Sunday 29 December 2013

Drugs have not been legalised, Mr Hitchens, but they should be

In the Mail on Sunday, Peter Hitchens has repeated his claim that drugs have been effectively legalised in Britain. The article - titled 'You can't prosecute Nigella - cocaine's been legalised' - offers as Exhibit A the fact that Nigella Lawson is unlikely to be prosecuted for her self-confessed use of cocaine and cannabis.

...the courts and the politicians who stand behind [the police] finally admit the truth about their drugs policy.

It is a great big, stinking lie. They have legalised the use of cannabis and cocaine (and of heroin too). The supposed laws against drug possession are not enforced unless the police are absolutely compelled to do so by the persistence or stupidity of the offender.

I am not quite sure what the legal basis for a prosecution would be in this case. I suspect that an admission of drug-taking, even under oath, would not be sufficient to prosecute someone for possession. I think that drugs would have to be found on the person by a police officer. Be that as it may, I am pleased that she will not be prosecuted for her victimless crime and I hope that nobody else is prosecuted for such an offence ever again. Hitchens, on the other hand, believes that nobody should take drugs and that far fewer people would do so if the laws were enforced more vigorously.

Hitchens' view of drug prohibition is much the same as the Anti-Saloon League's view of alcohol prohibition in the late 1920s - that it could still work if only the police made an example of people by flinging them into jail.

I don't believe that such an approach will work. Indeed, it manifestly has not worked in countries such as Russia, Iran and the USA which have pursued the war on drugs with single-minded ferocity. (Hitchens would, I expect, find reasons to say that none of these countries have prosecuted the war on drugs to his satisfaction either. When I once asked him which country - aside from Maoist China - had properly enforced drug prohibition, he offered Sweden, a country which actually does the opposite of what he wants by treating drug use as a medical problem and rarely sending offenders to prison.)

Britain's failure to lock up every petty drug user does not mean that there is no prohibition or that drugs are legal. I realise that Mr Hitchens has no control over his headline writer, and on this occasion he limits his claims of legalisation to the consumption and possession of drugs, but he has repeatedly stated that there is no prohibition of drugs in this country. As the blurb of his book on the subject states...

Whatever and whoever is to blame for the undoubted mess of Britain's drug policy, it is not 'prohibition' or a 'war on drugs', for neither exists.

Since the term "the war on drugs" has no definition, it is rather pointless arguing about whether Britain has been fighting such a war. I am happy to agree with Hitchens when he says that those caught in possession of small quantities of controlled substances are rarely punished to the full extent of the law. Alex Massie recently provided figures showing that convictions for drug offences are very common, but if Hitchens wants to argue that there are too many cautions and too few custodial sentences for it to be a true "war" then I am prepared to concede that point.

But words like "prohibition", "decriminalisation" and "legalisation" do have clear definitions and Hitchens does the debate a disservice by switching between them so casually. According to the 18th Amendment, "prohibition" meant that the sale, import and manufacture of alcohol was illegal. The consumption and home production of alcohol was not. The UK's current drug laws are, therefore, more draconian than were the laws against alcohol during Prohibition. Hitchens' claim that there is no prohibition of drugs today rests on the assertion that the police do not arrest people for doing things that were never illegal under Prohibition - an assertion that is untrue in any case.

Hitchens says that the laws are barely enforced and that therefore the prohibition is meaningless. If it was true that people caught with drugs for personal use were rarely, if ever, prosecuted, there would indeed be de facto decriminalisation. It would not, however, mean that there was no prohibition, nor would it mean that drugs were de facto legal. Their sale, import and manufacture would still be illegal, and even Hitchens does not claim that drug barons, drug mules and drug dealers are let off with a slap on the wrist.

This is more than an argument about semantics. By asserting that drugs have been effectively legalised, Hitchens sidesteps one of the main weaknesses in his argument. Legalisers like myself argue for repeal of the drug laws not because we think it will result in fewer people taking drugs (we don't), but because the current prohibition puts drug users at unnecessary risks from unregulated and adulterated substances. Moreover, it has created a vast crime wave, from the thieving smackhead to the Mexican drug lord. None of this will be alleviated by decriminalisation (ie. legalising the possession of drugs for personal use), let alone by the de facto decriminalisation that Hitchens claims - wrongly - is in existence in the UK today.

Having convinced himself that there is no prohibition, Hitchens can breezily dismiss the harmful effects of prohibition (for if there is no prohibition, how can it have any effects?) Instead, he attributes the damage wrought by prohibition to the failure of policy-makers and police officers to pursue a war on drugs (a war that could not be effectively fought without resorting to the apparatus of a police state).

Meanwhile, another batch of unregulated pills masquerading as Ecstasy claimed their first victim yesterday. These 'Speckled Rolex' pills are not to be confused with the PMA pills - also sold as Ecstasy - which have killed 23 people this year. None of these people would have died if drugs were regulated, manufactured and sold in a legitimate and legal market.

(You can watch me debating this subject with Peter Hitchens at the IEA here.)

Slip slidin' away

From the New York Post...

Why government should regulate food like tobacco and alcohol

If you thought Mayor Bloomberg’s soda and trans-fat bans were over-the-top, better hope Deborah A. Cohen doesn’t get her way. The RAND scientist and author of the new book “A Big Fat Crisis,” thinks that the nannying doesn’t go far enough — that the desperate obesity epidemic requires desperate measures.

If Cohen had her way, we’d say sayonara to office vending machines; servers would have to undergo training on the cancer risks of hot dogs; and we would tax junk food the same way we do cigarettes. The government would regulate cronut shops like it does liquor stores and the surgeon general would plaster candy bars with graphic health warnings.

“How many mothers would pack children’s lunch bags with bologna sandwiches if the package had a symbol indicating that frequent consumption of bologna is associated with an increased risk of cancer?” she writes.

When, when, when will this madness end?

Since “it is unlikely that human nature is going to change anytime soon,” Cohen believes that “government actions will be necessary to stop obesity and related chronic diseases.”

Basing her suggestions on how our country has handled alcohol and tobacco use, Cohen offers a “more balanced environment where individuals can automatically make healthy decisions.”

These include:

  • A standardization of portion sizes. Like we do with alcohol (a glass of wine is always 5 ounces, for example), there should be “portions uniform across all food establishments” and all food “must be available in single portions.”
  •  A revamp of grocery stores. They’d be much smaller and have shorter hours of operation, which would “require people to make a greater effort to plan their shopping and could reduce the frequency of impulse shopping.”
  • To further reduce impulsivity, checkout candy displays would be relocated to lower-traffic mid-store aisles.
  • Getting rid of doughnuts shops. Like we do with liquor stores, Cohen advocates for reducing the per-capita number of stores that sell junk food. “Why not do the same to limit the number of outlets that primarily sell food that is associated with chronic diseases, like doughnut shops, candy stores and ice-cream parlors? How many of those do we really need?” she writes. In fact, she believes that candy sales should be banned at all non-food places, like gas stations, retail stores and pharmacies.
  •  A tax on junk food. Taking a cue from tobacco and booze taxes, “similarly, increasing the price of foods most strongly associated with the risk of obesity and other chronic diseases could lead to reductions in consumption,” she says. Plus, the money levied could go to defraying health-care costs associated with obesity.
  • A warning label on junk food. “We could create symbols that let consumers know which foods increase the risk of heart disease and other chronic diseases,” she writes. She imagines them “vivid, graphic” and “easily visible right at the point of purchase.”

