a fruit and veg stall or your local restaurant. The barriers to entry are low.

Extending Proctor's argument to those very corporate powers invites us to imagine what a world without Big Food might look like -- and dream ourselves freer still.

Extending Proctor's arguments would mean abolishing the food industry while leaving us "free" to grow our own food, just as we will be "free" to grow our own tobacco. This is the kind of half-witted back-to-the-land garbage we hear from the New Economics Foundation and other upper-middle class misanthropists. Half the world would be "free" to live like medieval serfs and the other half would be free to starve. Get thee behind me, Patel.

Friday 17 February 2012

Minimum pricing: what to expect

The ChaMPs Public Health Network—founded in 2003, entirely state-funded and involved in the dodgy website—is one of several arms of government working to impose minimum pricing on the public.

You will be hearing a lot of cant and nonsense about this scheme in the next few months as the Department of Health/British Medical Association PR machine turns up the throttle. The tone of the discussion can be gauged from a meeting hosted by ChaMPs in 2010 when the usual lies were presented as facts. For example, they said that the price of alcohol has fallen in real terms since 1980. In fact, alcohol has risen by 20% in real terms. Either they don't know what 'real terms' means, or they are willfully misleading the public.

No, it's not.

The interesting thing about this meeting is that the attendees were quite aware of all the drawbacks of minimum pricing. They worried that the policy...

Could stimulate adverse publicity. Alcohol is still socially acceptable.

Yes, "still". But not if they get their way, because the anti-smoking blueprint of denormalisation remains their template...

Help culture change and cover the whole population (like the tobacco agenda)

Need to find ways of making alcohol less socially acceptable and seen as a public problem. (Lessons learned from Smoke Free).

It's interesting to note that, in contrast to absurd claims that minimum pricing will "save nearly 10,000 lives a year", this meeting found that...

Evidence of a positive impact would be hard to find as alcohol has such a long term impact on health.

Several of the criticisms of minimum pricing made on this blog and elsewhere over the last two years also feature...

Would there be a risk that harmful drinkers move on to replacement risky behaviours? They many neglect buying healthy food in preference to alcohol for example. Could increase the gap in health inequalities

Is there risk it will encourage more people to experiment with home brewing?

Legislation in itself will not impact on attitudes of high level drinkers and doesn’t tackle the reasons why people drink.

They were also worried that their cost estimates, though vastly inflated, did not appear big enough.

Cost benefits quoted don’t sound very impressive (12.9 billion over 10 years saved against 20 billion per year cost). 

Their answer to this problem acts as a golden rule for the whole campaign.

We need to be careful which statistics and messages we are using if we are to convince and not undermine.

And I'm sure you will.

Thursday 16 February 2012

More movie madness

Last night I watched Bridesmaids (it's pretty good). I didn't notice any smoking in it, but then I'm not a wide-eyed obsessive living in terror of a waft of on-screen smoke. Apparently, however, at least one person does smoke at some point because the film is named and shamed in Stanton Glantz's latest work of pseudo-academia. According to the great mechanical engineer, the movie has delivered 60,020,706 "tobacco impressions" and so has led to hundreds, if not thousands, of youngsters to suddenly taking up the habit.

Welcome to the world of SmokeFree Movies, Glantz's quixotic campaign to banish tobacco from our screens (for the children, natch). Despite years of being ridiculed and ignored on this issue, Stan is continuing his crusade and has written yet another paper on the subject (he has written a lot).

Today, he claims that 100,000 Californian 12-17 year olds are smokers as a direct result of seeing smoking in the movies. This is a figure that he alone invented and which even hardcore anti-smoking head-bangers like Simon Chapman find laughable.

He also claims that these 100,000 people will cost the taxpayer $1.6 billion. This figure is based on a total misrepresentation of the academic literature and a fundamental misunderstanding of externalities and social costs. As I hope you know by now, it is doubtful that smokers incur any net costs on other taxpayers, but even if they do, they are vastly outweighed by revenue from tobacco taxes (see here for a refresher).

This is all bog-standard junk from the godfather of junk science. The real bees in Stanton's bonnet are the taxpayer subsidies of Hollywood films which show a practice of which he disapproves. They must stop, he says. There will be no more smoking in the movies on his watch and he has a plan to do something about it:

The policy solution is to amend the California tax credit program statute, adding the following to the existing list of productions disqualified from eligibility for subsidy: “…any production that depicts or refers to any tobacco product or non-pharmaceutical nicotine delivery device or its use, associated paraphernalia or related trademarks or promotional material.”

You will note that this only applies to smoking. Movies showing homicide, rape, drug abuse, drinking, speeding, violence and wife-beating will continue to receive their subsidies.

