Sunday 30 December 2012

Good riddance to 2012

A review of this lousy year in blog posts...


While Australian anti-smoking nuts proposed "foul-tasting cigarettes" and smoking licences, David Hockney responded to the miserable puritans with creativity and joie de vivre.

In the USA, perfume was called the "new secondhand smoke" and a Californian university banned people from possessing e-cigarettes on campus.

In Canada, the police took the 'quit-or-die' approach to absurd new heights when they refused to describe the appearance of a killer batch of Ecstasy in case it encouraged people to take Ecstasy.

Back in the UK, the anti-smoking "charity" ASH continued to be funded by the taxpayerCAMRA continued to stick its head in the sand and the British Medical Journal inadvertently showed that the smoking ban had no effect on the heart attack rate.


The Department of Health made its plans for the minimum pricing campaign while its sock puppets campaigned on its behalf. In the House of Commons, Sarah Wollaston MP repeated neo-temperance lies about the 'cost of alcohol'.

The humourous magazine Tobacco Control celebrated its 20th anniversary with an all-out push for prohibition. Meanwhile, a crank of a different hue wanted to 'abolish the food industry' and some unspeakable people in California declared sugar to be "toxic" (more about that here). The Adam Smith Institute published my short book about plain packaging.


In Australia, a simpleton claimed that counterfeiting cigarettes was the easiest thing in the entire world. Meanwhile, I nearly appeared on Newsnight for what turned out to be a hilariously one-sided discussion of minimum pricing. Elsewhere on the BBC, the pro-minimum pricing churnalism continued to pour forth (and forth) and Alcohol Concern kept the junk science coming.


The campaign for plain packaging gathered pace in the UK, mostly funded by the British taxpayer. Ill-informed self-publicist Dr Aseem Malhotra spread misinformation about obesity and I found a couple of documents from the 1980s which showed that the life-saving potential of snus had been recognised for many years (here and here).


While Californian fruitcakes started having a go at fruit juice and Britain's leading advocate of soda taxes announced that he was doing the Lord's workI debated drug prohibition with Peter Hitchens and argued about plain packaging with Gabriel Scally and Amanda Sandford. The Adam Smith Institute published The Wages of Sin Taxes.

One of Britain's countless fake charities called for a retail display ban for sweeties and ASH decided that everybody in the whole world was in the pay of Big Tobacco.


Following the anti-tobacco blueprint to the letter, British doctors demanded a ban on all broadcast advertising for booze and EU-funded temperance groups called for massive health warnings on bottles and cans. Meanwhile, the IEA published my report about government-funded lobby groups, Sock Puppets.

In the USA, the Zombie Apocalypse continued, with 'bath salts' being blamed for a bizarre cannibal attack. It later transpired that the assailant had not taken the drug.

Those who were interested in facts and logic had little to celebrate in 2012—the New Economic Foundation declared that Costa Rica was the happiest place to live—but some interesting graphs surfaced showing the amazing decline of heart disease in the UK and the reasons for the rise of 'non-communicable diseases' in the USA. Statistics also showed a clear correlation between visits to McDonalds and body weight. An inverse correlation, that is.


The horror of the Olympics began with a bit of politics in the opening ceremonyBritish 'public health professionals' demanded graphic warnings on alcohol and the British Medical Association hounded a retired doctor after he denounced their junk science.

Elsewhere, Michael Bloomberg continued to be unAmerican and Aseem Malhotra continued to be clueless.


While the UK's public consultation attracted a huge number of responses against the proposalTasmanian politicians contemplated the prohibition of tobacco. Also in Australia, a knee-jerk ban on alcopops had predictable consequences.


As a Scottish sock puppet supported its paymasters in government over the seemingly doomed minimum pricing scheme, politicians in Queensland decided to stop using taxpayers' money to fund lobby groups.

Panorama produced yet another commercial for minimum pricing. It was reported that housework reduces breast cancer risk. And the Australian government announced a cynical tax rise on cigarettes to make it look like plain packaging works.

The British Medical Journal published possibly the worst article of the year, a deeply authoritarian rant by the left-wing manchild Gerard Hastings which called for a dictatorship of public health. Meanwhile, it was quietly announced that inequality and 'poverty' had fallen sharply during the recession.


The Antipodes officially became a no-go area for sane people and UK politicians were proven to be appallingly ignorant. Meanwhile, Panorama admitted that they used very dodgy statistics and the New England Medical Journal suggested fining people for not having a gym membership.