I've said it before and I'll say it again: We're all smokers now. Get used to it.

Tuesday 24 December 2013

Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas and what have you. Here's a very short piece I penned for City AM last week.

Ah, Christmas. The season of good will. Who could complain about getting a load of presents and having a few days off work? Me, that’s who. Yes, the December shopping splurge is good for retailers, but only by selling products that people would never buy for themselves (we flock to the shops on Boxing Day to compensate).

Every year, economic activity effectively comes to a halt between 20 December and 3 January. That terrible no man’s land between Christmas and New Year is filled with domestic tedium for those who stay at home, or a graveyard shift for those who make it in to the office. And while it’s nice to have a break, no reasonable person would choose to have a holiday in the middle of winter when everybody else is off work, clogging up the motorways and jamming the pubs.

A pox on Christmas and all who celebrate it.

And if you think that's a gloomy yuletide message, check out the Guardian's festive articles about rationing, homeless drug addicts and alcoholism. Actually, don't.

Monday 23 December 2013

The EU's 'lifestyle policy'

A paper has just been published online by Alberto Alemanno and Amandine Garde titled 'The Emergence of an EU Lifestyle Policy: The Case of Alcohol, Tobacco and Unhealthy Diets'. One of the few things I like about the EU is that they call 'public health' what it is: 'lifestyle regulation' and this is a fine example of it.

Did any of the member states who joined the EEC expect it to lead to an international 'lifestyle policy'? I doubt it, but we're going to get it anyway. The message of the Alemanno and Garde paper is that fundamental EU rights don't apply when public health/lifestyle regulation is involved. They claim that regulation is "more pressing than ever" as a result of non-communicable diseases (NCDs).

NCDs account for nearly 86% of deaths and 77% of the disease burden in Europe.

That's not enough. The target should be 100%. People should be dying of non-communicable diseases. It's the communicable diseases that need to be avoided. Insofar as 'public health' has a legitimate purpose, it is to protect the public from communicable diseases. The fact that it now focuses on the complete opposite shows how confused and obsolete it is. 2008, 36 of the 57 million deaths globally (63%) were attributed to NCDs

Why do you think mortality from NCDs is lower in the rest of the world than in Europe? Because most of the rest of the world isn't as healthy and doesn't live as long. NCD incidence rises as life expectancy rises. That's a good thing.

By recognizing NCDs as largely preventable, the [World Health] Assembly urged the international community to take action at global, regional and national levels to prevent and control their surge.

But they are not "largely preventable". Can the Assembly really believe such a thing or were they just lobbied by a bunch of fruitcake NGOs to set targets that can only be met by spreading contagious diseases?

Be under no illusion, nobody dies of old age in clinical terms. Even Auntie Nora who died in bed at 103 technically died from a respiratory or circulatory disease, ie. an NCD. Trying to prevent NCDs per se (as opposed to preventing them below a certain age) is simply absurd. As I wrote in Spiked last year, it gives the lifestyle regulators "what every trigger-happy army general wants: a war without end."

I'm sure you can guess where the lifestyle regulators are focusing their attentions...

To this end it recommended the adoption of a ‘regulatory mix’ of cost-effective, population-wide interventions to reduce the impact of the four main NCD-risk factors, namely tobacco use, the harmful use of alcohol, unhealthy diets and lack of physical activity

As usual, smoking is seen as the blueprint to be replicated.

...exposure to tobacco prevents the fulfilment of the right to health, as well as several health-related rights, including the right to life, the right to a clean environment and the right to information. Tobacco control measures are intended to implement the commitments of public authorities to respect, protect and fulfil these rights. This argument could be extended to cover other NCD risk factors such as alcoholic beverages and unhealthy food. 
...the case law developed thus far may be extended by analogy beyond tobacco to justify EU actions in areas such as the fight against harmful use of alcohol and unhealthy diets.

...the EU tends to be in a better position than Member States to regulate the composition, labelling and presentation of products such as tobacco, food and alcoholic beverages that are traded extensively across borders within the EU. Hence, the broad range of measures that the EU has adopted on the content, labelling or packaging of tobacco and food products. Further EU measures could be envisaged to regulate the labelling of alcoholic beverages, to mandate the plain packaging of tobacco products or to ban the use of trans-fats in foods

This roll out was predicted by libertarians for years. It is now undeniable.

The Commission has – to date – failed to explain why the market for alcoholic beverages should be treated so distinctly from the market for tobacco products

Er, the usual reason—given by those nice, honest anti-smoking campaigners, no less—is that tobacco is a 'unique product' and that there is no 'slippery slope', but I guess that's all forgotten now.

The problem for the lifestyle regulators is that, for all its faults, the EU was created as a free trade zone and it actually has some pretty good constitutional protections.

EU measures promoting healthier lifestyles must comply with EU fundamental rights. The EU is ‘founded on the values of respect for human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, the rule of law and respect for human rights’, and in particular the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights, the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) and the general principles of EU law resulting from the constitutional traditions common to the Member States.

For example, did you notice that there was no display ban mentioned in the Tobacco Products Directive?

The Philip Morris judgment delivered in September 2011 by the EFTA Court provides some guidance on this point. The Court held that ‘by its nature’ a visual display ban of tobacco products is not only liable to favour domestic products over imported ones – as consumers tend to be more familiar with the former, but also that such a discriminatory effect would be particularly significant with regard to market penetration of new products.

Similarly, there was no mention of another of the anti-smoking wingnuts' pet projects, banning cigarette vending machines. its public consultation, the Commission asked whether it should propose legislation banning tobacco vending machines. However, in its proposal for a revised TPD, the Commission does not make any reference to bans on tobacco vending machines. Rather, the impact assessment confirms that this option has been discarded ‘given subsidiarity concerns’.

Fortunately for the prohibitionists, the EU is prone to ignoring many of the fundamental rights when it comes to 'public health'.

Industry operators have systematically invoked fundamental rights when challenging lifestyle measures. In particular, they have argued that EU measures regulating the content, the presentation (including the labelling), the advertising or the promotion of their products infringe several of the fundamental rights they derive from EU law: the freedom of expression and information, the freedom to choose an occupation and the right to engage in work, the freedom to conduct a business and the right to property. 

Rightly so. Good for them. However...

Nevertheless, if it is true that all these rights are protected by the EU legal order, none of them are absolute and they may be restricted on grounds of public health protection.

...The Court has granted a particularly broad margin of discretion to the EU legislature in relation to the ‘lifestyle’ choices it has made and has never annulled any ‘lifestyle’ measures on the ground that they violated EU fundamental rights.

So they're "fundamental rights" unless people's lifestyles are involved? Not that fundamental, then.

How about freedom of expression?

Under Article 10 of the ECHR, ‘everyone has the right to freedom of expression’, and this provision has been held to apply not only to artistic and political but also to commercial expression, on the ground that consumers have the right to receive information on the goods and services available to them on a given market: ‘for the citizen, advertising is a means of discovering the characteristics of goods and services offered to him’. 

Sounds good. But...

Nevertheless, freedom of expression may also be restricted on public health and other public interest grounds provided that the restriction in question is proportionate.

You can read the whole, rather turgid document here. As usual, people in the public health racket think that they're above the law and it seems that the EU institutions are increasingly inclined to agree.