Or at least they will for now. If the government takes heed of the mechanic, we can be sure that drinking will be in the firing line, with minor vices such as mass murder and incest following in due course. This is sheer, unbridled, censorious puritanism. Note that smoking and tobacco paraphernalia cannot even be referred to under Stan's regime! Film scripts will not be allowed to include words like 'cigarette' or 'pipe'.

Even the word 'e-cigarette' will be verboten because the proposed ban includes all "non-pharmaceutical nicotine delivery device". Why not include all nicotine products? Cynics would say it's because SmokeFree Movies was founded with money from Johnson & Johnson, the makers of various 'nicotine replacement therapies', and continues to receive grants from the company's philanthropic wing the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

The good news is that this proposal is too nuts even for California. Glantz can stamp his feet all he likes, but the movie industry rightly perceives him as a crank and we can assume he will continue to be shown the door. We must certainly hope so, for if monomaniacs like him ever gain a stranglehold on the creative arts, it will be another nail in the coffin of the free society.

Tuesday 14 February 2012

Why are we paying for this? (part 2)

A new website has appeared under the domain which pushes the case for a minimum unit price of alcohol and invites people to "sign up" to "make minimum pricing law".

The website provides information which is misleading at best. An interactive panel allows users to see how much alcohol will cost if the legislation is introduced. In the case of a cheap bottle of wine, for example...

Fair enough. The price will go up. That is the point. But is it really honest to state that the price of more expensive drinks will go down?

PRICE GOES DOWN? It won't, will it? If anything, minimum pricing will encourage premium brands to charge more. If a half decent £4.15 bottle of wine costs the same as much as a horrible bottle of £2.49 plonk, the former can surely get away with charging £5.

This is routine deviousness on the part of the temperance lobby, but it is not the reason for this post. What is really of interest here is where this website came from and who paid for it. It has no contact details and no branding. Although one might suspect the hand of the NHS, Alcohol Concern or the Department of Health at work, none of their logos appear.

Perhaps it is the work of some concerned citizen? Unlikely. Although small, the website is too elaborate to be the work on a lone temperance nut. The domain name was registered by a swanky marketing agency based in the North West and it seems to be linked to the chap below, who is an 'Alcohol Strategic Lead', also based in the North West (come friendly cuts and fall on thee).

If you take the advice of the website and "Sign up here to make minimum pricing law", you will hit an external link and be taken to the website of DrinkWise NorthWest where you will be given the opportunity to 'Join the Movement'. DrinkWise NorthWest is entirely funded by the NHS and local authorities.

It is, I think, fair to say that has been paid for with taxpayers money to lobby for a change in the law. DrinkWise NorthWest is an arm of the government. Why is it spending money lobbying the government? Why, indeed, is the government—which has supposedly not made its mind up about minimum pricing—allowing taxpayers' money to be spent on an astro-turfing project designed to get people to sign up to a "movement".

Regular readers will be familiar with fake charities and state-funded NGOs masquerading as 'civil society'. It might take a little homework to find out that ASH, Alcohol Concern, Friends of the Earth, Brake, Sustain et al. are largely dependent on statutory funding for their existence, but it can be done. This website is not unusual in using government money to lobby for policy, but it is unusual in that it is doing so anonymously and without disclosing the source of the campaign.

If this is not against the rules then the rules are worthless.

Kiss this

In these times of austerity, with Greece in flames and the UK in mind-boggling debt, it's reassuring to know that the Department of Health still has money for crucial, front-line services such as commissioning surveys about who people want to kiss.

To boost your chances of dating success this Valentine's Day quit the fags, suggests a poll that shows smoking is one of the biggest turn-offs.

Three-quarters of people aged 18 to 24 said they would not kiss someone who had just smoked.

And half the 1,700 people surveyed for the Department of Health (DoH) said they would think twice about starting a serious relationship with a smoker.

I'm married and I hate young people so I have no dog in this fight, but is this really the best the DoH can do? This is just a reworking of the old "lips that touch liquor will never kiss mine" meme from the 19th century.

I don't care. Smokers can pair off with smokers and nonsmokers can pair off with nonsmokers. Kiss who you want. It's none of the Department of Health's business.

Is there no day of the year on which these inane, pontificating pricks can leave us alone?

Less competition for us real men.

Monday 13 February 2012

Why are we paying for this? (part 1)

Dave Atherton has some news which contradicts an answer given in the House of Lords last April when we were told that ASH had not applied for government funding and there were no plans to give them any.

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.