In other news, the EU's health commissioner was investigated for corruption and sacked, and it was revealed that plain pack campaigners in the UK had been trying to corrupt the public consultation. The IEA published Drinking in the Shadow Economy.


While Australia's wowser-in-chief called for smokers to be registered, licensed and monitored, his fellow zealots extended plain packaging to fruit machines. Deluded bureaucrats decided behind closed doors that they would eliminate illicit tobacco, the hysteria about sugar continued and I gave six reasons why minimum pricing for alcohol should be rejected.


The Tobacco Products Directive gave e-cigarette and snus users another reason to want out of the EU and, in the year's most predictable news, a chap in Australia started selling stickers to cover up the graphic warnings on 'plain' packs. Equally predictably, the demagogues of public health demanded criminal sanctions against him. Also in Australia, a godawful public health professional suggested a return to food rationing as the 'next logical step'.

And finally, in today's Observer, Assem Malhora is at it once again, determined to treat the food industry like the tobacco industry. He even uses the phrase "Sugar is the new tobacco."

If there was ever any doubt that the campaign against smoking was a dress rehearsal for a wider crusade of puritanism and prohibition, those doubts were surely put to bed in 2012. The question for 2013 and, I fear, for many years to come, is how much more taxing, banning, lying and demonising will society permit before a line is drawn.

Thursday 27 December 2012

No To Plain Packs signatures were genuine, admits DoH

From The Times...

Imperial Tobacco ‘did not fake campaign signatures’

Imperial Tobacco was asked by the Government to prove that thousands of postcards opposing plain packaging on cigarette packets were not fakes after questions were raised over the similarity of the handwriting.

The world’s fourth-largest tobacco manufacturer was asked by the Department of Health to inspect 4,900 signed postcards, correspondence obtained by The Times under the Freedom of Information Act shows.

... Imperial has now inspected the postcards and said: “We were able to confirm that we were fully satisfied of their genuine nature.

“The Department of Health has subsequently agreed and confirmed that the responses will be considered as part of the ongoing consultation process.” It added that there had in total been about half a million responses to the consultation expressing views against plain packaging.

The department confirmed that it was now satisfied with the postcards.

Jolly good. That's all sorted then. However, as Tim Worstall says...

But note that no queries were made over the responses in favour of plain packaging...

Indeed. After all, there is good reason to suspect foul play on the part of the pro-plain pack supporters. Let's remind ourselves of the round robin e-mail sent by the quasi-academic UK Centre for Tobacco Control Studies back in summer.

You can only vote once on each petition, but I would seriously doubt that there will be cross checking between charity petitions so it may be worth signing all of them to get your money's worth!

How blatant does the corruption have to be before these people are investigated?

Monday 24 December 2012

Bonfire of the fake charities

An early Christmas present to us all from the Department for Communities and Local Government, which has released a document titled 50 Ways to Save: Examples of sensible savings in local government. At number 37 we find this...

37. Cease funding ‘sock puppets’ and ‘fake charities’: Many pressure groups - which do not deliver services or help the vulnerable - are now funded by state bodies. In turn, these nominally ‘independent’ groups lobby and call for more state regulation and more state funding.

A 2009 survey found that £37 million a year was spent on taxpayer-funded lobbying and political campaigning across the public sector. Many of these causes may be worthy, but why should they be funded by taxpayers? Councils should also review their memberships to regional quangos and membership bodies: such residual regional structures are redundant following the abolishing of Regional Development Agencies, Government Offices for the Regions and unelected Regional Assemblies.

Ho, ho, ho!

Friday 21 December 2012

What's got into Private Eye?

Why is Private Eye so reluctant to believe that an EU Commissioner could be involved in corruption?

Last month I mentioned the piss-poor report the magazine ran about snusgate. For those who don't know, EU Health Commissioner John Dalli has been sacked and is under investigation by the EU's anti-corruption body Olaf. He is suspected of being involved in an attempt to solicit a €60 million bribe from the snus manufacturer Swedish Match in return for overturning the EU-wide ban on oral tobacco. Private Eye has made the lame insinuation that Olaf itself is corrupt, on the basis that the tobacco industry gives money to the EU to clamp down on tobacco smuggling and that some of this money probably "filters down" to Olaf. Therefore Olaf, er, falsely accused Dalli because, er, the tobacco industry wanted him out of the way so that, er, oh, I don't know... It's a half-baked conspiracy theory with no evidence to back it up.

