Thursday 31 May 2012

Hitchens vs. Snowdon

As I mentioned in a previous post, I debated with Peter Hitchens about the existence or otherwise of a war on drugs at the Institute of Economic Affairs recently. The full video is below.

The Art of Suppression is now available on the Kindle here (UK)and here (USA). It should be available from other Amazon sites as well.

Wednesday 30 May 2012

Fruit juice - the new smoking

A poison, cynically packaged with
attractive colours to lure in children

I've mentioned before the well-kept secret that fruit juice contains as much, if not more, sugar than the evil fizzy drinks. That message is now seeping out from 'public health professionals'.

“Juice is just like soda, and I’m saying it right here on camera,” pediatric obesity specialist Robert Lustig said in the documentary “Weight of the Nation,” produced in conjunction with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “There is no difference. When you take fruit and squeeze it, you throw the fiber in the garbage. That was the good part of the fruit. The juice is nature’s way of getting you to eat your fiber.”

Robert Lustig is becoming a familiar figure round these parts. "Nature’s way of getting you to eat your fiber" is a naturalistic fallacy, but then this is a man who thinks that bees were put on earth to stop us eating honey. And if you want fibre, have a Weetabix. He basic point is, however, sound. If you think that fructose is an evil poison (as Lustig does), you have to be against fruit.

When I have compared the calorific content of fruit juice and soda in the past, it has been to highlight the hypocrisy and thinly-veiled class snobbery of the smoothie drinking set. When the mandarins of public health do it, however, it is to take the "next logical step", as the headline indicates.

War on obesity takes aim at fruit juice

It seems that the juice industry ("Big Juice", as they will perhaps soon be known) have been fighting their corner.

Beverage-makers dispute claims that fruit juice and obesity are linked. The Juice Products Association said it supports the pediatrics group’s recommendations on juice but added that “current scientific evidence does not support a relationship between being overweight and juice consumption.” “Scientific evidence strongly maintains the nutritional benefits of 100 percent juice,” the association said. “In fact, studies show that drinking 100 percent fruit juice is associated with a more nutritious diet overall, including reduced intake of dietary fat, saturated fat and added sugars.” As proof, the association cited a cross-sectional study — a snapshot in time — funded by the juice industry that found a correlation between consumption of 100 percent fruit juice and higher nutrient intake in children.

Ooh! An industry-funded study says that fruit juice contains nutrients. We can't believe that now, can we, especially when Barry Popkin says otherwise...

In response, University of North Carolina global nutrition professor Barry Popkin cited six other studies that show correlations between increased fruit juice consumption and increased risk of obesity and diabetes. “There are no studies that show the opposite — that drinking a glass or two of fruit juice each day will have positive long-term health benefits on weight or diabetes [note the carefully narrow selection of diseases mentionedCJS],” added Popkin, author of “The World Is Fat: The Fads, Trends, Policies, and Products That Are Fattening the Human Race.”

Popkin has been waging this battle for some years and is one of the best known figures in the field. Amongst his previous bon mots are “Soft drinks are linked to diabetes and obesity in the way that tobacco is to lung cancer” and “This is a battle like tobacco–only bigger.”

For him, this is the Holy Grail of public health—the new smoking.

Popkin admits that he couldn’t have imagined warning people off fruit juice 10 years ago.

That, frankly, is because the world was less mad ten years ago.

“But it has taken us about a decade to truly understand the role of fruit juice,” he said. “In many countries, soft drink companies have fought hard to replace soft drinks with fruit juice (made by juice companies they bought), but the research has shown fruit juice has the same effect as soft drinks on our health — all adverse, negative and fairly severe.”

Really? Because fruit is sweet, it's all negative? No vitamin C? No energy? No hydration? No antioxidants? What nonsense.

So, here we are. 2012 and fruit juice is being treated like tobacco. Didn't take long did it? Enjoy your glass of tap water and if you're lucky they'll let you have a bit of apple peel.

Not that there's a slippery slope or anything...

Tuesday 29 May 2012

There's a storm coming

This story didn't get any media attention at all, but it should have, because it may turn out to be one of the most portentous moments of the year.

'Non-communicable diseases' is the hot buzzword in public health at the moment. They are the diseases you get if malaria, AIDS, typhoid etc. don't get you first. Thanks to mankind's virtual triumph over those nasty viruses, 'non-communicable diseases' are on the rise. This is good news, since they mostly kill us off in old age. As much as we might like to indulge in the narrative of people dying in their sleep from old age, the chances are they died of a disease—probably one that was respiratory or circulatory in nature.

It's not all good news, of course. Some of these diseases are preventable to some extent, or—more accurately—we can reduce the risk of getting them to some extent. Last year, a Cancer Research UK report claimed that 40 per cent of cancers could be avoided by (fairly dramatic) lifestyle changes. This is almost certainly an exaggeration, but even if true it remains the case that most cancers are unavoidable. Moreover, if you duck one non-communicable disease, there will be another one waiting for you a little further down the line (most cancer deaths involve people over the age of 75). So long as the population keeps ageing and the nasty viruses are kept at bay, there is little prospect of reducing mortality from non-communicable diseases as a category.

And yet, it seems that your government (wherever you live) has decided it can do just that.

NGOs applaud government leadership on non-communicable disease death reduction

After an intense week of lobbying by NGOs during the 65th World Health Assembly, governments are poised to agree to a historic target to reduce premature deaths from non-communicable diseases (NCDs - including cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, cancer and chronic respiratory diseases) by 25% by 2025. The target is expected to be endorsed by all 194 of the World Health Organization’s Member States on Saturday, 26 May.

The NCD Alliance, a global advocacy organization representing a network of more than 2,000 civil society organizations led a major lobbying campaign, and mobilized its network to ensure this target was secured.

"Intense lobbying by NGOs"—the epitaph of our times. How delightful it is that these organisations think that lobbying and legislation is a substitute for biology and medical science. Rejoice in the entirely arbitrary figure of 25%. Bask in the ludicrously short (12 and a half year) timeframe in which this miracle is to take place. If we take carbon targets as our guide—as these people evidently have—we can expect a further meeting in a couple of years when governments will sign an even tougher (but even more historic) target of 50%. Oh, what the hell, let's make it 100%. There will be no more death on this planet if we can just get career politicians to sign meaningless pieces of paper in five star hotels.

This would be a more impressive announcement if it was accompanied by the (admittedly unlikely) news that scientists have (a) found out what causes most cancers, and (b) have found a cure/vaccine, but they have not, nor does such a breakthrough seem imminent. Instead, what we have is a prohibitionist's charter...