Now, however, Lord Howe has told Mr Atherton:

At the time of Lord Howe’s statement, no decision has been made about whether to award a Section 64 grant to Action on Smoking and Health for 2011-2012. A grant of £150,000 has subsequently been awarded to ASH for work to support the delivery of some of the commitments in the Tobacco Control Plan for England, published last year.

And so taxpayers are once more compelled to fund a pressure group whose views may be at odds with their own. Ministers of Health have repeatedly denied that these grants are used to lobby, but ASH does not seem to do anything except lobby. A legalistic defence could perhaps be made by referring to 'advocacy' (which is permitted under law), but no one seems to be able to provide a convincing explanation of how advocacy for new laws differs from lobbying.

The coalition government has cut its spending on charities in the last two years. Many of these charities are political by nature and do not provide charitable services as the public generally understands the term. What they do would be illegal in countries like the USA, where lobby groups cannot be funded by the state.

What we have seen in Britain over the last fifteen years is a politicisation of 'civil society' and the rise of state-funded astro-turfing. Under the leadership of Suzi Leather, the Charities Commission has actively encouraged NGOs to campaign while the government has encouraged them to take statutory funding. It should be no surprise that this subverts and undermines democracy. That was surely the intention. When businesses do this, we call them what they are: front groups. A change of government at a time of austerity might have done something about this, but it seems that the Department of Health remains a law unto itself.

Friday 10 February 2012

BBC in cahoots with Big Tobacco, suspects raving lunatic

I have always feared for Stanton Glantz's mental health, but it's only since he started blogging that I've realised that the guy is genuinely certifiable. His latest post is an absolute belter. It seems that the Welsh government is consulting on whether to allow television and film actors to smoke in the studio. This is because the BBC has opened a production centre in Cardiff—there is already an exemption for actors in England—and the corporation has kept some productions in England as a result of the über-draconian favoured by the sheep-worriers.

The exemption is ridiculously narrow. No children can be present (as ever, I urge you to think of the children) and no members of the public are allowed to watch the scene being filmed. The exemption will only apply if "the artistic integrity of the performance makes it appropriate for the performer to smoke."

The swivel-eyed professor of nowt has, of course, gone ballistic.

BBC lobbying to weaken Welsh smokefree regulations: Yes, this is real.

From Glantz's vantage point way down the rabbit hole, the BBC is a pro-smoking organisation. wonders what else is going on in the shadows. After all, there is a long history of collaboration between Big Tobacco and the movie industry.


There is absolutely no evidence that any movie production moved from one place to another because they couldn't smoke.

But the BBC is saying exactly that, Stanton, and that definitely counts as evidence. As the consultation document states...

The exemption for performers ... would make Wales a more attractive place for programme making and would remove current costs involved with taking smoking scenes on productions being filmed in Wales to England. The smoking ban has been a major issue for a number of productions that have been filmed in Wales, especially period dramas set in a time when smoking was commonplace.

This means that you can believe one of two things. Either the Welsh Assembly and the BBC are lying because they're engaged in some kind of pro-tobacco industry plot to undermine the smoking ban, or they are telling the truth and the smoking ban is deterring the Beeb from filming more shows in Wales. If you look at the output of both the BBC and the Welsh Assembly in recent years, I think it's pretty clear that if they are are engaged in a pro-smoking conspiracy, it has been phenomenally well-camouflaged.

Glantz continues to rant on about his theories in his usual illiterate style...

Are we really to believe that the BBC has ignore [sic] the fact that it just opened a major new production center in Cardiff, Wales to take advantage of lower labor costs that exist in London just so they can favor actors [sic] generate secondhand smoke? I think not.

A prize to anyone who can explain what the hell he's babbling about.

It gets better...

Moreover, there would be nothing to stop BBC [sic] from having an actor wave around an unlit cigarette, cigar or pipe, then put the smoke in with CGI.

Yes, that's a much simpler solution, Stan, you old fruitcake.

The only beneficiary of this change would be the tobacco industry.

That's not quite true, is it now? If the BBC is lobbying for this unutterably trivial amendment, it would strongly suggest that they stand to benefit from it—by, for example, not having to spend hours pissing around with CGI. Companies don't generally lobby for policies that won't benefit them, y'see. The tobacco industry, on the other hand, is not lobbying for it and stands to gain—at best—the sale of a couple of packs of cigarettes to be smoked in some god awful period drama.

If the BBC wants to lobby to get smoking laws changed, they should be lobbying the government in London to remove the exemption that allows actors and other film makers to be poisoned by secondhand smoke at BBC studios in London.