The original article was littered with basic factual mistakes and made allegations that even the most emotional anti-smoking headbangers have not made. I was therefore surprised to see it rehashed in the current issue (see below—click top enlarge).

The dilemma for the conspiracy theorists is that since the first Private Eye story was published it has become clear that the sacking of Dalli has made absolutely no difference to the Tobacco Products Directive which was released on time and unchanged. To get around this problem—and to establish some sort of motive for why the anti-fraud office would suddenly risk everything to unseat an innocent man—the Eye brings plain packaging into the mix (which was not mentioned in its original story and is not part of the Tobacco Products Directive)...

Having secured the dismissal of EU health commissioner John Dalli with a damning dossier, "Big Tobacco" squashed any threat of a new European directive forcing firms to sell their poison in plain packaging.

Once again, the Eye focuses on the extremely tenuous financial link between Olaf and the tobacco industry:

Questions must be asked as to the independence of the EU investigators at OLAF, the anti-fraud section of the EU. Four Big Tobacco firms had agreed to fund the EU with $1.96bn to combat smuggling and other crimes. Some of this vast sum will have filtered down to OLAF, whose fraudbusters ended up investigating health commissioner Dalli's links with a tobacco lobbyist in his native Malta. This led to him being fired before a new directive on plain packaging could be pushed through.

That would be a great motive if it weren't for the fact that plain packaging was never part of the Tobacco Products Directive and John Dalli said as much when he was still in the job back in April...

Dalli said: “We want to reduce the attractiveness of smoking. Packaging can help in this regard but the European Commission doesn’t want to go as far as Australia, where cigarette packets must be completely plain.”

It would be jolly exciting if there was some grand conspiracy behind the Dalli sacking, but there is not a shred of evidence to support Private Eye's hunch. The magazine would make a more impressive case if it didn't keep making a Horlicks of easily verifiable facts. For example, it refers to snus as "gum", it has talked about a non-existent European smoking ban, it wrongly refers to Dalli's Maltese acquaintance as a "tobacco lobbyist", it refers to a JTI court case which ended months ago as if it were ongoing and it gets JTI's argument in that case completely the wrong way around. As a regular reader of Private Eye, it makes me wonder how much rubbish I've taken on trust from the esteemed organ over the last twenty years.

The least a decent conspiracy theory requires is a credible motive, but if you ask "cui bono?" about the Dalli sacking, the answer is clearly not the tobacco industry since the Tobacco Products Directive gives them 75% graphic warnings, a continuing snus ban, a ban on menthol, a de facto ban on new reduced-risk products and a vast array of petty regulations regarding pack sizes, additives, cigarette lengths and much else besides. Moreover, the only evidence the Eye can find for Dalli's innocence is (a) the EU gets money from the tobacco industry to combat smuggling, (b) some of Dalli's friends say he is innocent, and (c) Dalli says he is innocent.

On the other hand, there is plenty of evidence that Dalli's acquaintance solicited the €60 million bribe and Olaf says there is "unambiguous circumstantial evidence" that Dalli knew about the approach. It would hardly be the first time an EU Commissioner had engaged in corrupt behaviour, so why is the Eye so unwilling to believe that the obvious explanation is the real explanation?

Tuesday 18 December 2012

Why snus will stay banned

Tomorrow sees the release of the EU's Tobacco Products Directive. Despite overwhelming real-world evidence that snus has helped Sweden achieve the lowest smoking rate—and the lowest lung cancer rate—in Europe, the snus ban will remain in place.

Why? This document from the EU's Committee on the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety gives a short and honest answer:

We very much welcome that the prohibition of Snus outside Sweden will be maintained. Especially in this case it would be very harmful for the credibility of the European Institutions if the current rules would be liberalized.

That's the important thing, eh? We wouldn't want the EU to damage its credibility by admitting it made a mistake.

Shame on them.

(H/T Clive Bates)

One more time: Smokers' healthcare costs are lower

If I've said it once, I've said it a thousand times: smokers (and fatties) do not place an extra burden on the health service. Numerous studies have confirmed this, most recently this from the NEJM and now this from BMJ Open:

Results Smoking was associated with a greater mean annual healthcare cost of €1,600 per living individual during follow-up. However, due to a shorter lifespan of 8.6 years, smokers’ mean total healthcare costs during the entire study period were actually €4,700 lower than for non-smokers. For the same reason, each smoker missed 7.3 years (€126,850) of pension. Overall, smokers’ average net contribution to the public finance balance was €133,800 greater per individual compared with non-smokers.