Saturday 21 December 2013

Christmas poisonings

New York Times, 1922

In the days of Prohibition, deaths caused by drinking poisoned moonshine peaked every year at Christmas. The death toll in New York City was relatively low in 1922 (when the headline above was written), but rose in later years, not least because the prohibitionists persuaded the government to contaminate the industrial alcohol supply. It's worth reading Deborah Blum's account of Christmas Eve, 1926...

It was Christmas Eve 1926, the streets aglitter with snow and lights, when the man afraid of Santa Claus stumbled into the emergency room at New York City's Bellevue Hospital. He was flushed, gasping with fear: Santa Claus, he kept telling the nurses, was just behind him, wielding a baseball bat.

Before hospital staff realized how sick he was—the alcohol-induced hallucination was just a symptom—the man died. So did another holiday partygoer. And another. As dusk fell on Christmas, the hospital staff tallied up more than 60 people made desperately ill by alcohol and eight dead from it. Within the next two days, yet another 23 people died in the city from celebrating the season.

Prohibition kills and so does the neo-prohibitionist policy of making alcohol unaffordable. From the BBC...

Fake vodka 'can kill you' warning to Christmas shoppers

Christmas shoppers trying to save money are being warned to look out for counterfeit alcohol, which can seriously damage health.

Trading standards say it may contain chemicals such as chloroform or industrial alcohol, which can affect eyesight, or in extreme cases, kill.

Seizures of counterfeit vodka in some areas doubled over the last year. Typically it is sold in corner shops where unscrupulous owners sell it from underneath the counter. It has also been found on sale in nightclubs.

Merry Christmas from public health! The BBC doesn't look at what factors might be driving this shift towards counterfeit spirits other than alluding to the eye-watering tax rate:

The duty and VAT alone on a legitimate 70cl bottle of vodka total £8.89.

That's a bit of a clue, isn't it? And even that is not enough for the public health racket, who want a bottle to cost at least £15 under minimum pricing. Nor is it enough for the government, who will be raising tax on wine and spirits above the rate of inflation in every budget for the foreseeable future.

Ironically, the BBC refers to the situation at Sheffield University, the home of the minimum pricing computer model. The Sheffield model doesn't bother looking at substitution effects (ie. people shifting from legal alcohol to illegal alcohol and drugs), but it should. As alcohol has become less affordable in recent years thanks to tax rises and lower wages, seizures of moonshine have quadrupled in Sheffield.

Fake vodka seizures in Sheffield

2011/12: 554 bottles

2012/13: 1,470

2013/14: 2,370

Welcome to moonshine Britain. The examples given in the BBC article revive memories of speakeasies and the jitterbug...

In once recent case, a shopkeeper in the Richmond area of Sheffield was fined £582, including costs, for keeping 674 bottles of counterfeit vodka under the counter. The council called the fine derisory.

The problem is now becoming apparent elsewhere across the country too.

In August, a nightclub in Leeds was fined for stocking vodka containing chloroform, an anaesthetic which can make you feel dizzy, and even cause a drinker to lose consciousness.

In September, HMRC seized 13,000 litres of counterfeit vodka in Scotland, one of the largest such seizures ever. It was being transported from Belfast and the lorry was intercepted as it left the ferry at Cairnryan.

In December 2013, the owner of a nightclub in Chelmsford was fined after selling fake Smirnoff which he had bought from a van just outside the club.

This shouldn't be happening in modern Britain. People shouldn't be dying from drinking moonshine. There shouldn't be counterfeit vodka being produced on an industrial scale. All of this is a direct result of the medical temperance lobby's neo-prohibitionist campaign. The more success they have, they worse things will get.

You can download my IEA report Drinking in the Shadow Economy here.

Friday 20 December 2013

Rushing towards prohibition

Ed Miliband, a politician who never saw a ban he didn't like, has climbed on board the anti-gambling bandwagon. I've written an article about it for The Spectator...

Ed Miliband’s pledge to crack down on the ‘crack cocaine of gambling’ is a significant moment in the extraordinary moral panic over fixed-odds betting terminals (FOBTs). Earlier this year, the Department for Culture, Media and Sport found that there was very little data to back up the anecdotal evidence of the anti-FOBT brigade and so decided to commission some research. This process will take 18 months and a decision about stakes and prizes will be made once there is some evidence to study. This eminently reasonable, evidence-based approach has naturally been howled down by the anti-gambling lobby whose campaign has thus far relied on anecdotes and, at best, half-truths.

Do go read the rest...  

Letter to the FDA

So, New York City has banned e-cigarettes everywhere that smoking is banned. No more vaping in Central Park then. The anti-smoking lobby has fostered a culture of extreme hypochondria in which minorities can be criminalised for no other reason than that they are minorities. I have nothing to say about this that doesn't involve a string of expletives, so I shall instead reproduce a letter sent to the FDA that I, and several more distinguished people, signed on the somewhat related subject of e-cigarette regulation.

The Honorable Margaret Hamburg, Commissioner U.S. Food and Drug Administration 10903 New Hampshire Avenue Silver Spring, MD 20993

Re: FDA Regulation of E-Cigarettes

Dear Commissioner Hamburg,

The following quote is taken from the Strategic Plan for Regulatory Science page on, “The core responsibility of FDA is to protect consumers by applying the best possible science to its regulatory activities.” We write to you today to urge you to uphold this ideal in the coming electronic cigarette regulation. However, in order to act upon the best possible science, it is integral to acknowledge and incorporate the fact that e-cigarettes are several orders of magnitude safer than cigarettes. Scientific thinking is characterized by critical objectivity, and to apply the best possible science it is essential to divorce yourself from ideology, bias and emotion. Electronic cigarettes suffer from the absence of this style of thinking in many who oppose the technology. Despite the fact that most people are well aware that heating a nicotine-infused liquid to the point of vaporization isn’t the same as combusting toxin-laden tobacco, many still suggest that they should be treated in the same way from a regulatory perspective.

This viewpoint is driven by nothing other than ideology, fear and a perverted application of the precautionary principle. E-cigarettes represent a shining beacon of hope in the battle against needless smoking-related deaths, and crushing the industry with tobacco-like regulation would extinguish the only remaining option for many smokers who are unable to quit using previously- available methods.

E-Cigarettes Are Exponentially Safer

According to the CDC, there are over 440,000 deaths annually in the U.S. from cigarette smoking. These deaths come from a plethora of cancers as well as cardiovascular and respiratory diseases, but the primary drug smokers are looking for – nicotine – is not the culprit. Instead, smoking represents chugging down a concoction of thousands of chemicals (including 70 known carcinogens) which are entirely unnecessary.

You will be undoubtedly familiar with the harm reduction approach – having worked to promote needle exchange programs during your time as the Commissioner of the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene – and are well-aware that what appears to be unseemly may actually be a blessing when you think realistically. Just like blood-borne viruses are curbed through the provision of a needle exchange program, smoking-related morbidity and mortality can be curbed through the proliferation of electronic cigarettes. One of the core tenets of the anti-e-cigarette argument is that there is insufficient evidence as to the contents of the vapor and their long-term safety. However, there is considerable evidence of the contents of e-cigarette vapor, as demonstrated by a recent systematic review of the body of data on the topic conducted by Igor Bursytn, PhD of Drexel University’s School of Public Health. This gathered the data from over 9,000 measurements of the contents and quantities of the components of the vapor, and compared them with accepted maximum safe exposure thresholds.