In addition to adopting an overarching target, Member States have committed to reach a consensus, before the end of October, on additional targets on tobacco, blood pressure, salt reduction and physical activity; and to consider adding further on targets relating to alcohol, obesity, fat intake, cholesterol and health systems responses such as availability of essential medicines for NCDs.

Whatever targets these people have in mind, it is extremely unlikely—if not a mathematical impossibility—that even their full and total implementation would lead to the mortality reduction they are chasing occurring, let alone by 2025. What we have here is an impossible target that will be pursued with boundless ferocity at any cost.

If, as these lobbyists claim, 194 countries are about to sign this quasi-treaty, you can expect to hear much more about our 'legal obligations' to control eating, drinking, smoking and—the mind boggles—'physical activity' for many years to come. You may recall last year's charming article from Jonathan Waxman titled 'To avoid cancer, let the State dictate your diet' which was itself based on the claim that lifestyles cause 40 per cent of cancer. That is only the start and it is, of course, why the puritans, bureaucrats, nannies and headbangers of public health are so keen on the idea of 'non-communicable diseases', because it gives them what every trigger happy army general wants—a war without end.

(Thanks to Rob Lyons for letting me know about this story. When he e-mailed it to me I asked him what these people thought we should die of if not non-communicable diseases. "Boredom", he said. True that.)

Sunday 27 May 2012


John Banzhaf III, former cruise ship dancer, anti-smoking wibbler and ambulance chaster extraordinaire, joined  Twitter over a year ago and has so far been rewarded with 46 followers, some of whom are not bots or people who heartily despise him.

His tweets are almost entirely limited to links to his own self-written press releases, but occasionally he cuts out the middle man and lets us know what is really on his mind...

I confess to having paid little attention to the activities of this crank since writing Velvet Glove, Iron Fist (although there have been a few blog posts see here, here and here), but he has been acting true to form, campaigning about dormitories being 'segregated' by gender, supporting people who want to stop the homeless being given food, equating fast food with cigarettes and cheerleading for outdoor smoking bans.

As hilarious as his Twitter feed is, there is a site called which confirms everything I always suspected about this drooling narcissist. (Click to enlarge.)

Friday 25 May 2012

Enough rope

In the past fortnight I've spoken in two debates, firstly about plain packaging in Bristol and then, last week, against Peter Hitchens on the subject of drugs.

The plain packaging issue does not easily lend itself to an exciting debate, partly because most people don't care about it, but also because it necessarily relies on a certain amount of conjecture. Although plain pack proponents claim to have evidence that their policy will 'work', in reality they have nothing apart from the obvious findings of surveys in which people say that ugly packs look uglier than less ugly packs. There is no shred of evidence that anyone has ever started smoking because they like the look of a cigarette pack and it is patronising to say otherwise.

Without any serious evidence to consider, the debate ultimately relies on one set of untested predictions (it will make smoking less appealing, it will reduce the smoking rate) against another set (it will help the illicit trade, it will create a slippery slope, it won't affect the smoking rate). We can use common sense and history to tell us which of these is more likely—I think there is a strong prima facie case for accepting the latter—but neither proposition can be proven beyond doubt.

I find the slippery slope argument to be compelling based on countless precedents, but I oppose the policy on its own terms. As a believer in free markets and property rights, I oppose the plain packaging of any product under any circumstance I can think of. Above all, I am against prohibition and I see plain packaging as a step towards that vile outcome. If plain pack campaigners were more honest, they would admit that making the product near-invisible through display bans and plain packaging is a step towards the 'endgame' of total criminalisation. Alas, prohibitionists are rarely honest and they are unlikely to countenance that debate until it is too late.

Stephen Williams MP was less egregious and more genial than I expected, but then I suppose you learn not to be outwardly hostile to strangers if you're a politician. He spent most of his speech reminding the audience (potential voters) that he was a good local man with strong ties to the university in which the debate was held.

I had no expectations about Gabriel Scally, but if I had he would have disappointed me. He is, and a fortnight later presumably still is, an unpleasant individual—dour, self-righteous, puritanical and illiberal—just as you would expect from a doctor who stopped trying to heal the sick 25 years ago to become a professional scold. If you want to know what he said, find ASH's press release 'myths about plain packaging'. He read it verbatim until he ran out of time.

Much more interesting than what Scally said during the debate was what he had been saying beforehand. A few days earlier he had been complaining to the media about the tobacco industry "sabotaging" the Department of Health's plain packaging campaign by making vexatious freedom of information requests. These FOI requests had been made to various primary care trusts, asking how much taxpayers' money was being given to the pro-plain pack campaign.

I was surprised that Scally would want to pick at this particular scab because it was not widely known that there was a Department of Health campaign for a policy about which the government claims to have an open mind. Furthermore, the sums of money involved are very large (£100,000s and very probably north of a million). The man in the street is not too keen on having his money spent on government propaganda—he would prefer it to be spent on things like nurses and hospital equipment—so the state-funded activists would have been well advised to keep a low profile.

Furthermore, the PCTs were not exactly being inundated with FOI requests. Apparently there were only a couple of dozen and they all asked the same simple question that could be dealt with in a matter of minutes. Finally, and most importantly, the senders of these requests were not 'Big Tobacco' but our very own Dick Puddlecote - who runs a small transport company - and some of his readers.

What are FOI requests for if not to allow members of the public to find out how their taxes are being spent? Scally portrayed the tobacco control industry as a shoestring operation staffed by selfless volunteers who were prevented from carrying out their essential work by fantastically rich and malevolent industrialists. This, as one audience member spotted, cut little ice with me.

I discovered that Scally very much resents the term 'anti-smoking industry' to describe the multi-billion dollar enterprise that spans the globe employing thousands of petit prohibitionists, so I must remember to use it more often. This is a man who is so self-righteous that the idea that ordinary people might oppose an idea that—never forget—was not on the radar of the most extreme anti-smoking zealots five years ago has probably never even occurred to him. As someone who has only ever been employed by the state, he presumably believes that he has a divine right to the hundreds of thousands of pounds being squandered on this political advertising campaign. As a socialist and a pencil-pushing ex-quack, the idea that there should be any limit on government power strikes him as alien, even laughable. It wasn't that he disagreed with property rights, or free markets, or the efficient use of taxpayers' money. It was more that he didn't recognise them even as abstract concepts, let alone understand why anybody might value them.

I'll say less about the Hitchens debate as it will be available to view on Youtube shortly so you can make your own mind up. Suffice it to say that Hitchens is a prohibitionist and makes no bones about it. Consequently, I have a great deal more respect for him than I do for slithy toves like Scally (the feeling may not be mutual; I hear that he left in a huff). But even Hitchens dresses up his dislike of drugs in the clothes of public health, citing the inconclusive evidence about cannabis and mental health when he makes his case for throwing pot-smokers in gaol. As the evening wore on, it became clearer that prohibtion is for him a moral crusade, just as my opposition to prohibition is largely based on morality. I, however, also have pragmatism and consequentialism on my side, since the war on drugs is not only morally indefensible but also happens to be enormously harmful, physically, socially and economically.