But there is one way to show that there is a much greater 'cost' of smoking...

However, if each lost quality adjusted life year is considered to be worth €22,200, the net effect is reversed to be €70,200 (€71,600 when adjusted with propensity score) per individual in favour of non-smoking.

Yes, if you give a year of life an arbitrary value (why €22,200? Why not €2.2 million? Why not €22?), you can easily increase the 'cost'. That would be an intangible cost and they account for a large proportion of the final amount in many 'cost of smoking/drinking/eating' studies. It should be clear, however, that these are not real costs—ie. they are not monetary; nobody needs to pay them. And insofar as they are costs at all, they are costs to the individual who smokes/drinks/eats—ie. they are not externalities; they cannot be a 'burden' on society. Moreover, they are plainly not costs to the health service.

Therefore, the only effect of smoking on a society's healthcare costs is to lower them...

Conclusions Smoking was associated with a moderate decrease in healthcare costs, and a marked decrease in pension costs due to increased mortality.

The supposed healthcare costs of smoking/drinking/eating are the most commonly-cited justification for getting the government to tell people how to live. Look at the comments on the 'let's ration food' article I mentioned yesterday, for example. People will often say something along the lines of "I don't mind people smoking/drinking/eating themselves to death so long as I don't have to pay for their lifestyle choices".

I have lost count of the number of times I have explained to such people that the negative externalities they are referring to do not exist. Although they usually understand and accept the findings of studies such as the one above, they never change their mind about wanting to tell people how to live, which makes me think that perhaps their concern for healthcare costs was only ever an excuse in the first place.

I've written about this before in 'Is the nanny state caused by socialised healthcare?'

Monday 17 December 2012

Slip sliding away

The Guardian reports that the Tobacco Products Directive due to be released on Wednesday will allow "plain packaging by the backdoor" by mandating graphic warnings over 75% of a pack's surface.

Andrew Langford, CEO of the British Liver Trust, wasted no time in spotting the obvious implication for the temperance troops...

I'm sure they will, Andrew. I'm sure they will.


Graphic warnings on 75% of a bottle of beer? Yes please, says the (taxpayer-funded) British Liver Trust.

Rationing: The next logical step

From the plain packing, sticker-hating, sunbed-banning, speech-restricting madhouse of Australia comes some characteristically freedom-loving new ruses to deal with the obesity "epidemic".

The policies and public health strategies that we have implemented are proving inadequate for controlling the global epidemic of obesity.

Peer-reviewed policies from the finest minds in public health are inadequate? Say it ain't so!

An effective approach may be for governments to implement radical policy change – regulate food consumption and control the food industry in a similar way to the tobacco industry.

But...but...tobacco is a "unique product". You swore that this kind of "slippery slope" would never happen.

Oh well, guess we were fooled agin. So what's the plan now?

  • higher taxes on fast foods. 
  • Local government tax revenue on fat- and sugar-dense foods could be used to provide subsidies for fruits and vegetables
  • pricing strategies to promote purchases of healthier foods increasing the availability and lowering the cost of foods that are low in fat and less energy-dense 
  • banning fast-food advertising on the television, radio, and mass media, and with sport increasing social marketing of healthy foods requiring manufacturers to put health warnings, and use traffic-light labels on selected foods and drinks 
  • providing financial incentives to manufacturers and food outlets to sell smaller portion sizes 
  • and rationing the purchase of selected foods.

There is a lot to make the jaw drop here, but let's focus on that last gem.

During the second world war (1939–1945), the British government introduced food rationing with a point system in every household. Everyone was allocated a number of points a month and certain food items, such as meat, fish, biscuits, sugar, fats, and tea, were rationed.

Every adult was given a total of 16 points a month and could choose how to spend these points. Special supplements were available for young children, pregnant women, and people with certain diseases. Wartime food shortages and government directives forced people to adopt different eating patterns. They ate considerably less meat, eggs, and sugar than they do today. [No shit!—CJS]

Rationing was enforced in Britain for 14 years, and continued after the war had ended. Meat was finally derationed in June 1954. Petrol was also rationed, so people stopped buying and using cars, and public transport was limited. There was no “obesity epidemic” [nor had there ever been—CJS] as food supply and travel was limited, meaning people ate less and did more physical exercise (walking).