The findings were unambiguous; the trace levels of toxicants in e-cigarette vapor rarely exceeded 1 percent of the occupational maximum safe exposure limits. It’s also worth noting that these same toxicants are found in similar quantities in FDA-approved gums, patches and inhalers. A specific study included in the review came from Dr. Maciej Goniewicz et. al. (from the Department of Health Behavior, Roswell Park Cancer Institute), which compared levels of specific toxicants and carcinogens in e-cigarettes with those from a cigarette and an approved nicotine inhaler. The researchers found that the measured chemicals were only present in e- cigarettes in 9 to 450 times smaller quantities than in cigarettes, and comparable ones to the nicotine inhaler. Additionally, studies in animals have provided evidence for the long-term safety of inhaled nicotine and propylene glycol (the core component of e-cigarette vapor). Additionally, toxicological studies have found that e-cigarette vapor is many times less toxic to cells in comparison to cigarette smoke. There is no dispute; based on everything we know, e- cigarettes are dramatically safer than cigarettes. The FDA’s analysis found traces of tobacco-specific nitrosamines in electronic cigarette liquid, but even this finding shows the sheer magnitude of the disparity between the safety of electronic cigarettes and tobacco cigarettes. Comparison shows that tobacco cigarettes contain up to 1,400 times more tobacco-specific nitrosamines than the FDA detected. Regulating e-cigarettes under the rules established for tobacco cigarettes would be like regulating codeine-containing cough medicine under the same guidelines as heroin. Advertising and “Appealing to Youth”

The Attorneys General’s letter focused primarily on the misguided notion that e-cigarettes are appealing to the youth. Flavor-names are paraded like suspects, the superficially-shocking CDC National Youth Tobacco Survey results are repeated and irrelevant branding decisions are targeted.

Qualitative research has shown that the variety of flavors available is one of the major contributors to the “hobby element” which has made e-cigarette so popular with smokers. People do not socially discuss nicotine gum flavors, but they readily share tips and information about the myriad small businesses offering wide ranges of “e-liquid” flavors. Chocolate-flavored nicotine induces fear if you’re working under the unsupported assumption that e-cigarettes are targeting youths, but for the intended market it is a crucial factor in the efficacy and acceptability of a potentially life-saving product.

The CDC data is offered as “evidence” of this assumed “targeting” of youth, with one in ten high school students having tried an e-cigarette in 2012. In 2011, the survey found that 18.1 percent of high school students had tried a cigarette in the previous 30 days, whereas for e- cigarettes in 2012, 2.8 percent of high school students had tried one in the previous 30 days (2.2 percent of whom had also smoked a cigarette). For any objective observer, the comparatively large numbers of teenagers smoking cigarettes should be the primary concern, since e-cigarette use is still extremely uncommon with non-smoking youth. In addition, the more recent survey classed experimentation with e-cigs in the past 30 days as “current use,” which leads to misleading statistics.

In addition, a recent survey found that e-cigarettes do not serve as a “gateway” to smoking, as was alleged in press statements at the time of the CDC survey. The researchers surveyed 1,300 college students and were only able to find one who had used e-cigarettes before transitioning to smoking.

With these facts in mind, allegations from the Attorneys General that flavors such as chocolate and the use of cartoon animals or video game characters on packaging fall into perspective. As difficult as it clearly is for some to accept, adults do like sweet, fruity flavors and do sometimes play video games. Moreover, in addition to the numerous states with bans on sales of e-cigarettes to minors, the vast majority of manufacturers impose the same rule themselves. There is no serious dispute on the issue of banning e-cigarettes sales to minors – it is a reasonable step – but arguments based on the fabricated notion that e-cigarette companies are “targeting” children are an inadequate reason to severely limit the appeal of the products to their intended market. The issue of the advertising e-cigarettes is closely-related, and there is no justification for tobacco-like restrictions. Tobacco cigarettes are a dangerous product, and if marketing is “successful” around one half of those buyers will later die as a result. Although long-term evidence isn’t yet available (by nature of their recent emergence) on e-cigarettes, the best existing scientific data provides no reason whatsoever to assume long-term danger. E-cigarettes are much, much safer than tobacco cigarettes, so identical marketing restrictions are unnecessary and detrimental to emerging businesses.

Regulate Lightly to Protect Public Health

The e-cigarette industry is largely composed of startup businesses; independent entities with limited financial resources which contribute to the appealing diversity in e-cigarettes and their accessories. Overly stringent regulations would crush these businesses under the increased financial burden, thus reducing the variety of available products and limiting the efficacy of e- cigarettes as a reduced harm alternative.

The EU’s recent rejection of proposals to regulate e-cigarettes as medicines reflects this priority; it allows the industry to thrive and continue to be effective. However, even imposing tobacco-like restrictions is needlessly impacting the burgeoning businesses, given the fact that the two products don’t even lie on the same scale in terms of risks.

It is reasonable to establish manufacturing standards to ensure that the products are accurately labeled, the actual nicotine content doesn’t drastically differ from the stated concentration and that they are produced in an environment free from sources of contamination. Keeping in mind that even unregulated e-cigarettes are considerably safer than cigarettes, it is essential that these standards be achievable by the majority of manufacturers (including small businesses) as to not needlessly impact on the appeal of something with the potential to save millions of lives. Regulatory frameworks copied from medicines or tobacco products are inapplicable, because e-cigs make no therapeutic claim and contain no tobacco.

Without the ideological urge to demonize anything vaguely resembling smoking, irrational fear of the fabricated “intentions” of the industry and the overly precautionary desire to impose crippling restrictions just in case the sum of the evidence on e-cigs to date is entirely incorrect, regulatory science can thrive. And that science speaks clearly: e-cigarettes pose little (if any) danger to users – making them orders of magnitude safer than cigarettes – and hold significant promise for reducing the staggering death toll produced by smoking.

We urge the FDA to recognize these facts and refuse to regulate a new, life-saving product under guidelines designed for one that is undeniably fatal.

Very respectfully yours,

Dr. Riccardo Polosa, MD, PhD

Dr. Konstantinos Farsalinos, MD,

Christopher Snowdon

Lynn Dawkins

Professor Gerry Stimson

Thursday 19 December 2013

Ditch the alcohol duty escalator

I discussed the appallingly high rate of tax that the UK government puts on alcohol in my recent IEA paper Aggressively Regressive so I wholeheartedly support the new campaign to end the alcohol duty escalator.

For all the neo-temperance lobby's rhetoric about "pocket money prices", we in Britain pay a ridiculous amount of money for our drinks, most of which goes straight to the government. Hardly any other country in the world exploits drinkers like the UK and yet the coalition is currently committed to jacking up the price of wine and spirits above the rate of inflation for years to come. 

Please take a few seconds to visit the campaign website and let your MP know that enough is enough.

Tuesday 17 December 2013

Tell us what we want or we keep the money

A nice little illustration of how the field of 'public health' science works comes from Sweden this week. Recently the Karolinska Institute (which readers of The Art of Suppression may recall is very anti-tobacco) was commissioned by Sweden's National Institute for Public Health to carry out a study on whether graphic warnings work. I have mentioned in previous posts that they do not work and that is exactly what the Karolinska researchers found.