One moment stands out from each of these two debates. During the plain packaging event, a member of the audience asked where it would all end? Once the most hazardous product (cigarettes) had been dealt with, there would be a new public enemy number one. Would this new top threat be dealt with in the same way, and then the threat below that? And if not, why not?

The question was directed at Williams and Scally. Williams, if I recall correctly, gave a non-descript answer about cigarettes being uniquely dangerous. Scally could have followed his lead and deflected the question, but he could not resist talking about the evils of alcohol and the 'epidemic' of obesity. Essentially, he acknowledged that the public health crusade would never end because there would always be new battles to fight. The audience was visibly unnerved by this open admission of the oft-denied 'domino theory'.

In the drugs debate, someone in the audience mentioned street drugs being adulterated with rat poison. This is almost certainly a myth. Drug dealers have no incentive to kill their customers and most overdoses are the result of drugs being too pure, not too contaminated. Nevertheless, Hitchens responded by embracing the idea of poisoning drug-users and said that he would like to see more rat poison turning up in the heroin supply. With this one comment, the mask of the health campaigner slipped from his face to reveal something uglier and, again, the audience was turned off.

I mention these two incidents to illustrate a point about debating with prohibitionists. Their ideas are basically evil and it doesn't greatly matter what you say. All you have to do is wait for them to tell the truth.

Wednesday 23 May 2012

Stop press: British women drink hardly anything

From the Telegraph over the weekend...

Professional women 'drink twice as much' 

Women in highflying careers, such as managers in large companies, drink a bottle of wine a week on average, around 11.2 units, compared with 6.2 units for female hairdressers, cleaners and factory workers.

Well, yes. They earn more money and can therefore more easily afford Britain's exorbitantly taxed, extortionately priced selection of drinks.

Diane Abbott, Shadow Public Health Minister, says new alcohol figures lift the lid on some of the problems around the ‘cocktail and business card culture’:

She said: "It is good that more women are out in the workforce and are enjoying social life in pubs and bars."

She doesn't mean that at all, of course. Here comes the 'but'.

"But these disturbingly high figures reveal women’s drinking patterns have changed in a generation, reflecting a silent, middle class epidemic. The problem is not just young 'ladettes'."

"This government needs to bring in a radical new, long-term alcohol strategy including – but not limited to – a minimum price for alcohol.’

How depressing it is to be reminded that no matter how draconian the Conservative-led coalition is on this issue, there is always the spectre of a Labour-run Department of Health, led by this grossly overweight, self-confessed hypocrite, to make things still worse (although, to give him his due, even Gordon Brown rejected minimum pricing).

What exactly are these "disturbingly high figures"?

Figures from the Office of National Statistics show that in 2010 women in professional and managerial positions consumed an average of 9.2 units a week compared with 6.2 units a week for women in routine and manual jobs.

9.2 units a week! It is, as the story says, the equivalent of one bottle of wine. Why, that's nearly one very small glass of wine per day. It's like the last days of Rome, isn't it?

We seem to have reached the point at which any statistic related to alcohol can be used to call for "radical new" legislation even when, as routinely occurs, the statistic shows that Britons are drinking much less than the media narrative requires. 9.2 units is significantly less than the ridiculously low guideline of 14 units per week for women. Even if we factor in the 15 per cent of women who are teetotal, the amount consumed by drinkers remains minimal, so what is the problem here? Is it merely that wealthy women drink a bit more than poor women? Surely not. Are we to imagine that the temperance crusaders would be happier if the poor drank more than the rich? This is no more evidence of an epidemic than the equally anodyne fact that middle-aged people drink more often than teenagers. This is good news, isn't it?

For the anti-drink lobby, as for useless politicians like Diane Abbott, there can be no good news. For them, the problem is not with how much we are drinking—alcohol consumption has been falling sharply for a decade—but that we drink at all. These figures show us nothing except that women, on average, are drinking a frankly medicinal amount of alcohol, and yet the decision has been made that the government must clamp down on drinking, just as it clamped down on smoking. The fact that the statistics do not support the mythology of Booze Britain is not seen as an inconvenience. The data are either ignored (as the drop in consumption has been ignored), or incorporated into the narrative of panic in a tenuous way (as here).

Regardless of the evidence, the public health lobby made its mind up several years ago that drinking was next in the firing line. There is nothing we can do to stop it.

Tuesday 22 May 2012

Swedish anti-snus/pro-Chantix experts have links to Pfizer

The Swedish press is reporting that several prominent public health spokespeople who have attacked snus and recommended Chamtix have undisclosed ties to the pharmaceutical industry.

Swedish tobacco experts in the double seats

Doctor helps to lobby against snus - and for Pfizer's drug

The Swedish National Institute of Public Health are experts on tobacco. They advise against snus but for the anti-nicotine drug Champix while they are working for Pfizer - which lobbies against snus and manufactures Champix.

- This could damage the authority's credibility, says Thomas Bull, a professor of constitutional law, told Aftonbladet.

These academics include Gunilla Bolinder and Hans Gilljam, both of the Karolinska Institute. Their work has been highly influential in maintaining the EU-wide ban on snus (see The Art of Suppression). While most scientific studies find no link between snus and any serious diseases, the Karolinska Institute has published a number of epidemiological studies in the past decade which found links with cancer and heart attack mortality. The Institute has repeatedly refused to allow other researchers to see the raw data of the Swedish Construction Workers Cohort, which has been used and reused by Karolinska researchers for these studies.

Bolinder and Gilljam have both recommended the use of Pfizer's stop-smoking drug Champix, despite reports of adverse effects on mental and cardiovascular health. Gilljam has even published a study claiming that Champix is an effective drug for helping people give up snus. The study was paid for by Pfizer and he is listed as a contact on the company's press releases.

Bolinder sits on Pfizer's advisory council and is quoted on one of the company's press releases singing the praises of Champix. It also appears that Pfizer's response to the EU's consultation on tobacco control—which says: "It is a top priority to maintain the sales ban on snus"—was copied verbatim by several anti-smoking groups that are funded by the Swedish National Institute of Public Health.

Full story (in Swedish) here.

