Friday 28 February 2014

Politicians feel let down by sock puppet

I was inspired by Dick Puddlecote and Will Haydock's conflicting views of Public Health England to read this Health Committee report and I am flabbergasted. You may recall that Public Health England is one of the Department of Health's newer sockpuppets. It has a remit to look at Britain's handful of genuine public health issues, such as measles, as well as environmental health questions, such as fracking, but from its very first day it has acted as a campaign group for the usual nanny state legislation. Perhaps they think there are aren't enough state-funded groups lobbying for lifestyle regulation already.

Despite being civil servants, PHE has loudly supported minimum pricing and plain packaging, but - astonishingly - some politicians (mainly on the left) are disappointed that it has not been even more blatant in its political advocacy.

The Committee is concerned that there is inadequate clarity about how the organisation will approach crucial policy issues such as obesity, minimum unit pricing of alcohol, and standardised packaging of tobacco products... the Committee believes that PHE has so far failed to set out a clear policy agenda.

The description of minimum pricing and plain packaging as "crucial policy issues" rather gives the game away. Bone-headed politicians are obsessed by them, therefore they must be 'crucial'.

The British Meddling Association is also unhappy:

    BMA members who are employed by PHE report that the requirement to adhere to civil service rules and regulations is having an impact on their ability to do their work. Particular concerns have been raised about [...] the ability to publicly discuss or criticise public health policies.

If their idea of work is stamping their feet and making political demands, perhaps BMA members would be better off doing it in their own time rather than on the taxpayer's shilling. This thought has probably never occurred to these perennial tax spongers.

From the Health Committee report:

Duncan Selbie told the Committee that PHE had given an unambiguous view on minimum unit pricing of alcohol, but the Committee does not believe that PHE has yet struck the right tone in its public comments. Given the toll alcohol misuse takes on the nation's health, if PHE believes that MUP is necessary, and the evidence base supports it, then PHE must be unequivocal in expressing such a view... In short, the Committee believes that Public Heath England was created by Parliament to provide a fearless and independent national voice for public health in England. It does not believe that this voice has yet been sufficiently clearly heard.

This is such hypocritical drivel. Public Health England quite explicitly supports minimum pricing. They released a statement last year - improperly, in my view - saying that they "share the disappointment of the public health community that the introduction of a minimum unit price (MUP) for alcohol is not being taken forward at this point." They had previously supported MUP both in its response to the public consultation and in statements to the media. What exactly do these politicians want PHE to do? Hold rallies? Go door to door?

The notion that Committee wants PHE to be "fearless and independent" is laughable. The entire committee hearing was a thinly veiled pretext for a small group of politicians to tell PHE what to say and how loudly to say it. If you have time, read the transcript of their interrogation (PDF). It is a lesson in intimidation, ignorance and venal self-interest. These MPs do not want PHE to be fearless or independent, they want PHE to share their opinion and preach it to the public.

Fortunately for them, it is clear that PHE does share their nauseating opinions on nanny state issues, but things break down when the subject of shale gas comes up. PHE has reviewed the evidence on the effects of extracting shale gas and found it to be rather different from what you might believe if you get your information from Youtube. This displeases Barbara Keeley (Labour) who proceeds to set about PHE's staff. In the exchange below, note how the concerns of her constituents, as well as her own vague intuition, take precedence over both the scientific evidence and her supposed desire for 'fearless independence'. Note, also, her argument that fracking has never taken place in the UK and therefore we know nothing about it (an argument that is rightly derided in the case of plain packaging and minimum pricing - although fracking is far more widespread than either of those policies and has a much larger real world evidence base).

Barbara Keeley: The next shale gas exploration site is in my constituency, so this is a very lively issue for me. I have to say that I was profoundly disappointed in what you came up with, because my constituents are very concerned indeed about these health issues... My take on this is that is that we have no idea. You have no idea and we have no idea. Nobody in this country has any experience of these processes. I think it is far too early.

I am sure the Government were delighted with what you said, given that they want to rush to shale gas and the Prime Minister wants to win a debate on it, but my constituents deserve a bit more calm and real consideration of evidence, which we do not have. I have read some very frightening things about pollution and emissions from the United States. I was very surprised at the extent to which you appeared to jump in and be prepared to say that.