The result? The National Institute for Public Health cancelled the contract and refused to pay them their 400,000 krona (£37,000).

Long live science!

Refillable e-cigarettes under threat

Yesterday was another big day for e-cigarette regulation in the EU. After the European Parliament voted against medical regulation, bureaucrats and politicians scuttled back to find ways to cripple the e-cigarette revolution by the back door. Despite the efforts of tireless MEPs such as Chris Davies and Rebecca Taylor, the anti-ecig lobby had much success. E-cigarette nicotine strengths will be limited to 20 mg and refillable e-cigarette fluid will be banned throughout the EU if three member states prohibit them.

Rebecca Taylor reports...

In negotiations with representatives of EU governments, MEPs agreed on a compromise that the maximum nicotine content of e-cigs available for general sale should be 20mg/ml, a major increase on the 4mg/ml originally proposed by the Commission and above the average routinely used. The nicotine level agreed is regarded as closely comparable to that derived from smoking conventional cigarettes.

It was agreed that the flavourings that can be used in e-cigs will be specified by national governments rather than specified by EU legislation. Refillable units, which are widely used at present, will continue to be available. They will however be subject to a safeguard clause meaning that Member States can introduce stringent national measures including a prohibition against concerned products – if justified by evidence of a serious risk to public health. If refillable e-cigarettes have been prohibited in at least three Member States, the Commission would be able to extend the ban to all Member States through a delegated act but that could be blocked by a majority in the European Parliament. The Commission was also asked to report on health and safety risks of refillables within two years’ time.

The threat to refillables is serious. Refillables are, to be frank, the e-cigarettes that work. They are the ones that long-term ex-smokers tend to use. They are more environmentally sound as they are not disposable and they tend to be produced by the small, independent traders. It is ludicrous that we could be in a position in which 25 member states want to keep them while three want to ban them and the minority is able to impose its will on the majority.

It's not over yet, however. Next up is the plenary...

No plain packs in New Zealand in foreseeable future

Despite drafting legislation, the Kiwis maintain their wait and see stance on plain packs...

New Zealand is unlikely to introduce plain packaging on cigarettes before trade challenges to Australian legislation are settled, Prime Minister John Key says.

Associate Health Minister Tariana Turia said today that the Smoke-free Environments (Tobacco Products and Packaging) Amendment Bill had been lodged with the Clerk of the House.

The legislation was expected to have its first reading in the House early next year before being sent to a parliamentary select committee.

Australia introduced plain packaging on December 1 last year, having successfully defended the legislation from a court challenge brought by the world's major tobacco companies, but the battle against the measure continues.

Turia said Australia faced World Trade Organisation challenges against plain packaging from Ukraine, Honduras, the Dominican Republic, Cuba and Indonesia.

Key said that while the legislation would be introduced next year, it would almost certainly not be passed until the outcome of the challenge to Australia was known.

"It will almost certainly be introduced, have its first reading, then go off to the select committee," he said.

"But it's very, very unlikely it will be passed. In fact, in my view it shouldn't be passed until we've actually had a ruling out of Australia.

"We think it's prudent to wait till we see a ruling out of Australia. If there's a successful legal challenge out of Australia, that would guide us how legislation might be drafted in New Zealand."

This is nothing more than a sensible, cost-saving position to take. It remains to be seen whether near-bankrupt Ireland also comes to its senses.

Saturday 14 December 2013

The Daily Mail: beneath the gutter press

What comes below the gutter press—the sewer press? Whatever it is, this is what is produces...

From the Daily Mail...

I won't even bother fisking this. Any sentient reader will be able to see the lies and gross misrepresentations of the science for themselves. The Daily Mail is—bafflingly—the UK's biggest selling newspaper. It is renowned for its woeful reporting of health and science stories, but it should feel genuinely ashamed for this article—an article which will likely deter smokers from switching to a vastly healthier alternative.

You can contact the Press Complaints Commission here. I encourage you to do so.

Friday 13 December 2013

Rubber stamping the Tobacco Products Directive

It looks like a small committee of MPs is going to rubber stamp the Tobacco Products Directive on Monday afternoon.


To be considered on Monday 16 December at 4.30pm

Jane Ellison

That the Committee takes note of European Union Document No. 18068/12 and Addenda 1 to 7, a draft Directive of the European Parliament and of the Council on the approximation of the laws, regulations and administrative provisions of the Member States concerning the manufacture, presentation and sale of tobacco and related products; welcomes the success of the Government so far in securing agreement for top priority issues such as the prohibition of characterising flavours, including menthol, in tobacco products; supports the Government’s continued pursuit of its key negotiating objectives during Trilogue negotiations, primarily a text which provides adequate flexibility for Member States to go further in certain key areas of public health policy, including packaging, where the evidence supports this and it is justified by the Treaty; further notes that the Government recognises the importance of further strengthening the internal market, taking into account a high level of health protection; and supports the Government’s view that the proposed Directive is good for public health and will be a positive measure in the Government’s efforts to reduce the number of children and young people who take up smoking in the UK.

This is premature since we don't know what the TPD looks like yet, particularly with regards to e-cigarettes. It should also be noted that the commitment to "further strengthening the internal market"—which is the only legitimate justification for EU action—is incompatible with the objective of providing "adequate flexibility for Member States to go further in certain key areas".

The committee's members are Diane Abbott, Luciana Berger, Paul Burstow, Sir Tony Cunningham, Jane Ellison, Kelvin Hopkins, Andrew Jones, Jonathan Lord, Seema Malhotra, John Penrose, Jim Shannon, Henry Smith and David Tredinnick. It's unclear whether members of the public can attend.

Thursday 12 December 2013

Teetotallers still dying earlier

I've written about this before. There's already a mountain of evidence for it but it's always nice to have some more. A study published in Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research followed 1,824 people over two decades and found that teetotallers died at twice the rate of moderate drinkers. No surprise there—let's face it, they haven't got much to live for. More interesting is the fact that even heavy drinkers lived longer than teetotallers.

Controlling only for age and gender, compared to moderate drinkers, abstainers had a more than 2 times increased mortality risk, heavy drinkers had 70% increased risk, and light drinkers had 23% increased risk.

The usual objection to this finding is that some teetotallers are ex-alcoholics or sickly and therefore more likely to die anyway. This is the 'Sick Quitter Hypothesis' that Ben Goldacre mentions in Bad Science. Since he wrote that book, several studies have tested the hypothesis by excluding former drinkers and found that moderate drinkers still live longer. The authors of this new study do the same...

A model controlling for former problem drinking status, existing health problems, and key sociodemographic and social-behavioral factors, as well as for age and gender, substantially reduced the mortality effect for abstainers compared to moderate drinkers. However, even after adjusting for all covariates, abstainers and heavy drinkers continued to show increased mortality risks of 51 and 45%, respectively, compared to moderate drinkers.

Surely it is now time for the 'evidence-based' public health lobby to campaign for cheaper alcohol? How many more people are they prepared to see die?

Merry Christmas!

Wednesday 11 December 2013

Alice Thomson: fool or knave?

A columnist called Alice Thomson has written another badly researched, hastily written and logically inconsistent plea for the state to tax and ban us into government-approved lifestyles in The Times (see also Sarah Vine).

Taxes will rise if we reject the nanny state

After ludicorusly misrepresenting the current government are a bunch of laissez-faire libertarians, she makes the case for public health authoritarianism.