Yes, yes. But as I've just explained, they're not going to do that because (a) they would not benefit from it; au contraire, they would be damaged by it, and (b) if they wanted to stop actors being, ahem, "poisoned by secondhand smoke at BBC studios", they would do so voluntarily. I know, Stan, that you struggle to comprehend the difference between public and private action, but not everything in life needs to be dealt with through repressive legislation.

I do hope someone at the BBC comes across Stan's blog. It might give them an idea of the type of crack-pots they've been giving such credulous coverage to all these years.

Thursday 9 February 2012

Sarah Wollaston misled the House

Dick Puddlecote rightly applauds Philip Davies (Con) and Eric Joyce (Lab) for standing up to that appalling Tory paternalist Sarah "let them drink champagne" Wollaston (Doctor's Party) yesterday. Sadly the rest of the MPs demonstrated why the public holds them in such contempt. I considered fisking the whole debate but it is late and it would be exhausting to take on every politician who misled the House. Did I say "misled the House"? That's parliamentary euphemism. They lied. They lied again and again, and if they didn't know they were lying, they're too stupid to be public servants and should be sacked anyway.

Tim Worstall has already picked up on the implicit belief that minimum pricing will raise the dead from their graves. A cretin named Valerie Vaz (whose speech has to be seen to be believed) made the absurd, unsourced claim that "the police ... have to clear up the mess on Saturday evenings at a cost of £13 billion." The bizarre myth that minimum pricing will cost moderate drinkers only £12 a year was repeatedly cited, and when Wollaston took the floor she showed herself to be incapable of understanding the difference between private and public costs, tangible and intangible costs, and internalities and externalities.

Sarah Wollaston (Totnes, Conservative): What about taxpayers? The cost of the epidemic is out of control. It is at least £20 billion...

Really? The actual cost to the taxpayer is "at least £20 billion"? Just to make sure that wasn't a slip of the tongue, let's look at Wollaston's op-ed at Politics Home yesterday...

Mortality is increasing and also the cost to tax payers; at least £20billion.

Yup, that's what she claims and that is what she told the mother of all parliaments. This would be a reference to the British Cabinet Office report of 2003 which found a total social cost of around £18-20 billion.

Of these costs, £4.7 billion were intangible costs (ie. they are hypothetical - they do not need to be paid by anyone, let alone the taxpayer).

A further £5.5 billion were lost productivity costs which, again, do not represent a bill that needs to be paid.

A further £5.1 billion were private costs related to crime which, once again, do not need to be recouped through the tax system, and the author of the report stressed repeatedly that these costs were at the absolute top end of any realistic estimate.

The only costs which can be considered as "to the taxpayer" are £1.7 billion in healthcare and £2.2 billion in crime and punishment, but since the exchequer receives £9 billion a year in alcohol duty, that hardly makes a compelling case for a compensatory sin tax, does it? (Minimum pricing, as currently proposed, would not compensate the treasury in any case.)

...but if we look at the finer details of the impact on productivity, we will see that the evidence given to the Health Committee when it looked at this issue showed that the cost could be as high as £55 billion

This a reference to a report from the National Social Marketing Centre (Lister, 2007) which sadly is not available online, but I have a copy as I requested it last year.

£16.1 billion of these 'costs' are intangible—imaginary evaluations of life years forgone.

£5 billion are private healthcare costs.

£5.8 billion are private costs related to crime.

£8 billion is the amount spent on "misused" alcohol by consumers (yes, the money drinkers spend on drink is counted as a cost to the taxpayer in Wollaston's world).

Your "lost productivity" makes up £7.3 billion, but who pays this? At a push you could say the drinker pays it, but it's really just income forgone so nobody pays it. Certainly, the taxpayer is not left to pick up the bill. Even in the loosest definition, this is a further cost to the drinker, not the state.

This leaves £6.6 billion as a legitimate cost to the taxpayer. That figure is highly inflated for various reasons and does not include any benefits from alcohol, but it still remains lower than the £9 billion received by the treasury in alcohol duty. So even using these highly dubious figures, drinkers are subsidising teetotallers. From a purely economic standpoint, Wollaston should be petitioning for a maximum unit price.

I have much, much more to say on the subject of crooked cost-to-society estimates and will do so in a paper for the ASI in April. Every figure given by politicians and pressure groups which purport to show the cost of obesity, drinking and smoking wrongly portrays intangible private costs as financial public costs and portrays expenditure by consumers as a cost 'to society'. They are riddled with double-counting, they conspicuously fail to include benefits (such as duty paid) and they are designed only for advocacy.

But as bad as they are, none of the researchers who compile them would ever claim that alcohol costs the taxpayer anything close to £20 billion, let alone £55 billion.

And that is just one of the reasons why Sarah Wollaston misled lied to the House on Tuesday.