Also, do read Clive Bates' (Deborah Arnott's predecessor at ASH) new blog post about the EU ban. Very thorough, with many useful graphics. Death by regulation: the EU ban on low-risk oral tobacco

Here’s what I think should happen:

  • The ban on smokeless oral tobacco is unjustified, illegal, harmful to health and represents a denial of consumer and human rights. It should be lifted without delay. 
  • The Commission, member states and elements of the public health community should not misuse the science of smokeless tobacco and harm reduction or use the SCENIHR report to justify a ban on a sub-category of smokeless tobacco. The science does not justify any ban on these products while cigarettes remain widely available and while more hazardous forms of smokeless tobacco is sold freely. 
  • Smokeless tobacco forms part of a ‘harm reduction’ market for lower risk alternatives to smoking – this could be an important market commercially in future, and if it does become sizeable, it will have considerable health benefits by reducing smoking. The EU could facilitate development of this market by setting standards for toxins present in smokeless tobacco placed on the market in the EU. 
  • To balance the market in favour of reduced risk products, governments should consider favourable excise tax treatment, relative to smoked tobacco, for nicotine products with greatly reduced risk, and allow meaningful risk communication through product marketing. 
  • The public health community should be honest about the relative risks of smokeless tobacco and smoking, take an evidence-based approach to policy, and adjust its posture towards harm reduction strategies accordingly. It is lethally irresponsible to mislead smokers about less hazardous alternatives to smoking.

I concur with all that, and I concur with this...

If you want a more complete account of the misleading and, frankly, bent scientific advice used to support the crusade against smokeless tobacco, I recommend a book: The Art of Suppression: Pleasure, Panic and Prohibition since 1800 by Chris Snowdon – an excellent account of the tactics of prohibitionists, featuring a chapter on snus.

Matthew Herbert: evil imbecile

Via Tim Worstall, I see the Guardian has published the ramblings of another meat-hating, ban-loving food faddist. No time to fisk this, but I have filleted the choicest cuts for you...

The slippery slope...

The government tells shops to hide cigarettes behind the tills, but allows them to set up mazes of crisps, chocolate and sweets that we are forced to walk through to get to the till. 

Failure to understand the purpose of advertising...

We also allow food companies to advertise junk food to our children – but as far as I know, everybody likes crisps; it's not like we need encouraging to eat more of them.

Choice is an illusion. Removing choice gives us freedom...

Responsibility is constantly deferred downwards to us as though the food system is a benign force simply there to offer us choice and let us get on with it. But those decisions are impossible ones to make in a deceitful system like this. Take for example the report by the Pesticide Residues Committee, which states that wholemeal loaves contain significantly more toxic residues in them than white loaves due to the milling process. Yet nutritionally, brown loaves are much better for you. Less toxic, or less nutritious: how are we supposed to make that choice? We shouldn't even have to.

Stupid idea for a new law...

If I had more time, I'd start a campaign called See Your Food, which would demand the legal right to be able to witness how our food was made, reared, killed, prepared and packaged.

More stupid ideas for bans...

We need bigger solutions: bring back rationing for fish immediately, end the majority of advertising for highly processed foods, introduce the compulsory teaching of cooking in schools, reverse the rise in meat consumption, legalise much higher welfare standards for animal husbandry, ban GM foods.

The author...

Matthew Herbert is a British electronic musician

Never heard of him. I hope I never hear from him again. Get back to your synthesizer, sir.

Monday 21 May 2012

Fat tax campaigner: "God told me to do it"

"What's that, Lord? Tax the poor?"

It is not an original thought to say that public health crusaders often resemble religious zealots, but seldom is the comparison more literal than in the case of Mike Rayner, director of the British Heart Foundation Health Promotion Research Group.

He was recently on the television advocating for the 'fat tax', and he has a blog...

I’m not going to run through my cv but at the moment I work full time for the University of Oxford in the Department of Public Health. I am the director of a research group there. The funding for my salary comes from the British Heart Foundation and the research we carry out is into issues such as food labelling, food advertising to children, food taxes (such as the Danish fat tax which has been in the news recently) etc.

He is one of the many researchers-cum-activists who populate the oxymoronic field of public health.

We aim to do research which has an impact on Government policy...

Because nothing says 'quality, impartial science' like an open admission of wanting to change the law of the land.

...we have had some success in this regard. For example some people credit us with inventing traffic-light labelling for foods and we paid a part in writing the current legislation around the tv advertising of junk foods to children and I think our research was one of the reasons why David Cameron changed his mind about fat taxes recently.

So far, so mundane. Another illiberal battler against the free market with a heightened sense of his own importance and his nose in the trough. The only point of interest is that Mr Raynor is a Church of England priest who is guided by voices.

In all of this I see a sacred dimension. You may not believe that I have heard God aright but I think God is calling me to work towards the introduction of soft-drink taxes in this country and I am looking forward to the day when General Synod debates the ethical issues surrounding this type of tax rather than some of the other issues that august body seems obsessed by.

Golly. Where to begin? On a theological note, I do wonder whether Jesus would really be in favour of a deeply regressive stealth tax that would take from the poor to give to the rich. Perhaps the reason the General Synod does not debate tax policy is because they recall the old "render under to Caesar..." message and realise that it's none of their business.

If we weren't already sceptical about the documents coming from Mr Rayner's team of would-be policy-makers, the fact that its director believes that God has told him to bring about a fat tax in this land should be enough to make us suspect that a tiny bit of research bias might have crept into his work. Considering that the Almighty has approved of the policy, what are the chances of his loyal servant producing evidence that would question its efficacy?

(You can download my latest paper, The Wages of Sin Taxes, here.)

Friday 18 May 2012

Beat the reaper

The international media leapt on a study which found a lower rate of mortality amongst coffee drinkers today. Is it true? I don't know, but I appreciated this mild correction at the bottom of the LA Times' report.

[For the Record, 1:13 p.m. PDT May 17: The headline on an earlier version of this post said, "A study that tracked health and coffee consumption finds that coffee-drinkers had a lower risk of death." The headline has been rewritten to note that the finding concerned rates of death only during the time of the study.]

It may seem pedantic, but I wish journalists would stop writing about a 'lower risk of death' when reporting on epidemiological studies. What they mean is that the intervention group is likely to live longer, which is not only a more accurate description but is also a more useful explanation of the findings.

The findings themselves may still be nonsense—as very many epidemiological findings are—but there are enough people indulging themselves in an eternal life fantasy without encouraging them with silly headlines.

Wednesday 16 May 2012

Fat taxes

And so it continues. A day after my sin taxes paper came out, the British Medical Journal launches a new campaign for fat taxes. From The Guardian:

'Fat tax' on unhealthy food must raise prices by 20% to have effect, says study 

Researchers say levy on junk food should be accompanied by subsidies for fruit and vegetables

"Fat taxes" would have to increase the price of unhealthy food and drinks by as much as 20% in order to cut consumption by enough to reduce obesity and other diet-related diseases, experts have said. Such levies should be accompanied by subsidies on healthy foods such as fruit and vegetables to help encourage a significant shift in dietary habits, according to research published in the British Medical Journal.