The problem is that nudging often doesn’t work. More than 90 per cent of the population is aware of the five-a-day fruit and vegetables advice but fewer than 20 per cent follow it. Most of the great advances in health, such as the Clean Air Act, have worked because we have been given almighty shoves in the right direction.

Sorry, are you saying that people should be forced to eat five a day? Are you aware that the five-a-day advice is based on no scientific evidence whatsoever? Do you even care? I doubt it.

Nearly 50 years after the drink-driving limits were introduced, 69 per cent of motorists refuse to have a drink before getting behind the wheel. Yet 280 people still die every year in drink-drive-related accidents. Safety campaigners are desperate for an even lower drink drive limit.

That tells you a lot about campaigners who think that the world can be made perfect through legislation. The reason people still die in drink-driving accidents (the majority of whom are the drivers incidentally, by the way) is because people don't obey the existing law, not because people have half a pint of lager and then crash.

The Department of Health wants to be able to keep imposing tougher measures. Preventable illnesses such as obesity now present the fastest growing challenge to the NHS. Internal research suggests that poor diet, lack of physical activity and drinking too much are already crippling the health service.

What internal research is this? Is it so secret that you can't provide a reference? Last time I checked, the highest estimate of the cost of obesity to the NHS was £5 billion, which is less than 5 per cent of the NHS budget. This figure doesn't include any savings the state makes from premature mortality. Other research has found that the lifetime healthcare costs of the obese are lower than those of people of normal weight and concluded that: "Although effective obesity prevention leads to a decrease in costs of obesity-related diseases, this decrease is offset by cost increases due to diseases unrelated to obesity in life-years gained. Obesity prevention may be an important and cost-effective way of improving public health, but it is not a cure for increasing health expenditures."

As for alcohol, the £607 million that was recently said to be the cost of alcohol-related admissions to  NHS hospitals is about £11,393,000 million less than the tax we pay on our drinks. So you can park that argument straight away.

Public Health England was set up to co-ordinate a more vigorous approach to helping people to live healthier, longer lives. It has four options: eliminate choice, shove, nudge or do nothing. While Tory strategists would prefer to do nothing, experts in the Department of Health point out that the first two options are already working. The Stoptober campaign to encourage people to give up smoking had 1.2 million website hits with 61 per cent reported quitting. More than 3.5 million have now watched the graphic anti-smoking tumour advert on YouTube.

This paragraph doesn't make any sense. Aside from the fact that website hits are not a measure of health, a voluntary campaign to stop smoking neither eliminates choice nor requires shoving. Nor does showing anti-smoking advertisements.

The Dementia G8 summit this week has shown that we need the same hard-hitting approach to exercise and diet. We spend £17 billion a year on seven million people who have dementia and there is still no sign of any cure. But if we exercised more, ate a healthier diet and drank less we could reduce the likelihood of developing dementia by up to 60 per cent.

Compelling evidence for that claim has not yet appeared. Exercising more, eating a healthier diet and drinking less is the medical establishment's 21st century equivalent of a course of leeches—recommended in any circumstances where the cause, and cure, of the disease is unknown. And readers of The Wages of Sin Taxes won't be surprised to hear that the £17 billion figure she quotes is not what "we spend" on dementia, but comes from a study that includes things like lost productivity and informal care as costs. Only 8 per cent of that £17 billion refers to NHS costs.

The same tactics would help with the obesity crisis.

That is rather more plausible.

When I read about the five-year-old child in Wales who was taken into care because she was over ten stone I assumed she must be an anomaly, but a third of pupils are deemed to be seriously overweight.

That's like saying "I thought 9/11 was an anomaly but there are millions of violent acts carried out every day." A five year old weighing ten stone is an amomaly. It is three times the average weight for a child of that age. The third of pupils that Thomson claims are "severely overweight" is a corruption of a statistic showing that 28% of Welsh schoolchildren are overweight or obese (closer to a quarter than a third). It is questionable whether the crude and arbitrary Body Mass Index measure is appropriate for growing children, but the 28 per cent of children in this survey are not severely overweight—that is an invention of the author. Hardly any of them are in the same league as this ten stone girl because she is an anomaly, hence she became a news story.

Since 1996 the number of people with diabetes has increased from 1.4 million to 2.9 million, largely linked to weight increase. The most obvious solution is to tax sugary drinks and fund more physical education, for children and adults.

That's the obvious solution, is it? Then perhaps you can provide some scientific evidence showing that sugary drink taxes have reduced obesity rates, let alone diabetes rates, anywhere in the world? I won't hold my breath because there isn't any. A solution, by definition, has to solve the problem. Sugary drinks taxes will just make sugary drinks more expensive.

Taking these preventive measures is going to be the only cost-effective way of controlling the NHS budget given the ageing population.

If the ageing population is going to increase NHS costs—and it will—how the hell will making people live longer be a cost-effective way of reducing those costs? It won't. There are a number of moral arguments nanny statists can make to justify state-enforced longevity, but reducing NHS costs is not one of them.

The cost of legislating for plain cigarette packaging or minimum alcohol pricing damages Treasury revenues — as well as the profits of drink and tobacco firms — but won’t cost much up front. 

On what planet does making products more expensive not lead to higher costs? The cost of minimum pricing is estimated to be £2 billion. The cost of a sugary drinks tax is estimated to be £1 billion. These are real costs that real people will have to pay. They far exceed the most optimistic predictions about what savings could be made in terms of healthcare. They are, by any standard, a highly inefficient way of tackling the issue and they will make people poorer. Anyone who cries crocodile tears over the hypothetical costs of obesity or drinking to the NHS while calling for the public to cough up billions of pounds in extra tax is a fool or a knave.

Ethical investing at the BBC

The BBC was in one of its fits of moral outrage yesterday, with an episode of Panorama criticising various charities for investing in "unethical" companies, notably alcohol, tobacco, arms, pharmaceuticals and energy.

Millions of pounds donated to Comic Relief have been invested in funds with shares in tobacco, alcohol and arms firms, BBC Panorama has learned.

Panorama never explained what harm was being done by Comic Relief investing in high-yield shares. It is simply a fact that companies like Diageo and BAT have been amongst the very best performers in the stock market in recent years and therefore appear in many investment portfolios. This seems to me to be sensible financial management but the BBC has previously reported on local councils investing in tobacco stock for pension funds so I guess it must be controversial (eg. here and here).

The tone of the programme strongly suggested that it was immoral per se to invest in companies like Imperial Tobacco, BAT, BP and GlaxoSmithKline. So imagine my surprise when I looked at the BBC pension fund's annual report (p. 19) and found those very companies—along with 'tax dodging' Vodafone and Amazon—in a list of their twenty biggest investments.

Panorama said that Comic Relief had nearly £3 million invested in tobacco stock. The BBC pension fund has over £111 million invested in tobacco stock.

The BBC quoted a self-styled ethical investing expert in its programme and in its report:

Ethical fund manager Helen Wildsmith looks after the cash of thousands of charities.

She said she was surprised that a charity as high profile as Comic Relief would risk its reputation and future donations.

"If people who've been giving them money, after watching the television, next year think twice and don't give that money, because they're concerned about their investment policy, then that could be argued to be a breach of fiduciary duty."

I personally couldn't care less which companies Comic Relief and the BBC invest in, but if I was a moral puritan I would take solace in the fact that I can stop giving money to Comic Relief. I would be—and am—less happy about being forced to pay for the BBC and its increasingly embarrassing Panorama 'exposés'.