Still more ignorant is Kevin Barron, who said in the House last year:

We took evidence that the cost to the NHS could be as high as £55 billion a year.

Considering the entire NHS budget was £106 billion in 2011/12, you'd have to be out of your mind to think that £55 billion was spent on alcohol-related diseases. In fact, the high-end estimate is just £2.7 billion.

The situation is similar to that with tobacco: in the end, no one really knows the cost of the use of these products.

Especially our elected representatives...

PS. Eric Crampton has done some outstanding work picking these cost-of-drinking studies apart. This must-read paper relates to Australia and New Zealand but the dodgy methods are just the same as those used in the UK. (Short version here.)

Wednesday 8 February 2012

I'm with stupid

Over at the ASI...

Why George Monbiot is wrong this week.

Tuesday 7 February 2012

Another day, another ban in Australia

Australia's attempts to get back to its roots as a massive prison continue apace, with New South Wales banning sunbeds as of 2015. As with plain packaging, there is a pathetic desire to be a trail-blazer of wowserism.

NSW will be the only place in the world besides Brazil to institute a total ban on ultraviolet solariums tanning units when the laws come into place from December 31, 2014, and cancer groups hope other states and countries will follow.

Er, no thanks. We've been doing alright for hundreds of years without having to follow the lead of a puritanical colony on the other side of the world. Lately, politicians have fallen for the peculiar belief that if one country does something, every other country should follow. Denmark's introduced a fat tax! Let's not get left behind. Australia's introducing plain packaging! What are we waiting for? Brazil's banned sunbeds! There's no time to lose. Only today, for example, we had this...

In Mauritius, smoking is now prohibited in all private cars carrying passengers, regardless of whether children are present.

With all due respect to the good people of Mauritius, I couldn't give a tuppenny fuck whether they let people smoke in their cars or not. I would struggle to find the place on a map so why would I want to copy their legal system?

This fetish for borrowing prohibitions from satellite states just because they have done something nobody else would think of doing is the exact opposite of what any rational government would do. When faced with something that is legal in 200+ countries and illegal in one country, the reasonable thing is surely to side with the overwhelming majority rather than the outlier. That is no longer how it works. They're taxing sugar in Hungary! Hurrah! Let's follow the example of the Hungarians. When has that mighty world power ever been wrong?

But back to Australia, the undisputed world leader in illiberalism. The sunbed ban has come from the Environment Minister (?!), who says:

"Sadly, Australia has the highest incidence of skin cancer in the world and this ban is long overdue."

This may be true (I can't be bothered to find out right now—leave a comment if it isn't). Certainly Australia has got to be up there in the rankings, but what do expect when you export several million pasty people from England, Ireland and Scotland and thrust them under the blistering sun of an arid continent? Don't go blaming sunbeds for the nation's skin cancer rate. Take a look at that big yellow thing in the sky.

Needless to say, the irksome, omnipresent über-wowser Simon Chapman was on hand to prattle his usual nonsense...

"Solaria are cancer incubators and we have known that for a good while".

I'm reminded of the quote which Alan Partridge mistakenly took as a complement: "In his hands the essentially complex becomes inordinately simplistic." I have yet to see any evidence that sunbeds are more dangerous than sunbathing, nor does there seem to be any scientific reason why they should be. Cancer Research UK merely says that:

Sunbeds aren't a safe alternative to tanning outdoors. Like the sun, sunbeds give out harmful UV rays which damage the DNA in our skin cells and can cause skin cancer...

The main cause of skin cancer is overexposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation. Like the sun, sunbeds give off UVA and UVB rays.

Similarly, the World Health Organisation says:

Exposure to UV, either naturally from the sun or from artificial sources such as sunlamps, is a known risk factor for skin cancer...

Any excessive exposure to UV, not just from sunbeds, can result in structural damage to human skin.

The message seems to be that sunbeds are no safer than sunbathing. There is no suggestion that they are less safe. Both carry the risk of sunburn and, therefore, skin cancer. That, we knew. How does it justify a total ban on grown adults tanning themselves on a machine that replicates a natural process? The head of the Cancer Council gives the usual excuse:

He said governments paid for cancers caused by sunbeds so they had a right to ban them.

In the 21st century, the price of universal health-care is to be told how to live. This is the logic and there will be many more "next logical steps" before it reaches its logical conclusion. Hold tight.

The Angry Exile has more on this.

Monday 6 February 2012

Jack3d - health threat or moral panic?

Readers of The Art of Suppression will be familiar with knee-jerk prohibitions of party pills and synthetic drugs based on anecdotal evidence. I wonder if Jack3d (pronounced 'jacked') is about to follow the same route.