Dr Cosford: I entirely understand the concerns around air pollution at a local level and at a national level. Our scientists are also doing work on combating air pollution, what is required to address that and the potential health harms from air pollution. We are very clear on those points.

Q7 Barbara Keeley: But this is additional pollution—additional emissions. There are some very dangerous chemicals indeed involved in this process.

Dr Cosford: What our evidence says at this stage is that it must be very clear all the way through the process what chemicals are being used and how they are being controlled.

Q8 Barbara Keeley: It is very clear that they are carcinogenic and mutagenic. Very toxic chemicals are used in this process.

Dr Cosford: The evidence that we have suggests that, like many difficult industrial processes, if it is done appropriately and regulated properly, it does not add extra potential harm to the local populations.

Q9 Barbara Keeley: But there is nothing to base that on. It has not happened in this country—you have nothing at all to base that on.

Dr Cosford: That is based on a thorough review of the international evidence. 
Q10 Barbara Keeley: There is not much. 

Dr Cosford: There are a number of different sources of that evidence; we can give you the detail of it. I have to say that I would much rather that the evidence had said something different from that which it did, but our duty is to publish the best scientific evidence that we have. 

Then there is this pitiful exchange with Valerie Vaz (Labour) who, despite having "done science" as she puts it, seems unaware of Paracelsus and so yaps away with the same ridiculous question. I almost felt sorry for the PHE representative by the end of this...

Valerie Vaz: I have two short questions. Seventy-five per cent of the chemicals used in fracking are toxic. As public health officials, do you think that is a good thing? Do you think that is acceptable?

Dr Cosford: The most important issue—

Q29 Valerie Vaz: No—I just want a yes or a no. Do you think that is acceptable?

Dr Cosford: The most important issue—

Q30 Valerie Vaz: No—I just want a yes or a no. Obviously we have to move on. As public health officials, do you think that is acceptable?

Duncan Selbie: It is not amenable to a yes or no question.

Q31 Valerie Vaz: It is.

Duncan Selbie: It would depend on the chemicals, wouldn’t it?

Q32 Valerie Vaz: You obviously know what they are, because you have done a report on it.

Duncan Selbie: Dr Cosford is an expert. We have 2,000 scientists we rely on. We know what the impacts are, but I do not think this is a question we can answer with a yes or a no today.

Q33 Valerie Vaz: Not in this room, but perhaps you can tell me what your opinion is.
... Dr Cosford: Forgive me, but the issue for me is whether there is any risk of public exposure to any chemicals and whether those are handled appropriately. That is an issue with many industrial processes. That is absolutely our concern. If there is any evidence that it would worsen an issue of local air pollution, we will say so and will say so fearlessly. 
Q35 Valerie Vaz: So we wait for a disaster to happen and then say that it was a bad thing.

Dr Cosford: No. Forgive me, but I think that is misrepresenting what I am trying to say. I may not be saying it very clearly. 
Q36 Valerie Vaz: I am just asking whether you think it is acceptable that 75% of the chemicals that are used in fracking are toxic. 
Dr Cosford: The consequence of that suggestion is that using harmful chemicals in any industrial, biomedical or other process would be unacceptable. 
Valerie Vaz: No, not really.

Er, yes really.

I won't reproduce any more of this rubbish, suffice to say that by the end of the session Barbara Keeley is trying to get PHE to campaign against the 'bedroom tax'. As the main architects of Britain's sockpuppet system of state-funded activism, it is no surprise that Labour MPs think that a 'fearless and independent' quango is one that holds the same view as them. They usually do, of course, and so it's fun to see their hysterical reaction on the odd occasion when they beg to differ.

Thursday 27 February 2014

So farewell then, Nannying Tyrants

I'm sad to hear that Jay AKA Nannying Tyrants has finally had enough of illiberal Britain and has decided to emigrate.

That's right. We're gone.

And the reason is because we simply could not stand to live in a country where almost every liberty and right we had enjoyed was systematically destroyed in less than a decade. The seeds of our discontent were sown in July 2007 when the smoking ban took effect. We were no longer considered as adults. We had become wards of the Nanny State. Since then, we've seen ever more intrusive nannying & nudging legislation coming from both the UK & EU, and we've seen our government do everything it can to restrict freedom of speech because the politicians are seeking to control every aspect of our lives. The only solution was to escape the UK/EU monstrosity, to leave home for another country...