A longer list of the Beeb's biggest pension investments can be seen here. It includes £25.3m in BAE systems, the weapons firm that Comic Relief had a £0.4m stake in, plus £22.3m in the alcohol company SABMiller, £18.9m in the tobacco company Reynolds America, £8.6m in Altria (AKA Philip Morris), £8.2m in Greene King, as well as a combined £169.6m in the pharmaceutical companies AstraZeneca, GlaxoSmithKline, Roche Holding and Novartis

So that's one arms company, all of Big Tobacco except JTI, most of Big Pharma and both of the big international alcohol companies. According to Panorama, all of these industries are "unethical".

Next week on Panorama, a team of kettles investigates the blackness of pots.

Monday 9 December 2013

New study finds no link between secondhand smoke and lung cancer

This news hasn't got any mainstream media coverage, despite being reported in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute and being a large, prospective study with 76,000 participants and 901 lung cancer cases, including 152 who never smoked.

I wonder why?

A large prospective cohort study of more than 76,000 women confirmed a strong association between cigarette smoking and lung cancer but found no link between the disease and secondhand smoke.


Investigators from Stanford and other research centers looked at data from the Women’s Health Initiative Observational Study (WHI-OS). Among 93,676 women aged 50–79 years at enrollment, the study had complete smoking and covariate data (including passive smoking exposure in childhood, adult home, and work) for 76,304 participants. Of those, 901 developed lung cancer over 10.5 mean years of follow-up.

The incidence of lung cancer was 13 times higher in current smokers and four times higher in former smokers than in never-smokers, and the relationship for both current and former smokers depended on level of exposure. However, among women who had never smoked, exposure to passive smoking overall, and to most categories of passive smoking, did not statistically significantly increase lung cancer risk. The only category of exposure that showed a trend toward increased risk was living in the same house with a smoker for 30 years or more. In that group, the hazard ratio for developing lung cancer was 1.61, but the confidence interval included 1.00, making the finding of only borderline statistical significance.

There's no such thing as borderline statistical significance. It's either significant or its not, and if it includes 1.0, it's not. It will be interesting to see the full results when they are published, but judging by the Journal of the National Cancer Institute report, it appears that this major cohort study did not find any statistically meaningful association between secondhand smoke and lung cancer in the home, in the workplace or in childhood. Even if we disregard statistical significance (and why would we?), it seems that only decades of chronic exposure in the home might, at most, have an extremely modest effect on lung cancer risk. There is nothing to indicate the slightest risk to those who work in or patronise the bars and restaurants which have been forced to ban smoking.

This should not be particularly surprising. Very few passive smoking/lung cancer studies are published these days compared to the glut of the 1980s and 1990s, but the handful that have appeared in recent years continue to support the null hypothesis. For all the campaigners' talk of "overwhelming evidence", the link between secondhand smoke and lung cancer has always been very shaky. It tends to be the smaller, case-control studies which find the associations while the larger, cohort studies do not (and, as the JNCI report notes, case-control studies "can suffer from recall bias: People who develop a disease that might be related to passive smoking are more likely to recall being exposed to passive smoking.")

Taken as a whole, the epidemiological evidence is a mess of conflicting results and weak, non-significant findings that go in both directions. The World Health Organisation's attempt to settle the controversy with a pan-European study of its own, ended in failure in 1998. Attempts to generate significant relationships with meta-analysis have relied on cherry-picking and questionable statistical practice.

The only real surprise is the knowledge that large, prospective studies are still being carried out in a field that has already served its political purpose of justifying smoking bans. And it's interesting to see how sanguine the researchers and others are about these findings. It's almost as if they never believed the hypothesis in the first place and are just happy to have smoking bans.

[Gerard Silvestri, MD, of the Medical University of South Carolina, a member of NCI’s PDQ Screening and Prevention Editorial Board] finds some reassurance in the passive-smoking findings. “We can never predict who is going to develop lung cancer,” he said. “There are other modifiers. But you can say, with regard to passive smoke, it’s only the heaviest exposure that produces the risk. We kind of knew that before, but it’s a little stronger here.”

“We’ve gotten smoking out of bars and restaurants on the basis of the fact that you and I and other nonsmokers don’t want to die,” said Silvestri. “The reality is, we probably won’t.”

Take that in for a moment. Contrast that little admission with the quackery of Stanton Glantz who has spent the last few days implying that one minute of secondhand smoke 'exposure' could be lethal. Contrast it with the BMA's assertion that "there is overwhelming evidence, built up over decades, that passive smoking causes lung cancer" (a quote made in response to yet another study that showed no such relationship.)

According to Dr Jyoti Patel, of Northwestern University School of Medicine, the real reason for smoking bans isn't saving nonsmokers from lung cancer, but denormalising smoking. Who woulda thunk it?

“The strongest reason to avoid passive cigarette smoke is to change societal behavior: to not live in a society where smoking is a norm. It’s very reassuring that passive smoke in the childhood home doesn’t increase the risk of lung cancer [in this study],” said Patel. “But it doesn’t decrease the need for us to have strong antismoking measures.”

And, as the person who presented these findings says...

“The fact that passive smoking may not be strongly associated with lung cancer points to a need to find other risk factors for the disease [in nonsmokers],” said Ange Wang, the Stanford University medical student who presented the study at the June 2013 meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology in Chicago.

Well, yeah. Maybe that's what we should have been doing all along.

Friday 6 December 2013

P.J. O'Rourke on plain packs

There's a great article by P. J. O'Rourke on the subject of plain packs...

Let me withdraw any imputation of base motives to the Australian government and stipulate that its legislators mean well. Legislators always mean well. They say so themselves. But​—​as certain well-meaning legislators in another country have discovered with certain well-meaning legislation about another health issue​—​meaning well is not synonymous with doing good.

... My Joyitas arrived encased in cardboard that was flimsy as well as drab dark brown and bearing a photograph, in this case, of rotted gums. Being that a cigar box is the size of a cigar box, those gums are in heroic scale. The attractive and understated Montecristo cigar band​—​in a rich walnut brown​—​has also disappeared. It’s been covered with a paper collar of requisite plainness. This is nearly an inch wide, deprives me of a third of my smoke, and any attempt to remove it tears the wrapper leaf and destroys the cigar.

Each of these strips of paper has been fastened by hand with scotch tape. Mindless, useless, idiotic work is typical of many government jobs, but this seems to exceed even the typical work done in the Australian parliament.

And the Australian parliament is, no doubt, working very hard indeed. There’s no end to the work to be done once moral philosophy has become so perverted that something like “plain packaging” is considered a public benefit.

Go read the whole thing...

Mandela: the self-serving, bitchy tributes pour in

Last night a remarkable man who resorted to violence to bring down an inhumane regime died. Naturally, Twitter erupted in an undignified frenzy of partisan bitchiness and political self-promotion. Here's a brief taster...

I can't spell but buy my book!

It's all about me!

Vote Labour!

I'm a professional comedian!

I can use Google!

Fire up the outrage bus!

Look, it's the outrage bus! Climb aboard!

I'm a nobody but it's all about me...

Right-wingers are scum!

 He loved the Tories!

No, he loved Labour!

Tories hated him!

What?! He was a damned commie!

I haven't read that much about him!