Interestingly, during the years when rationing was enforced, the prevalence of obesity was negligible in the United Kingdom. And waste was minimised as both individuals and government agencies were busy finding new ways of reducing the waste of food resources to a minimum (sustainable consumption).

Is it conceivable that some form of food rationing and portion control may help address the dramatic rise in obesity and the sustainability of our foods supply? If we continue to over-consume foods in unsustainable ways for both our health and our planet, we may be left with no other choice.

Once again, I find it almost impossible to summon up the words to describe the policies of Australia's public health establishment (the author of this piece is the director of Canberra's Centre for Research & Action in Public Health). I'm tempted to say that I warned you this would happen, but that would be untrue.

Student of the slippery slope though I am, I never thought that someone would seriously suggest that the government should introduce war-time restrictions on food in response to people being chubby. What an interesting place Australia is these days.

Friday 14 December 2012

EU wants to stamp out e-cigarettes

On December 19th, the European Commission will present a draft of the Tobacco Product Directive. A leaked copy has been circulating for several months and I have finally gotten hold of the page that is relevant to e-cigarettes. As I reported in September, it's not good news.

3.7 Nicotine containing products (NCP)

NCP fall outside the scope of Directive 2001/37/EC and Member States have so far taken different regulatory approaches to address these products, including regulating them as medicinal products, applying certain provisions that are used for tobacco products or having no specific legislation.

The proposal stipulates that NCP that either have a nicotine level exceeding 2mg, a nicotine concentration exceeding 4mg per ml or whose intended use results in a mean maximum peak plasma concentration exceeding 4 mg per ml may be placed on the market only if they have been authorised as medicinal products on the basis of their quality, safety and efficacy, and with a positive risk/benefit balance. NCP with nicotine levels below this threshold can be sold as consumer products provided they feature an adopted health warning. The nicotine threshold identified in this proposal has been established by considering the nicotine content of medicinal products (Nicotine Replacement Therapies, NRTs) for smoking cessation which have already received market authorisation under the medicinal products' legislation.

The proposal removes current legislation divergence between Member States and the differential treatment between Nicotine Replacement Therapies and Nicotine Containing Products, increases legal certainty and consolidates the on-going development in Member States. It also encourages research and innovation in smoking cessation with the aim of maximising health gains. Given the novelty and rapid increase of the NCP market as well as their addictive and toxic character there is an urgency to act, before more people—unaware of the content and effects of these products—inadvertently develop a nicotine addiction.

Where NCP below the identified threshold are allowed, the labelling requirement set out in this proposal will better inform consumers about the health risks associated with the products.

To all intents and purposes, this amounts to a de facto ban on e-cigarette use. Typical nicotine content in e-cigarette juice is around 10mg and it often goes up to 18mg and beyond. It needs to be at this level to work as an effective substitute for smoking. E-cig juice of 4mg or lower would be virtually useless. (The draft Directive would not ban the hardware of e-cigarettes and so a black market in medium and high nicotine juice is conceivable.)

The option for e-cigarettes to be clinically tested as medicinal devices is available. Aside from the fact that they are not medicinal devices, this process would take years and would cost millions of pounds. E-cigarettes would have to be off the market during that period and the anti-tobacco extremists, along with the pharmaceutical industry, would work hard to make sure they did not return. There is no guarantee that science would guide the decision to prohibit or legalise, to put it mildly. Snus clearly has "a positive risk/benefit balance" but that has not prevented its prohibition.

As reported this week, the Directive will also uphold the snus ban (except in Sweden, which now has the lowest rates of smoking and lung cancer in Europe).

The Commission proposes a ban on the sale of tobacco for oral use and to uphold the current ban on snus (moist tobacco, which is consumed by placing it under the upper lip) in all European countries except Sweden, which has a specific derogation in its accession treaty.

The Directive will ban all flavourings and will also mandate standardised packaging. Not quite plain packaging but, with 75% of the pack to be covered in graphic health warnings, not far off. (Expect the state-funded anti-smoking agitators to feign outrage and demand full plain packs.)

The Commission ... wants packs to be rectangular in shape (no round edges) and to contain at least 20 cigarettes. Health warnings should cover 75% of the front and back of packs (and be positioned at the top edge of the unit packet) and 50% of rolling tobacco packs.