So. I've left England. And this is my final blog post for Nannying Tyrants. I want to thank everybody who has helped me along the way -- too many people to list. I hope that someday all of you will have had enough and get out of your comfort zone and fight back, or maybe you could try to leave for somewhere slightly less oppressive. Till that day comes, do take care and good luck. I think you're going to need it.

I can't say I blame him. Many liberal-minded people have emigration in mind as a Plan B if the petty tyranny of lifestyle regulation and so-called public health continues to dominate the political agenda. For the time being, we'll keep fighting to get our country back, but we'll miss you, Jay, and might come knocking on your door in the not-too-distant future.

If only the real nannying tyrants would bugger off. 

Do read his whole post.

Wednesday 26 February 2014

Martin McKee's sudden interest in e-cigarettes

Martin McKee: A picture of health

The characteristically ill informed opinions of Martin McKee about e-cigarettes in the Guardian have attracted the attention of redheadfullofsteam and Dick Puddlecote. McKee seems to think that e-cigarette advertising is somehow designed to make people want to smoke combustible cigarettes. Insofar as he has evidence for this belief, it is that the company that makes the Vype e-cigarette is owned by BAT. This odd theory doesn't explain why independent e-cigarette companies such as E-Lites and NJOY also advertise, nor is it at all obvious how an advertisement for a disruptive product can help the incumbent.

Never mind. There's no point trying to find logic where it doesn't exist. The part of the article that I found interesting was this...

"My view at the moment is that these are things that have been around since the 1960s and people had not paid attention to them. Then suddenly the tobacco industry got interested," he said.

Well, the basic idea for the e-cigarette has been around for decades, and the tobacco industry has spent billions trying to develop alternatives to combustible cigarettes over the years. As I recounted in Free Market Solutions in Health: The Case of Nicotine, none of these innovations had the X factor of consumer appeal. It has only been in this millennium that e-cigarettes have become viable, mass market alternatives to smoking—and they are still improving.

But who is that "suddenly got interested" in e-cigarettes and why? Looking back in the archive of this blog, I see that one of the first posts from September 2009 was about e-cigarettes (in it, I asked the perennial question: "will pressure from American [anti-smoking] fundamentalists and Big Pharma prevail?") I wrote my first Spiked article about them the following year. Plenty of people have been writing articles and blog posts about e-cigarettes from the middle of the last decade.

What has 'public health professional' Martin McKee's contribution to the e-cigarette debate been prior to him declaring himself an expert on the subject five months ago? Well, he briefly mentioned them in a Lancet article in October 2012 when trying to shore up support for the Tobacco Products Directive. Apart from that, nothing. No mention of them on the blog he writes for and no mention of them on his personal blog.

Actually, there is one exception. In 2008, he made a brief mention of e-cigarettes on his blog, but completely misread the signals...

The industry needs to find ways of ensuring that people remain addicted. It is doing this in several ways. First, it is campaigning to legalise sales of snus, a form of oral tobacco, across Europe. It is currently sold only in Sweden and Norway. As we show in a recent paper, the industry’s claims for its effectiveness as an aid to quitting are without foundation [!?!?!?!?!?! - CJS]. Second, it is producing mini-cigarettes, so that smokers can pop out for a few minutes and get a quick nicotine fix without having to smoke a whole cigarette. At the same time, other companies are producing electronic devices that extract the nicotine from tobacco without producing smoke (something the tobacco industry is less keen on because it clearly highlights the role of nicotine as an addictive drug).

Six years on and 'mini-cigarettes' are nowhere to be seen and Mystic Martin is complaining that the tobacco industry is rather too "keen" on producing e-cigarettes. And this guy is an expert, apparently.

It was only in September last year that McKee decided to do "some homework" on e-cigarettes (his words). A sketchy BMJ opinion piece and a notoriously ignorant blog post were the fruits of his labour. This, it seems, was sufficient for him to become the go-to man whenever a journalist wants someone to talk about e-cigarettes.