Hey! Remember me?

Seriously, he was a massive socialist!

So am I, that's why I like him!

My roof's blown off!

Restart the outrage bus!

Free Nelson Mandela!

Tenuous humblebrag!

Let's gets things in perspective...

(Murphy's very next tweet...)

I said, do you remember ME?

Aaaaaaand, relax...

Thursday 5 December 2013

Political incompetence

It takes a heart of stone not to laugh at this. Tom Watson MP—recently featured here thanks to a pisspoor anti-gambling polemic—has been working hard to stamp out the so-called 'crack cocaine of gambling', fixed odds betting terminals (FOBTs).

This week I’ve spent sleepless nights drafting campaign packs, model letters, petitions and press releases in order to gather support for the campaign against FOBTs and their corrosive impact in every High Street in Britain.

The big vote took place in the House of Commons last night. Alas, it was at this point that Watson got confused...

It was bound to happen one day. Today was the day. I voted the wrong way in a division in the Commons. Not “voted the wrong way” as in defied the iron law of the whips. No, this was far worse. I voted the wrong way as in my head said put the cross in the ‘no’ box but my hand put the cross in the ‘yes’ box.

So I supported the government on their report into Fixed Odds Betting Terminals.

There's a lesson here for Prime Table Games (t/a the Campaign for Fairer Gambling)—if you want something doing properly, get someone who can tell their arse from their elbow to do it for you.

The only way this could have been any funnier is if Watson had the casting vote, but it was a solid victory of 322 to 231.

No illusions

There was a remarkably frank statement from Ireland's Minister for Finance, Michael Noonan, in a debate last week. Contrary to anti-smoking propaganda, he accepted that higher tobacco taxes mean more smuggling, more tax evasion and more illicit sales. But he has no plans to do anything about it. On the contrary, he supports plain packaging and accepts that the problem will get worse.

He said...

There is a real problem with tobacco. Much of it arises from the fact that ordinary decent citizens are buying illicit cigarettes and illicit tobacco, mainly for price reasons. As we continue to use price to discourage people from smoking, I think we will divert more and more of the trade to the illicit trade.

It sounds like a cliché to say that if people stopped buying illicit cigarettes, the trade would stop very quickly. The incentive to buy is related to price. Much of the illicit trade is driven by people posing as tourists to go abroad to buy cigarettes to bring into Ireland. People can check the Internet to find very cheap flights. They can use these low-priced flights to go to countries where cigarettes are much cheaper than they are in this country.

I have a suspicion that the legitimate trade is involved in the production of illicit cigarettes as well. People are able to buy very cheap cigarettes in other countries and bring them to Ireland. As they pass through the airports, nobody checks whether they are carrying more than 800 cigarettes. I accept that there are some spot checks and spot searches. Large amounts of illicit tobacco are being brought into this country by individual travellers who purport to be carrying cigarettes for personal use. If one examines the prices of some flights, one will appreciate how quickly a profit can be made, especially by those who are prepared to travel a couple of times a week. The crackdown will continue. The Revenue Commissioners are chasing this up. The major price incentive associated with buying illicit tobacco makes it difficult to stop this activity.

Another speaker in the debate said that "in 2011, some €707 million worth of illegal cigarettes were sold, which led to a loss of €258 million in excise duty and VAT to the State". He continued...

One of my concerns is that in parts of my constituency there is a strong sense that approximately 30% of the sales are illegal, and that figure is growing. That appears to be the case in other parts of Dublin and in cities such as Waterford, according to anecdotal evidence.

I will give the Minister a couple of examples. A small shopkeeper to whom I spoke in north Clondalkin told me he let two staff go recently because of a decline in the legal sales of tobacco. The reason is not that people have suddenly stopped smoking, although I wish it was, but the growth in the illegal tobacco business. A neighbouring shopkeeper told me approximately 30% of discarded tobacco packaging outside his shop is from illegal tobacco products. While it would be preferable if people gave up smoking all together, it is galling that businesses which pay their commercial rates and keep people in work are being undermined because of illegal tobacco.

The other side of this issue is that the illegal tobacco trade benefits the criminal fraternity. Retail Ireland believes criminals in Ireland make in the region of €3 million per week from illegal tobacco sales. The most insidious aspect of that is it sucks young people into crime and inevitably some of them go on to get involved in even worse things, such as heroin and cocaine.

Nevertheless, the message from Irish politicians is c'est la vie, we'll carry on. Because it's working so well, right?

What success looks like in the world of tobacco control

If this is what a decade of success looks like, BAT's shareholders had better hope tobacco control never starts failing.

Wednesday 4 December 2013

Cristina Odone on fixed odds betting terminals

More anti-gambling nonsense, this time from Cristina Odone in the Telegraph.

A country that spends £46 billion a year on betting terminals is a country of gamblers. Reckless addicts of every class and colour are spending enough money to build a new HS2 every year.

God almighty. How many times do we have to go through this? We don't spend £46 billion a year on FOBTs. That would be about a thousand pounds per adult. Does that sound remotely likely? No.

FOBTs have a high turnover but they return about 97 per cent of what is put in. The amount staked is £46 billion. The amount spent is about 3 per cent of that—£1.5 billion.

Every other industry sags under the weight of regulations — but not gambling: the ordinary punter can bet £100 every 20 seconds, 13 hours a day, no questions asked. No wonder the money spent on the fixed-odds betting machines has doubled in the past four years. 

No it hasn't. The amount spent rose from £1,166 million in 2008/09 to £1,547 million in 2012/13. That's a rise of 33 per cent. These figures are not difficult to find and should be comprehensible to any competent journalist.

And no wonder that gambling has links to organised crime: there's a fortune to be made out of people's compulsive behaviour, as any drug dealer will tell you.

There's a fortune to be made out of any illegal behaviour, as any black market bookie in Shanghai or Utah will tell you. This, apparently, is what Odone wants more of.

We brought it on ourselves. The National Lottery, gambling by another name, made a vice legitimate. Its cosy "fingers crossed" logo, its accessibility (it's all at the click of your mouse) and its much vaunted benefit to the community – yes, some money is invested in worthwhile projects -- have duped the public and politicians into thinking gambling is a virtuous and inclusive investment. (Actually, the price of a ticket has soared, and hard-up punters are complaining.)

The price of a ticket has doubled, from £1 to £2, in the 19 years since the lottery was launched. In that same period, the price of the Daily Telegraph has risen from 48p to £1.20. Just saying.

But gambling is not an innocuous habit. It teaches that hard work counts for nought, while luck is everything. Why study, train or slog, when fate could deal you a winning hand?

It's just a bit of fun. Aside from a few poker players, no gambler thinks they can make a living out of it. We know that the house always wins. It's a leisure activity.

It doesn't matter that the Lotto winners turn out to be miserable: the temptation of making a fortune by doing nothing more than scratching a card is irresistible.

Click on the link. It's in the original article. Just click on it. This is her source for claiming that lottery winners turn out miserable. Unbelievable.

The Commons will vote later today on whether we should restrict the stakes people can gamble on FOBTs. I hope that's the first step of a long journey to rid Britons of their acceptable, destructive vice.

At least you know where you are with Odone—straight-forward religious moralising with a wide streak of authoritarianism. In a way, I prefer her upfront puritanism to the slippery-slope denying charlatans. Nevertheless, she is wrong, wrong, wrong.