The deaths of two U.S. soldiers who collapsed during physical training in the last few months have prompted a military investigation of a popular body-building supplement that was found in their systems.

The dietary supplement Dimethylamylamine, or DMAA, has been banned for sale at stores and commissaries in military bases across the country pending the results of the probe.

DMAA (1,3 dimethylamylamine) is extracted from the geranium plant and is a key ingredient in Jack3d, a dietary supplement much-used by body-builders and soldiers. It acts like mild amphetamine—or strong caffeine, if you prefer—and around 440 million servings of Jack3d have been consumed since 2007. If this stuff was truly dangerous, one would expect an epidemic of deaths to have taken place. Instead, we have two incidents, both involving soldiers who have died "after taking" it. They may have taken absurd quantities, or they may have taken something else as well, or it may all be a coincidence. Coincidence can certainly not be ruled out when a product is so widely consumed—indeed, it would be remarkable if there were not coincidences.

Nevertheless, the US army has banned it from sale on military bases. Meanwhile, in Australia...

Jack3d packed in at Queensland mines

A popular dietary supplement has been banned at a central Queensland coal mine after reports workers were using the stimulant to stay awake on the job.

Heaven forfend! And, interestingly, there is a party pills angle to all this:

It is claimed the drug has been used in the production of party drugs.

It is more than a "claim". Remember BZP? (If not, let me point you again in the direction of The Art of Suppression.) It was selling in the millions in New Zealand until it was banned in 2008. Incredibly, the ban on BZP didn't stop young people wanting to get high (who'd a thunk it?) and DMAA was one of the substitutes that filled the vacuum. This, from 2009:

New party pills leave four seriously ill

Health officials want one of the main ingredients in new-generation party pills restricted after four users became seriously ill.

Advice to the [New Zealand] Government highlights concerns about DMAA (dimethylamylamine), a derivative of geranium oil, which is a "psychoactive substance" that reportedly gives users an adrenaline rush.

DMAA is included in several new-generation party pill substances, including Sunrise and Hummer.

These flooded the market when BZP varieties were banned and were now being sold nationally in stores, including dairies, without age restrictions.

It's the same old story. DMAA was only introduced into the dietary supplement market after ephedrine was banned in the US in 2005 (as an amendment to the Patriot Act (!)—typical American log-rolling). There was never good evidence that either ephedrine or BZP were "killer drugs", although there were a handful of cases where people had died "after taking" it, which is a very different matter. There is a similar lack of evidence that DMAA is a genuine health hazard although, like any drug, it can be abused.

As for Jack3d, this is a very widely used supplement which had no reported health risks until the murky cases of the two soldiers this year. (The people who who were "left seriously ill" after taking DMAA in New Zealand had taken at least a gramme of the stuff in its pure form. A dose of Jack3d contains just 50 milligrammes.)

Genuine health risk or moral panic? We may never get the chance to find out because DMAA may soon go the way of countless other low-strength stimulants—banned on the basis of post hoc ergo propter hoc logic. If so, we can be sure that a similar substance will appear to the plug the gap almost immediately.

And so it continues.

Sunday 5 February 2012

Offering your scorn

Many years ago I read an interview between Matt Groening (the creator of The Simpsons) and Frank Zappa. The interview doesn't seem to exist online, but I recall them both agreeing that their job was to 'offer their scorn'. No one had to accept the scorn. They didn't even have to acknowledge it. It probably wouldn't make any difference if they did acknowledge it, but it was the artist's job to offer it all the same.

Several years later I saw the greatly under-rated film Election, in which a school teacher (played by Matthew Broderick) spots a bad egg running for student president and recklessly tries to sabotage her campaign because he knows that a victory will set her on course for a life of making other people miserable. The teacher is exposed, Tracey "pick" Flick wins the election and he is ruined. By the end of the film, he has lost his marriage and his job, his nemesis has won and he has nothing. In the final scene, he comes across her by chance—she is now rapidly ascending the greasy pole of politics—and in a futile and impotent gesture, he hurls a milkshake at her car. The end.

If I was to tell you that this scene and the aforementioned quote regularly come to mind as I write my books, speeches, articles and blog-posts, you would get a glimpse of the hopelessness with which I view the pursuit of liberty and tolerance in the second decade of the twenty-first century. To be candid, I do not see myself on the winning side. As I hinted at in yesterday's post, the forces of reason are no match for the forces of ignorance, avarice and fear which outgun us.