The Guardian presents this as a 'when did you stop beating your wife?' issue, as if we were all mulling the possibility of a 10% fat tax but the medics are pushing us for 20% or more (the BMJ article actually says "at least 20%", not "up to 20%"—a non-trivial difference).

The idea of using the money to subsidise 'healthy' foods is also a clever touch, effectively bribing the Islington/Whole Foods set into supporting the policy. The question that comes to mind is why, if cutting obesity will save the taxpayer so much money, do we need a fat tax at all? Why not simply subsidise 'healthy' foods, watch the pounds fall off, and reap the savings? The answer, I suggest, is that they know as well as we do that the obesity time-bomb is a fiction but the pensions time-bomb is not.

Regular, and even occasional, readers will guess that I am not in favour of fat taxes and I explain why in this new post at the Adam Smith Institute.

Also, check out this (much better, and not just because I'm mentioned) Guardian article from today's edition.

Tuesday 15 May 2012

The Wages of Sin Taxes

I have a report out today with the Adam Smith Institute looking at sin taxes (The Wages of Sin Taxes). Here's the Executive Summary...

Governments have long relied on indirect taxes on consumer goods as a source of revenue. ‘Sinful’ items such as alcohol and tobacco have traditionally been taxed punitively and some have called for new taxes on fatty foods and sugary drinks, as well as a minimum price on a unit of alcohol.

Campaigners and politicians often cite astronomical figures as being the ‘cost to the taxpayer’ of certain products, but these statements have no foundation in economics. The studies which produce these figures are dominated by ‘costs’ which are neither financial nor borne by the taxpayer. They include hypothetical estimates of the value of a life year lost, earnings forgone due to premature mortality and expenditure by the consumer on the product itself. These figures are usually inflated, but even when they are plausible they cannot be used to justify sin taxes because these ‘costs’ affect only the individual; they are not paid by the taxpayer.

It is frequently claimed that consumers of ‘unhealthy’ products place an excessive burden on public services—healthcare, in particular—and that this justifies additional taxation in order to (a) reduce consumption of the sinful product, and (b) reimburse the state for the extra money it is forced to spend. This is not true. There is ample evidence that, on average, smokers and the obese are less of a ‘drain on public services’ than nonsmokers and the slim because they spend fewer years withdrawing pensions, prescriptions, nursing home provision and other benefits. Their lifetime healthcare costs are usually lower than those who lead ‘healthy lives’. If making consumers pay their way is truly the aim of public policy, the government would be more justified in placing a tax on fruit and vegetables.

The case of alcohol differs from that of tobacco and ‘unhealthy’ food in so far as there are additional externalities relating to violence, drink-driving and property damage. It is likely that drinking and drunkenness result in additional costs to the public purse which are not offset by savings and benefits, but these are covered by existing alcohol taxes with several billion pounds to spare. Just as smokers are subsidising nonsmokers, so drinkers are subsidising teetotallers.

As instruments of social engineering, sin taxes are blunt tools which are largely ignored by the target group while creating a range of unintended consequences which damage health, stoke criminality and, beyond a certain point, lead to the government receiving less tax revenue. They are a costly and inefficient means of attempting behavioural change.

Taxing goods which are price inelastic, especially those which are addictive, is far more likely to impoverish consumers than it is to turn them into abstainers. Alcoholics are rarely deterred from drinking by higher prices and there is evidence that tobacco taxes are now so high that further increases will yield diminishing returns. Many studies have concluded that ‘fat taxes’ and ‘soda taxes’ have little or no effect on rates of obesity. Such levies are better seen as stealth taxes than sin taxes.

Like virtually all indirect taxation, sin taxes hit the poor harder than the rich. Taxes on tobacco, sugar-sweetened drinks and ‘junk food’ are doubly regressive because they are disproportionally consumed by people on lower incomes. Placing a minimum price on alcohol would be extraordinarily regressive since it would deliberately target drinks which are consumed by the poor while leaving the drinks of the rich untouched.

This is a paper I've been working on since October, inspired by the Danish government's decision to bring in a 'fat tax', France's decision to introduce a 'soda tax' and Scotland's decision to bring in minimum pricing (a sin tax by any other name).

For me, the most interesting part was looking at the studies which estimate the 'cost to society' of various activities. It is clear that the politicians who cite these reports have never read them, or else they do not understand the difference between private costs and public costs. None of these studies support the view that slim, teetotal, nonsmoking taxpayers subsidise the habits of others. Existing taxes on these products far exceed the various public costs incurred. Indeed, with the possible exception of alcohol, there is no economic justification for taxing these products beyond the normal rate of sales tax at all.

I was also interested to see the lack of correlation between affordability and harm when I compared EU countries. It is, of course, a fundamental principle of economics that higher prices usually reduce consumption. This has traditionally been the case with alcohol and tobacco, but there is no longer any association between cigarette taxation and smoking prevalence. There are several possible explanations for this. It may be that the number of smokers has been reduced to such an extent over the last 40 years that those who remain have a very inelastic demand, and/or the black market has reduced the efficacy of these taxes. Sure enough, there is a correlation between cigarette affordability and illicit sales.

In the case of alcohol, higher prices reduce per capita consumption but do not reduce alcohol-related harm. This is an important finding, because temperance policies assume that reducing overall consumption is the key to reducing alcoholism, drink-driving and 'binge-drinking'.

In the case of food and drink, various studies have shown that sin taxes are hopelessly ineffective at reducing obesity. All of these sin taxes are, however, are very good at making the poor poorer. Economic theory might imply that the poor would be more responsive to sin taxes—this is certainly what campaigners claim—but we have decades of real life evidence telling us that this does not happen in practice (although moderate drinkers may be an exception).

The take-home message is that those who campaign for higher taxes on 'unhealthy' products should not use the argument that drinkers/smokers/fatties are a burden on public services because it has no basis in fact. The argument can only be made on the basis of pure paternalism or—as is usually the case—by admitting that the government needs more money.

Do go read the whole report here (PDF). I'd also like to thank Eric Crampton who has written much about this subject in the past and who offered many useful comments on the first draft.

Sunday 13 May 2012

The re-legalisation of drugs

A few people have asked me to blog about the plain packaging debate held in Bristol last week. I've been rather busy and will be busy for a few more days yet, but I will get round to it. Suffice to say that it was a blast and Taking Liberties has a good account of it.

In the meantime, let me point you to my post about drug (re)legalisation at the IEA blog which is a precursor to my debate with Peter Hitchens on Wednesday.