The question is why has a Directive that was drafted by a sacked health commissioner who is under investigation for corruption been rushed out, apparently unchanged? (This could be a clue.) If Dalli was involved in soliciting bribes from the snus industry, how can the EC be sure he did not solicit bribes from other industries who stand to gain from the Directive? Dalli is discredited and the Directive is tainted with corruption.

Sweden's Trade Minister has threatened 'all out war' over the snus issue. It's likely that the UK will get an in-out referendum on EU membership in the next few years and at least one Southern European state will probably have to withdraw from the EU in the near future. With a bit of luck, the European project will collapse before the Tobacco Products Directive can do too much harm to the health of the continent.

(Read more about the Dalli case here. His pal Zammit has now confessed to soliciting a bribe from Swedish Match. As a commentator points out, if he was acting alone "what was he planning to do then, grab the 60 million and hide for ever since he was powerless to do anything to reverse the tobacco directive himself?")

Bill stickers will be prosecuted!

This stickers-for-plain-packs farrago is getting better and better. According to the International Business Times, the Napoleonic mandarins of the Australian Medical Association think that any attempt to undermine their petty little law must, by definition, be illegal. Ipso facto, the government must close down the company and stop it selling, er, stickers.

The Australian Medical Association (AMA) has urged on the Australian federal government to immediately put a stop to the company and its marketing blitz because its end goal is to hide the health warnings on tobacco boxes, which runs against the law's very purpose which is to educate the people of the ill effects of smoking.

"Those graphic health warnings are there for a very important reason. Over a million Australians have died because they smoked, but I think covering up those health warnings, I think the Federal Government is going to act very quickly and ban those products," Steve Hambleton, AMA president, said.

"It is just morally wrong for a business to profit from selling items in relation to goods that are lethal when you use them as the manufacturer intended."

This is what happens when you let 'public health' zealots run roughshod over a country.  So successfully have they pushed the hapless Gillard government around that they now demand their every whim be backed up with state force.

Yes, the stickers are intended to cover up the enormous graphic images on the misleadingly named 'plain' packs. However, both the packs and the stickers are private property. Unless Australia's nightmarish supernanny state has descended into full-blown fascism more quickly than I expected, it is not yet illegal to place one piece of private property over another.

Nor is it illegal to sell something that a handful of obsessives regard as "morally wrong", even if it can be used "in relation to" something that they really hate. You can, for example, sell bongs and large cigarette papers despite these items being purchased almost exclusively for the purpose of using illegal drugs. And we are not talking about consuming illegal drugs here. We are talking about obscuring a photograph in the comfort of one's home.

To prohibit a harmless product based on speculation as to what the purchaser might do with it would set off the klaxon of tyranny. Like so much news coming from Down Under these days, it defies belief that educated people in a civilised society would suggest such a thing. The conclusion I draw is that the demagogues of the Australian Medical Association are not civilised people and are not fit to live in a free society (not that they have any desire to do so). It is they, and not the smokers, who should be denormalised.

You can't win

This, from The Guardianreminds us that no matter what happens in 'public health', the future is always gloomy and something must always be done.

Wednesday 12 December 2012

You really didn't see this coming?

06:41am December 12, 2012 reports the following:

Company's answer to plain packaging laws

A GOLD Coast company has done what the tobacco industry could not -- cover up the confronting images on new plain-packaged cigarettes.

Box Wraps, based at Yatala, will today unveil a range of designs for a purpose-built sticker that wraps around cigarette packets in seconds.

You'd have to be simple not to have predicted this (Simon Chapman said it would never happen, natch). Plain packaging was always going to create commercial opportunities for those who make covers, stickers and cigarette cases. The only thing more predictable than this industry emerging is what the nanny state's response would be—and it took them less than 12 hours...

05:17pm December 12, 2012

Brisbane Times reports the following...

AMA wants stickers back in their box

The Australian Medical Association has urged the federal government to ban stickers being sold to wrap around cigarette packets to sidestep tobacco plain packaging laws.

These people really only have one tune, don't they? Good luck banning stickers, guys.

The company's website, which sells the stickers on a subscription basis from $1.75, crashed under the demand this morning.



Quite incredibly, from the pen of Stanton Glantz...

I normally do not comment on Mike Siegel's blog because he has long since lost all credibility with me as a scientist.


That would be the same Stanton Glantz who said only a few days ago...

"About 44% of all adolescents smoking in the U.S. today are estimated to have been recruited by smoking in movies."