With the odds stacked against you, all you can do is offer your scorn. With that in mind, I point you to Carl V. Phillips' recent testimony to the US Food and Drug Administration. Dr Phillips is an honest scientist, too rigorous for the public health movement he represents and too measured for the e-cigarette and smokeless tobacco industries whose products he implicitly or overtly endorses. The FDA committee on tobacco harm reduction, meanwhile, is ostensibly interested in public health but, as Carl writes, is actually "dominated by dedicated anti-tobacco extremists who are opposed to harm reduction, and its external scientific advisory group (TPSAC) is stacked with extremists and junk scientists". For financial and ideological reasons, it exists to promote pharmaceutical nicotine products at the expense of more effective alternatives.

A genuine harm reductionist cannot expect to change anyone's mind in such an environment. You can waste your three minutes' speaking time trying to win favour with a unwinnable audience or you can seize the moment to offer you scorn. Carl chose the latter...  

I speak today as an educator with an interest in the nature of science and its role in the functioning of our society, and from that perspective would like to say, "won't someone please think of the children?"

If an impressionable young mind stumbled across how science is often portrayed in this corner of our nation's government, he would be at risk of never becoming scientifically literate, let alone to wanting to be a scientist.

First, science is supposed to be an honest truth-seeking process that attempts to figure out the best possible answer to a question, often via methods that require innovative thinking. Our impressionable young mind, however, might come away:

-believing that science consists of just a few narrowly-defined recipes, rather than taking in all the information we have in myriad forms, available from many forums, and thoughtfully making the best use of it;

-believing that health science focuses on looking only under streetlamps and obsessing about easy but not directly informative work like chemistry, rather than trying to do the more difficult work to translate this and other information into what we really want to know about health effects;

-from today's session, he might believe that science involves such methods as manipulating children into giving the answers you want, speculation-laden anecdotes, limiting reviews of the evidence to exclude any evidence that you wish did not exist, and counting unsupported assertions by authors as evidence;

-and he would be taught that science it is not about identifying how we maximize our knowledge, but that it involves declaring that we just do not know anything, when in fact we know quite a lot.

Our impressionable young mind is not going to think very highly of science, and he might reasonably conclude that the best way to get involved in America's version of science is to go to law school. And, yes, that means that misguided ways of looking at science may be a gateway to more dangerous behaviors.

Second, this poor child would get the impression that a hypothetical cardiovascular condition or cancer 40 years from now will be just as harmful as a near-term case in a current smoker, a case that was caused because smokers are discouraged from switching to low-risk alternatives. Do we really want to tell that child that we expect so little of him, that his generation's health science will be so lousy that the 40-year-out cancer will be no more treatable that it would be today?

Finally, at the very least, I would urge this committee and Center to make sure that any such anti-scientific writing is kept in child-proof packaging, rather that being left laying around on the internet where anyone could stumble across it and damage their developing minds.

Go over to Ep-ology to read the background of this story and the various references to which the good doctor alludes.

Friday 3 February 2012

Goodbye, you lizard scum

I have a post about the 'toxic sugar' canard over at the Adam Smith Institute. Before you go any further, please click over there and have a read.

I would like to leave it there, but there really is so much more to say. Seriously, has the whole world gone insane? I can understand why the media would pick up on a story like this and I can almost understand why a popular science magazine like Nature would publish the wacky article in the first place. It sells. What I don't get is why a bunch of nodding-dog journalists would respond with half-witted opinion pieces such as 'Evil is among us. And it’s called sugar'.

It's not that I didn't see it coming. I've been saying for years that the anti-tobacco blueprint would be rolled out to alcohol, food and fizzy drinks. It's just that I didn't think it would happen this quickly and when it did happen, I expected gales of laughter and an anti-nanny state backlash. This is manifestly not happening. That is a problem, but it isn't the biggest problem. The truly terrifying thing is that the intellectual climate is so retarded that Nature can publish such an article without feeling any shame.

Look at the people in the video below. Look at their self-satisfied little faces. These are the authors of the toxic sugar article. They are idiots. I do not say that to be insulting, but as a statement of fact. The woman on the right, in particular, should not be trusted with a pair of scissors. She calls herself a "medical sociologist" and works at UCSF. This should disqualify her from going anywhere near a scientific journal. She thinks that sugar is a poison because it is fermented to make alcohol. If you read the Daily Mail, alcohol is made by "distilling sugar". This is what we're up against: cretinous arguments made still more ludicrous by a woefully uneducated media.

The asshole on the left begins by saying "We are in the midst of the biggest public health crisis in the history of the world." He's not talking about the Black Death, cholera, influenza, malaria or even cigarette smoking. He's talking about people drinking fizzy drinks in North America. The guy is either ignorant or insane or a liar. This one statement is enough to discredit him and yet he has made another video in which he says: "Fructose is ethanol without the buzz ... fructose is poison." That video has had nearly two million hits on Youtube. It's over. The morons have won.