A pragmatic legal market would allow licensed bars, coffee shops and private members’ clubs to sell opium and cannabis for smoking on the premises. Nightclubs and some bars would be permitted to sell pure MDMA. Pills, powders and tinctures containing amphetamine, cocaine and opium would be available from registered pharmacists with appropriate warnings and directions for use. Specialised licensed shops, equivalent to tobacconists or ‘head shops’, would be permitted to sell cannabis cigarettes, MDMA, smoking opium and hallucinogens for sale off the premises. In all cases, sales would be limited to those over the age of eighteen.

Do have a read.

Tuesday 8 May 2012

Odd hominems

Taking Liberties has found a deliciously paranoid document entitled 'Tobacco front groups and third party lobbying tactics' which was published (online) by the All Party Parliamentary Group on Smoking and Health and written by ASH. It is one of their sporadic attempts to portray anyone who has ever criticised any element of tobacco control as being a 'front group' for Big Tobacco, but they have really pushed the boat out on this one.

Many of the listed groups obviously have 'financial ties' to the tobacco industry because, er, they are the tobacco industry. I'm not sure anyone ever doubted whether the Confederation of European Community Cigarette Manufacturers, the  European Cigar Manufacturers’ Association or the Tobacco Manufacturers Association were involved in the tobacco business, but ASH helpfully list them all the same. Sinclair Collis is included because it...

Made a submission to the 2008 Department of Health consultation on tobacco control

Well it would, wouldn't it? It is the country's biggest supplier of cigarette vending machines. Or rather, it was until the government banned vending machines. It banned them after consulting with stakeholders in the 2008 Department of Health consultation on tobacco control to which Sinclair Collis—very a much a stakeholder—responded. ASH have put on the old deerstalker and picked up the magnifying glass to reveal that the company is a "wholly owned subsidiary of Imperial Tobacco", a shameful secret that Sinclair Collis cunningly conceals by hiding it in plain sight on the homepage of their website...

Sinclair Collis is the UK's largest cigarette vending operator, a wholly owned subsidiary of Imperial Tobacco PLC. 

Others entries in ASH's hit list are more peculiar. The British Retail Consortium is included because it was, apparently, "one of the stakeholders identified in PMI’s “Project Clarity”", whatever that means. The Confederation of British Industry (CBI) is included because "Imperial Tobacco includes the CBI among organisations with which it engages". The European Roundtable of Industrialists is in the list because "BAT was a member until 2010". I guess BAT aren't members any more but, never mind, let's call them a front group anyway.

This is mental. ASH's list includes some of the biggest trade organisations in the country. They've been around for donkey's years and between them they represent the vast majority of British businesses. ASH are classing them as 'tobacco front groups' because their members include, or used to include, one or two cigarette companies. 

And it gets worse...

The Federation of Small Businesses and Scottish Grocers Federation are both listed because they were "lobbied by PMI to oppose Government’s tobacco control proposals". Not that they lobbied themselves, you understand. They were lobbied by PMI (Philip Morris International) and are therefore engaged in this vast conspiracy.

Unite are included! Yes, that Unite, the massive trade union that represents over 3 million workers. They are on a list of 'tobacco front groups' because they are "linked to the TWA". The TWA is the Tobacco Workers Alliance (also listed)—a trade union which quite obviously has "links" to the tobacco industry since that's the industry its members work in.

As lame as all this is, the document reaches a scurillous low in a section entitled 'Astroturfing', which ASH helpfully defines as:

‘Astroturf’ refers to “apparently grassroots-based citizen groups or coalitions that are primarily conceived, created and/or funded by corporations, industry trade associations, and political interests or public relations firms”.

Do bear that definition in mind as you read which groups are included under that banner. From the same section:

Big Tobacco also funds groups to influence public opinion online. Amongst these is Liberal Vision which acknowledges itself as “in strict legal terms … a wholly-owned subsidiary” of Progressive Vision. Progressive Vision ran a summit with the TMA on illicit tobacco smuggling in January 2011.

And only ASH is allowed to run summits about illicit tobacco smuggling. That's the full extent of ASH's evidence that Liberal Vision is an astro-turf group paid "to influence public opinion online". Rather tenuous, no?

But I too, a mere individual, am somehow an astro-turf group as well...

Chris Snowdon’s blog, Velvet Glove Iron Fist has removed its claim not to receive tobacco industry funding.

Yeah, about two years ago, and it was never on my blog, it was on this now dormant website. When Velvet Glove, Iron Fist (my first book) came out, I included a brief note on the 'about the author' page saying I didn't work for Big Tobacco, Big Pharma and wasn't involved in any anti-smoking groups. This was probably too defensive and unnecessary even then, but after I wrote The Spirit Level Delusion, The Art of Suppression and numerous articles and papers about alcohol, happiness economics, food, drugs and the rest, it looked downright weird. And so, although it was still true, I replaced it with a more conventional and extensive biography. Absence of denial is not evidence of guilt, you ASH muppets.

Snowdon was part of an “impressive line up” of invited speakers at the industry’s Global Tobacco Networking Forum in Bangalore in 2010.

Yes indeed. I gave a talk about the history of the anti-smoking movement in a session called 'A View From Outside', ie. as an outsider speaking at a tobacco industry event. And, as is conventional at conferences, I didn't get paid for speaking, so what we have here is someone giving up their time to speak at an industry event which is rather different to someone being paid "to influence public opinion online".

He was billed as an adjunct scholar of the tobacco industry funded Cato Institute

No, I wasn't. I've never had the honour of being invited to be an adjunct scholar at the Cato Institute and the simplest fact-check would show that I was billed as an adjunct scholar at the Democracy Institute. To be quite honest, I've never really known what an adjunct scholar is, but I do know that I've never received any money for being one.

Still, it's appropriate that I'm included because people not getting money for doing things is very much the theme of this document, which reaches a new low when discussing the quite obviously grass-roots organisations of FORCES, Freedom2Choose and TICAP.

FORCES, an acronym for ‘Fight Ordinances and Restrictions to Control and Eliminate Smoking’ claims to be independent of any commercial body but is “aligned with those who fight the antismoking movement”.

Quite obviously they are aligned with those who fight the antismoking movement. We can work that out from the name.

Through its criticism and opposition to tobacco control campaigns FORCES is aligned to the tobacco industry.

What weasel words are these? If you've got some evidence that FORCES is "primarily conceived, created and/or funded by corporations" then spit it out.

Previously secret documents released in court demonstrate that under the leadership of Gian Turci, FORCES sought the support of Philip Morris and Rothmans Ltd.

But they didn't get it, did they? So here we have the tobacco industry refusing to give money to a group with whom they are "aligned". Perhaps FORCES should seek support from ASH so that when ASH refuses, we can call them a tobacco industry front group as well.

The slurs continue...