I appreciate that the media often want to get extreme views in a debate and that McKee's rectally sourced opinions are not unrepresentative of the anti-smoking lobby's lunatic fringe/heartland. Nevertheless, it is rich of McKee to accuse people of becoming suddenly and suspiciously interested in e-cigarettes when he ignored them until the eleventh hour himself. Moreover, McKee's sudden interest in a major public health debate seems to have been inspired solely by the tobacco industry's recent entry into the e-cig market. Contrary to his comment in the Guardian, many "people" have been "paying attention" to e-cigarettes for a number of years. He hasn't. Until now. All of which supports the view that McKee is much less interested in 'public health' than he is about fighting a private war against industry.

Friday 21 February 2014

E-cigarette advertising

I was on Radio 4's You and Yours this lunchtime debating e-cigarette advertising with Vivienne Nathanson. She is the British Medical Association's head of 'science and ethics', but I didn't hear much evidence of either when she spoke. The usual spurious 'dual use' and 'gateway theory' objections were raised, along with the extraordinary claim that the e-cigarette "is not something that's being used to help people give up".

You can listen to the interview here. The item starts at 1.25 minutes.

And you can watch the advert that has fed the BMA's insatiable appetite for banning things below. As I mentioned in the interview, the word 'smokers' has been changed to 'vapers' for broadcast on television. I don't know why.

It is not the first e-cigarette advert to appear on television. E-lites got there first, but as E-lites are not made by a subsidiary of 'Big Tobacco' the BMA kicked up less of a stink.

Finally, if you haven't seen it yet, Rob Lyons' article about e-cigarettes and tobakko kontrol is well worth reading.

Thursday 20 February 2014

Up close with the prohibitionists

New Zealand's FIZZ conference is sadly over, but what a glimpse it gave us into the mind of the modern 'public health professional'. With the help of Twitter (esp. @CarrickGraham) and Storify, here are some of the highlights.

For starters

From Grist:

Soon, bottles of pop could come with a health warning akin to cigarettes, if California Sen. Bill Monning’s new bill passes. The senator proposed the measure last week in Sacramento in the context of reducing childhood obesity. (California’s already banned soda in public schools.) SB 1000 would take effect in July 2015.

...As with smoking labels, we’re not sure how effective the warning will be, given that graphic photos of shriveled organs are more effective than plain text. But at least it’s a big step in the right direction!

From Owen Jones (in an atrocious Independent article that would get a proper fisking if I had time):

Alcohol abuse needs to be treated as the national disaster that it is. Banning alcohol advertising would be a good start.

What would these people do if they got into second gear, I wonder?

Tuesday 18 February 2014

The fizzy drink prohibitionists

So. This is really happening.

In New Zealand, a group of 'public health doctors' have formed an organisation called Fizz which is seeking the outright prohibition of sugar-sweetened beverages (SSBs). You think I'm exaggerating? I am not exaggerating.

They are currently holding a conference which includes contributions from Robert "beware of the bees" Lustig and Mike "give me a sign, Lord" Rayner. Here's a taster...

Follow Carrick Graham for updates from the conference and see Dick Puddlecote for details of 'the next logical step': plain packaging for soft drinks.

Repeat after me. There is no slippery slope.


Ooh, they have a declaration. Banning fizzy drinks will reduce depression, suicide and crime, apparently. Inevitably, it says that sugary drinks "should be treated in the same manner as tobacco", ie. banned. It's always fun to see Public Health's mask of sanity slip. It's an increasingly frequent event.

Click to enlarge.


The Alcohol Health Alliance supports government extortion

Ian Gilmore's Alcohol Health Alliance is worried that the government might bring an end to the alcohol duty escalator and has mobilised the likes of the Institute of Alcohol Studies to call for more above-inflation tax rises on wine and spirits.

As usual, they rely on half-truths, misrepresentations and lying by omission. And, for that matter, lying by telling lies. I've written a blog post for the IEA here. Please read it.

Monday 17 February 2014

Big Pharma and little e-cigarettes

From The Times...

E-cigarettes can be gateway to tobacco, warns rival Glaxo

One of the world’s biggest pharmaceutical companies has warned lawmakers that electronic cigarettes could act as a “gateway to tobacco” .