He's another UCSF chump and it's no surprise to find that he's friendly with the anti-smoking loons of that quasi-university. In that same video, he refers to "the UCSF Legacy Tobacco Documents Library that Stan Glantz runs right across the street. Stan's a good guy. I like Stan a lot." Right there we have another disagreement because Stan is not a good guy. On the contrary, he is a charlatan and a crank and he should be investigated, prosecuted and imprisoned. He is another obsessive fruitcake who has found a pulpit from which to preach his warped, scientifically illiterate ideas thanks to the lax admissions standards of UCSF.

As you may know, Glantz regularly appears on television claiming that half of all teenage smokers picked up the habit solely as a result of seeing smoking in movies. This is a man who should, as Christopher Hitchens might have said, be out in the street, shouting and hollering with a cardboard sign around his neck and selling pencils from a cup. Do interviewers call him on his bampot theories? They do not. Instead he is perched up in San Francisco with millions of dollars of grants and a professorship in a subject which he has not studied at degree level and of which he apparently knows nothing.

Glantz also invented the heart miracle scam. What better illustration of the Western world's plunge into unreason can there be than this? Here we see the perils of the campaigner-researcher, the corruption of peer-review and the pitiful credulity of the media in perfect alignment.

To take just one example, last year Michael Siegel wrote about a heart miracle in one Minnesota county. It was so pathetic I don't think I even mentioned it at the time. In summary, some devious anti-smoking lobbyists cherry-picked a county and claimed that heart attacks had fallen by 45% after the smoking ban. Siegel listed some of the news stories that unquestioningly covered it.

For example, the headline of an ABC News article reads: "Smoking ban cuts cardiac events 45%, Mayo Clinic says."

A Procor headline reads: "Smoking ban cuts heart attacks in half."

A article headline reads: "Smoking Ban Cuts Heart Attack Risk In Half."

The UPI headline about the research reads: "Smoking ban cut heart attacks risk in half."

The Minneapolis Star-Tribune headline reads: "Smoking bans cut cardiac events 45%."

The EMax Health headline is: "Smoking bans reduce heart attack rates by half, finds study."

The Business Insider headline reads: "Heart Attacks Decreased By 50% After These Workplaces Launched Smoking Bans."

The trick was a simple one. They didn't look at the year of the ban (2007). Instead they compared heart attack rates in 2001 with those of 2008. Sure enough, they fell by 45%, but this was not out of line with the general decline in heart attacks across the USA. The heart attack rate is falling everywhere. You may recall from last week that the UK saw a halving of heart attacks in the same decade. The longer the timeframe the bigger the fall. Cherry-pick one small county (population 150,000) and the effect can be exaggerated further.

This is routine deception on the part of tobacco control, but that is not the point. My point is that you don't need to be privy to this information to work out that "Smoking ban cut heart attacks risk in half" is a bullshit headline. You do not need to be well versed in statistics to work out that, if this were true, half of all heart attacks before the ban were caused by wafts of tobacco smoke in bars and restaurants. And you don't need to be cognisant of medical science to realise that this is simply preposterous.

Similarly, you do you need to understand biology to know that you are not going to get cancer from smelling tobacco on someone's shirt and yet the concept of thirdhand smoke has been widely talked about, not least by the Daily Mail, as if it was anything other than the ramblings of the insane.

Who came up with the idea of thirdhand smoke? Georg Matt. Who's Georg Matt? He's a wacky psychologist based in San Diego. There is a running theme here, is there not?

Where does every crackpot idea come from?

Where does every hysteria-driven, junk science-based ban begin?

Which is the home to the world's worst university?

Which state is dragging the world into an intellectual dark age?


Lex Luther had the right idea. Bill Hicks had the right idea.

California has to go.

Thursday 2 February 2012

"No thanks, we're sweet enough," say lying puritans

As you may have noticed from headlines such as "Sugar 'is toxic and must be regulated just like cigarettes', claim scientists", "Tax and regulate sugar like alcohol and tobacco, urge scientists" and "Experts say sugar is as dangerous as alcohol and cigarettes", the slippery slope got a little bit more slippery today. We did try to warn you, you know.

I'll be writing about the absurd Nature article that spawned all this later (it was written by 'public health professionals' from San Francisco. Fancy that!), but for now take a look at the picture that accompanied the piece. It gives you an insight into the twisted minds of the health crusader.

Yes, that's Mary Poppins, and I'm pretty sure that sugar is in plain packaging with a large graphic health warning. A sign of things to come?