The UK-based Freedom2choose lobby group, which was set up originally to oppose the smokefree legislation, says it is a grass-roots organisation that is independent of the tobacco industry. However, some people associated with it have links with Big Tobacco.

I'd be fascinated to know who these people are but, alas, ASH choose not to name them. If I was more cynical man I would say that this is because they haven't got one shred of evidence to back up their claim. Perhaps the fact that most of their members purchase cigarettes is considered a sufficient "link with Big Tobacco".

Freedom2choose is allied to The International Coalition Against Prohibition.

And TICAP don't get money from the tobacco industry either. This is just a great list of astro-turf groups. It's a Who's Who of everybody who has never received industry funding.

One of the founders of TICAP was Gian Turci. According to TICAP Turci was a member of the Executive Committee of Freedom2choose.

Cool. So the guy who (allegedly, but is dead so can't defend himself) asked for tobacco funding but didn't get it was "allied" to two organisations which have never asked for tobacco funding and have never got it. With this awesome collection of astro-turf groups, combined with the might of the CBI, Unite, the Federation of Small Businesses, the Scottish Grocers Federation, the Leicester Asian Business Association, the UK Travel Retail Forum (?!), Liberal Vision and my good self, it's a miracle that any anti-smoking legislation has ever been passed.

At this rate, it can only be a matter of time before members of ASH start accusing each other of being front groups and instigate a purge.

There is some heavy irony here. Not only is ASH (and Smokefree SouthWest and D-MYST and so on) an astro-turf group for the Department of Health, but the All Party Parliamentary Group on Smoking and Health is itself a front group for ASH. It was formed in 1976 by ASH's then director David Simpson as a way of briefing politicians and persuading MPs to raise Early Day Motions and Private Member's Bills. It was originally known—more accurately—as the All Party Parliamentary Group on Action on Smoking and Health, but they later dropped the 'Action on', presumably to make it look a bit less like the mouthpiece of a special interest group. ASH continues to provide all briefing materials and pays for all expenses. The group's secretariat is Deborah Arnott, the current director of ASH.

Wheels within wheels, indeed.

Sunday 6 May 2012

Food is the new tobacco (part 94)

I doubt there are many readers who have not noticed that food is the new tobacco, but if you are still wavering, be sure to read this article from USA Today.

Since first lady Michelle Obama made childhood obesity her signature project almost two years ago, the issue has had the kind of highly visible national leadership that it previously lacked.

But that isn't enough, say public health leaders frustrated with the slow progress in stemming America's obesity epidemic.

Something more ambitious is needed, they argue — something more like the anti-tobacco movement.

The existence of this "domino effect" has recently been denied by our own dear Deborah Arnott (thereby providing Dick Puddlecote with many laughs - see here and here and here and here). So what does Dr. Stanton "not a medical doctor" Glantz have to say about it?

"When I look at what's going on with obesity, it reminds me of what was going on with tobacco in the '50s, '60s, and '70s, when there was a lot of emphasis on personal responsibility, voluntary self-regulation, and trying to make safe cigarettes," said Stanton Glantz, director of the Center for Tobacco Control Research and Education at the University of California-San Francisco.

That approach didn't work, and efforts to reduce smoking didn't really have much success until advocates shifted their emphasis from changing individual behavior to community-based activism and holding cigarette manufacturers accountable for harmful products, Glantz said.

Could this be the same Stanton Glantz who said in 2006: "The whole slippery slope argument is fallacious"? It is.

As public health experts committed to stemming obesity study the history of the anti-tobacco movement and look to it for guidance, it is helpful to consider some key similarities and differences between these issues.

Yes. Let's piece it together. Firstly, there's the "think of the children" angle...

Preventing harm to young people is a central goal of both anti-tobacco and anti-obesity campaigns. "First, let's protect our children," said David Ludwig, a child obesity expert at Harvard Medical School

Secondly, we'll need some denormalisation:

Smoking rates have been cut by more than half, intolerance of smoking in public places is widespread, and anti-smoking policies are in place at hospitals, workplaces and venues across the country. Koplan is convinced the same shift in social norms is called for — and achievable — when it comes to childhood obesity.

Then we need an equivalent of secondhand smoke:

The American public was alarmed when it learned that the cigarette smoke that non-smokers breathed in airplanes, bars and restaurants was dangerous, and that no amount of second-hand smoke was safe.

"The notion that my behavior as a smoker can have an effect on you and can make you sick was critically important in accelerating people's intolerance of smoking and their willingness to see the government take action," said Michael Eriksen, director of the Institute of Public Health at Georgia State University.

There is no equivalent in the fight against obesity. "Your being obese does not affect me in the same direct way," Eriksen said.

Oh, but it does, squire. There is "passive obesity" and our old friend Robert Lustig is about to tell you about it.

The best argument might be that obesity consumes enormous health care resources, driving up the cost of medical care for everyone, suggested Robert Lustig, a professor of pediatrics and director of the Weight Assessment for Teen and Child Health Program at the University of California-San Francisco.

Finally, there is the essential prohibitionist trick of painting their crusade as being between "the people"—as represented by bossy, intolerant puritans and quacks—and Big Food/Big Tobacco.

"Some companies are making huge profits off obesity," said Stan Dorn, a senior fellow at the Urban Institute, a public policy research center in Washington, D.C., "and I worry that people who are focused on anti-obesity strategies aren't being tough enough on them."

However, there is an acknowledgement that there may be a few differences between the War on Food and the War on Tobacco.

"Tobacco we can get rid of entirely. We don't need it. It has no intrinsic value. But we have to eat to live and make terms with food as the enemy," said David Katz, director of Yale University's Prevention Research Center.

You've got to love the glib assertion that "we" can get rid of tobacco entirely, as if eradicating a plant that has grown for millions of years and is consumed by 1.2 billion people is a simple administrative matter—as if prohibition has such a glorious track record that the elimination of the world's second favourite drug is easy and imminent. But as much as I like that statement, I think I like the idea of food being "the enemy" even more. And that's not the only "enemy"...

Throughout most of history, humans lived in an environment where food was scarce and hard to get. As a result, we're primed, biologically, to eat food when it's available and "we're very good at storing calories and defending calories once we've got them," said Stephen Daniels, chair of the department of pediatrics at the University of Colorado School of Medicine. "In some ways, you could say that our biology is our own worst enemy when it comes to being overweight or obese."

If food and biology are your enemies and Robert Lustig and Stanton Glantz are your friends, you're probably mixing in the wrong circles. Interesting times ahead...

Friday 4 May 2012

Fake charity wants sweetie display ban

On the problems with tobacco display bans and plain packaging is that they are rooted in the idea that the very sight of a product constitutes advertising. This is very questionable logic, but it allows campaigners to demand that all tobacco branding be hidden from view.