The leaked correspondence from GlaxoSmithKline, whose nicotine patches, gums and lozenges are being undermined by the burgeoning e-cigarette market, reveals the opposition from the pharmaceutical industry to impending regulation of e-cigarettes across the European Union.

The pharmaceutical industry wants medicines licences to be mandatory for e-cigarettes, as they are for nicotine products. Instead, the EU is set to introduce a system in which e-cigarette companies can opt in for medicines regulation or be regulated in a similar way to traditional cigarettes.

In the letter sent to Jane Ellison, the Health Minister, last October, GSK warned that a “two-tier nicotine system” in Europe would “seriously disadvantage proven nicotine replacement therapy products”.

This is a blatant attempt at rent-seeking by an obvious vested interest. We know that the pharmaceutical industry has been lobbying hard to hamper the growth of e-cigarettes so it comes as no surprise to find Glaxo using the tired old gateway argument.

The truth is that e-cigarettes will only "seriously disadvantage" the NRT market if they work better as quitting aids. In my experience—and the experience of countless other people—e-cigarettes are much better substitutes for smoking. If they were really a "gateway" to smoking, e-cigarettes would be good for companies like Glaxo as they would create more smokers (NRT companies need there to be smokers just as much as cigarette companies do).

Glaxo are entitled to lobby, of course, as are McNeil, Pfizer, Johnson & Johnson and any other seller of nicotine products. But it is strange that the 'public health' lobby portrays trivial gifts such as a crate of beer or a ticket to a flower show as major conflicts of interests while saying barely a peep about the vastly greater sums of money that flow from pharmaceutical companies like GSK to anti-smoking groups such as the Tackling Tobacco Network and Anna Gilmore's UK Centre for Tobacco and Alcohol Studies. Or, indeed, the World Health Organisation itself (normally I would link to this speech, but the WHO has removed it—you can read the important part in this post).

Meanwhile, tickets are still available for the UK National Smoking Cessation Conference, featuring Linda Bauld, Anna Gilmore and various other neo-prohibitionists. Sessions include the 'GSK symposium' and the 'Pfizer symposium'.

As usual, both these companies are main sponsors of the conference—apparently there is no problem having corporations that are vociferously opposed to the most promising development in smoking cessation paying for a conference about smoking cessation.

As I have said before, I'd rather see events like this funded privately than by the taxpayer, but since the 'public health' lobby is so obsessed with ad hominem attacks and 'follow the money' smears, how about a little consistency?

Friday 14 February 2014

The Moral Maze

I was on the Moral Maze on Wednesday night. It's a great (live) show so it was nice to be invited on. I last appeared as a 'witness' in 2010 when the subject was 'nudging', a topic that was inspired by the then-recent decision to look at plain packaging. (So long ago! I dread to think how much public money has been spent on that ridiculous idea in the intervening years.)

This time the subject was 'individual freedom versus public health', inspired partly by the prospect of banning smoking in cars with under-18s. It was fun to do and I think I got my point across. I was slightly puzzled by the two guests who came on after me who were interesting in their own way but didn't seem ideally suited to the topic. The Jainist (Google it—good on them for sticking with the old swastika despite all that unpleasantness with Mr Hitler) mentioned in the green room that arguments and confrontation were not part of his culture, which made him an odd choice for the Moral Maze, but he more than held his own.

I was slightly surprised to be cross-examined by Michael Portillo rather than Matthew Taylor. Taylor is a New Labourite and was very keen on the nanny state when I was on the show in 2010, but on this occasion he took a slightly more libertarian position. Whether this was an intellectual exercise for him or a change in outlook, I don't know. For his part, Portillo took my acknowledgement that unavoidable negative externalities can, in some instances, justify Pigovian taxation to be a bigger concession than it was. If we had spoken about this at greater length, he would have found that this means we should have fewer nanny state laws, not more. Alas, the pace of the programme meant that this never came out. Fortunately, Claire Fox was on hand to give a robust defence of individual liberty.

My main opponent was a woman from the Royal Society of Public Health. It's an organisation that I have never knowingly encountered before and so—as I told her beforehand—I assume they can't be too bad. She was nice. I hate it when they're nice.