Fortunately the innumerate mechanical engineer of Ban Francisco who has spent the last thirty years pretending to be a doctor has never had any credibility to lose.

Tuesday 11 December 2012

David Nutt on drugs

David Nutt has been writing about drugs in The Guardian again. As usual, his ostensibly pro-liberalisation article is mainly an anti-alcohol polemic.

There are several reasons for people choosing to try drugs. For "legal" drugs particularly alcohol and tobacco that most people find unpleasant to start with, the choice to use is largely driven by fashion, manifesting through peer pressure. With alcohol, the drinks industry has marketed less aversive mixtures (alcopops) to help people overcome the taste of alcohol. It also engages in massive sexually orientated advertising to induce use, much of this illegally targeted at underage drinkers via social media sites.

Nutt has bought the traditional temperance/anti-smoking line that people do things because those fiendish advertisers tell them to. There hasn't been any tobacco advertising in this country for a decade, of course, and people were drinking heartily in Merrie Olde England long before the advertising industry was born, but Nutt ignores all that because it doesn't fit his argument. Illegal drugs: good. Legal drugs: bad. (And why does he put the word 'legal' in scare quotes in the first line?)

In the UK last year half of all 15- to 16-year-olds were intoxicated on alcohol at least once a month, despite the drinking age being 18. This behaviour is de facto "illegal" though the government turns a blind eye, which means that many are addicted to alcohol before they are able to legally purchase it.

I don't know where the factoid about 15-16 year olds comes from—it sounds a little more sensational than the data I've seen in recent years—let alone the claim that "many" people are addicted to alcohol before they turn 18. Leaving that aside, it is not illegal for 15 and 16 year olds to drink. It is perfectly legal, de facto and de jure, for them to consume alcohol and so naturally the government "turns a blind eye."

But if people drink because of peer pressure, marketing and "fashion" (it's been in fashion for a very long time now, hasn't it?), why do people take drugs? The clue is in the headline 'Drugs are taken for pleasure – realise this and we can start to reduce harm'.

In some cases illicit drug-taking is about challenging authority, but in most cases it's about psychological exploration, often driven by positive comments and encouragement from friends.

"Driven by positive comments and encouragement from friends" sounds very much like "peer pressure" to me, but "peer pressure" has negative connotations and so the professor only uses it in reference to the demon drink. Where now is Nutt's outrage at the state's failure to stop people taking drugs? Only a few sentences earlier he was bemoaning the government's tendency to turn a blind eye to young people breaking a law that does not actually exist. One does need to be Peter Hitchens to see that the Misuse of Drugs Act could be more rigorously enforced when it comes to petty possession, so why does Nutt not demand tougher sanctions? Could it be because upholding the law is not, in fact, his real aim?

Moreover, does it not also make sense to view underage drinking and smoking as a way of "challenging authority"? Apparently not, because the teenager drinking at a party is a victim of the advertising industry whereas the teenage amphetamine user is a brave challenger of authority on a psychological journey.

What muddle-headed, starry-eyed nonsense this is. People take drugs for exactly the same reason they smoke and drink—because they offer a shortcut to pleasure through chemistry. How dispiriting it is that one of the country's best known (putative) liberalisers regurgitates rhetoric from the neo-prohibitionists (and, indeed, the classical prohibitionists). The whole point of an evidence-based drugs policy is that you leave prejudice and cultural baggage at the door. This is what Nutt claims to do in his work and yet his emotional involvement in the issue prevents him from doing so.

If this is a liberaliser, give me a prohibitionist.

Friday 7 December 2012

Letter to Brussels

Blogging's rather light at the moment as my real writing takes precedence, but if you haven't read Clive Bates latest missive to the EU, you should: European Union making bad policy on nicotine – five ways to make it better

Clive also mentions something in the comments which got me thinking:

It is interesting to consider if the smokers’ class actions of the future might be directed at Commission officials, politicians and European health groups who conspired to deny them much safer alternatives, with full knowledge of the relative risks, addictiveness of tobacco, and plenty of scientific advice showing that they knew or should have known the harm reduction benefits of these products.

How sweet the irony would be.

On a different note, I participated in a debate on the Voice of Russia about minimum pricing on Monday. I haven't listened back to it, but it seems quite lively at the time. Other guests were from the Scottish Whisky Association, British Liver Trust and UK Faculty for Public Health. Here it is...