As ever, what is good for the anti-smokers is good for single issue campaigners of any hue. It is logically inconsistent to remove tobacco from view while leaving other products - such as 'junk food' and alcohol - that cannot be advertised to children to remain on display.

This has not gone unnoticed by a fake charity called Sustain which is making moves in the direction of a sweetie display ban.

Our survey of 48 branches of fourteen national supermarkets and high street chains found that food was regularly displayed at the checkouts and in the queuing areas, and the vast majority of food promoted was unhealthy.

In many cases, the food was positioned to attract the attention of children – and was often within their reach – much to the annoyance of parents we asked.

One such wretched parent is quoted by the BBC:

Amanda Flint, a mother of four and supporter of the campaign, said: "Shopping with my kids is hard enough as it is. So to be subjected to rows of sweets and chocolates at the checkout is maddening. I want it to be easier to choose healthy options for my family."

You can surely guess where this is heading...

The history of campaigning on this issue suggests that retailers are unable or unwilling to stop voluntarily promoting junk food in their stores in this way. The Children’s Food Campaign is therefore calling for robust Government action to help parents and bring an end to this type of marketing of junk food to children.

Specifically, these state-funded activists want to see...

The Advertising Standards Authority should extend its remit to include in-store positioning of products and all point-of-sale marketing.

We call on the government to make removing unhealthy products from checkouts an integral part of its Responsibility Deal. 

It would be interesting to see what the ASA has to say about this. If the "positioning" of products is classed as advertising, it will give the government the power to dictate the layout of all shops—for the sake of the chiiildren, of course. And since the government has stupidly set the ball rolling by banning the advertising of so-called junk food to children, the only logical conclusion can be a ban on shops displaying sweets anywhere a child might see them—ie. everywhere—ultimately followed by plain packaging.

It is not the advertising of these products that the food faddists at Sustain find intolerable, but the products themselves. For them, a display ban at the point-of-sale would be step forward, but "the next logical step" would inevitably follow. And, in fairness to them, it is a perfectly logical and consistent progression now that the idiot politicians have decided that (a) children shouldn't see "unhealthy" food, and (b) it is appropriate for the state to intervene.

Let's get a few things straight before we continue down this slippery slope. Firstly, there is nothing—absolutely nothing—wrong with kids eating, letting alone seeing, sweets.

Secondly, there is no such thing as junk food. There may be junk diets, but food either has nutritional value or it does not. Sugar and salt are not only harmless, they are essential.

Thirdly, children generally don't buy their own food and if they have the sort of pathetic parents who buckle to "pester power", they are going to have bigger problems in life than being bought a bag of wine gums.

Fourthly, if you are the sort of parent who (as Sustain claim) finds the sight of sweets at the check-out annoying, may I suggest you fill in one of those comment forms the supermarkets so helpfully provide and do your shopping in a place that is more to your liking, preferably in a different hemisphere.

Fifthly, and most importantly, it is no business of the government how many sweets people eat or where a shopkeeper chooses to display them.

That is all.

Thursday 3 May 2012

Two debates

Liberal Democrat MP Stephen Williams has agreed to defend his government's plan to ban branded tobacco packaging at the Faculty of Arts, Bristol on May 10th (next Thursday). I'll be joined by Simon Clark (FOREST). I'm not sure who will be partnering Mr Williams. There is a Facebook page here if you're into that kind of thing, but you don't need to RSVP and tickets are free.

The following week, I'll be debating the War on Drugs with Peter Hitchens at the Institute of Economic Affairs, London. I think the War on Drugs is a Bad Thing. Peter doesn't think we've ever fought it in the first place. Should be fun. RSVP here.

Tuesday 1 May 2012

Putting vegans in charge of the chicken coop

The news from Scotland is, as usual, not good...

Alcohol licences rejected after warning from NHS over health concerns 

A supermarket and two independent retailers have had their alcohol licence application rejected after objections from the local health board.


Sainsbury’s wanted to open a new store in the Cowgate, Edinburgh as part of the development of a site which was destroyed by a fire in 2002. NHS Lothian warned the Edinburgh Licensing Board that granting the licence went against the protection of public health.

Are you kidding me? What kind of moron would give bureaucrats from the NHS the power to reject planning applications?

The Scottish Government have recently given health boards the chance to object to new licences.

Oh, sweet devolution. This is local option for the twenty-first century—the preferred halfway house for would-be prohibitionists since time immemorial.

New guidelines were introduced in Edinburgh in February to prevent overprovision.

If only there was some other way to prevent over (or under) provision. If only we had some sort of mechanism whereby 'supply' fluctuated to meet 'demand'. In such a system, businesses would carry out research into whether there was sufficient demand for their services before investing and would go bust if their research was wrong. We could call this system a market.

NHS Lothian is not in the least bit interested in letting grown adults buy what they want, especially if those adults are working class. This is a case of middle class hypocrites clamping down on the plebs. You think I exaggerate? Read this...

Earlier this year, Tesco avoided a ban by arguing that residents of Roseburn are healthy and middle class. They were given the go-ahead for a new licensed shop after a lawyer argued the residents of upmarket Roseburn were “bottle of wine on the way home” drinkers.

Wow. Rarely is fear and loathing of the proletariat made more explicit than this.

To help crack down on lenient licensing, Police were also asked to supply the board with evidence which showed there had been 85 crimes within a 50m radius of the proposed store between last month and the previous March 2011.

Well, duh. It's a rundown area in need of regeneration, which would have been provided by building a supermarket, cleaning up the area and creating jobs. None of which will happen now because some unelected mandarins at the NHS find it morally objectionable that supermarkets sell alcohol.

A concerned resident in the Cowgate, Catriona Grant, submitted a public objection to the board.

Our "concerned resident" wouldn't be this Catriona Grant by any chance?

Catriona Mary Grant (born 1969) is a founder member and former co-chair of the Scottish Socialist Party and the party's equalities spokesperson.

Oh yes. That's her.

So let me get this straight. A perfectly respectable supermarket chain has been prevented from opening a new shop because a socialist "avenger" objects to the existence of supermarkets and a bunch of self-styled public health experts don't like working people buying alcohol. What other outcome can there be when you hand power over to this rabble of unelectable reactionaries?

Do hurry up with that referendum please Mr Salmond.

A slight difference of opinion

A radio debate on Voice of Russia between myself, Amanda Sandford (ASH), Amul Pandya (Hands Off Our Packs) and Mark Littlewood (Institute of Economic Affairs).

The interview was undeniably, though inadvertently, slanted towards the friends of liberty because the fifth guest—a Russian anti-smoking lobbyist—failed to make telephone contact. However, I doubt whether Sandford's feeble pro-plain arguments would have carried any weight had she had a dozen supporters behind the mic.