You can listen to it here. My bit starts at 11 minutes.

Thursday 13 February 2014

The glory of Anna Gilmore

Anna Gilmore has been very busy of late. In the last few months she has produced a slew of ever more blatantly partisan 'studies' which are little more than a preordained policy conclusion buttressed by the fruits of a Google search. These efforts include 'Let's grass up Europeans who sell snus', 'Businesses try to make money', 'The illicit trade is tiny, honest gov'nur, and taxes have got nothing to do with it', 'The tobacco industry never used the term "tobacco harm reduction" until after the term was invented. Bit suspicious, that.' and 'Industries lobby', although she gave them different titles.

Disappointingly for Gilmore, even the usually supportive Guardian and Independent have failed to report much of this 'research', perhaps because it is transparently policy-oriented propaganda from a person who sits on the board of not one, but three, anti-smoking organisations (ASH, Smokefree SouthWest and the UK Centre for Tobacco and Alcohol Studies - see Dick Puddlecote for details on how taxpayers' money swishes between them).

Her latest two articles, published eight days apart in preparation for the Cyril Chantler review of plain packs have also received little press attention. This is a shame because they are absolutely hilarious. The most recent, published today, is an attempt to swing the burden of evidence away from those who want plain packs to those who don't. 'A critical evaluation of the volume, relevance and quality of evidence submitted by the tobacco industry to oppose standardised packaging of tobacco products' may have taken its inspiration from an outrageous study from 2013 which saw campaigners for minimum pricing 'evaluating' the arguments made by those who opposed it and concluded—surprise, surprise—that they were weak.

It is, of course, for the government to decide which evidence and arguments it finds most persuasive, not one side or the other. If you asked a Spurs fan to evaluate the quality of Arsenal's football team, you would get a conclusion that was not commensurate with the latter's position in the league. Spurs fan do not, however, typically have easy access to influential journals, nor would they necessarily have sympathetic peer-reviewers. For this reason, they are less able to present their warped opinion as scientific fact.

Having made herself judge, jury and executioner, Gilmore declares that most of the evidence presented by the tobacco industry is 'weak' and 'irrelevant'. Anyone familiar with the evidence presented by campaigners such as Gilmore in favour of plain packs—or, indeed, has read anything written by Anna Gilmore ever—will see the irony here. Plain packaging has always been presented as a policy designed to reduce smoking initiation by minors, but all the studies they present—and Lord knows there are lots of them—either ask minors which packs they find more attractive (ie. very 'weak' evidence) or ask adult smokers whether they think cigarettes from plain packs taste worse or whether they've considered quitting (ie. 'irrelevant' evidence). 

How does Gilmore justify her conclusion that her side's evidence is of higher quality than the tobacco industry's? She has just two criteria: (1) whether the evidence was funded, or in any way linked, to the tobacco industry, and (2) whether the evidence was peer-reviewed. Sadly, she does not list the evidence itself, so we can't see what mental gymnastics went into tagging evidence as being 'linked to' the tobacco industry, but we have seen before that anti-smoking campaigners can broaden that definition to include everybody except themselves. Ultimately, this is a not a qualitative evaluation, but a blind dismissal of any research not funded or conducted by their own side (Gilmore's own study is funded by CRUK, who have been campaigning vociferously for plain packs for several years, but this does not stop it being 'independent' by Gilmore's criteria).

The second study, published on February 5th, is even better. 'How Does the Tobacco Industry Attempt to Influence Marketing Regulations? A Systematic Review' appears to be the result of a drunken evening spent on search engines looking for "tobacco industry arguments" which, upon closer inspection, are just arguments used by all sorts of people, including anti-smoking campaigners, in political debate. Her list of "tactics" to look out for is hilariously comprehensive, as is her warning that they are "repeated across jurisdictions" The same arguments being used in different countries? Oh, the humanity!

Here, in all its glory, is Gilmore's list of "tobacco industry arguments" (click to enlarge).

Again, there is no attempt to evaluate whether the arguments are valid, although it is strongly implied that they are not. If they are invalid it poses a problem for political debate because most of them are used by different interest groups all the time.

The second argument (about job losses), for example, was used by the staff of London Underground when they went on strike last week.

The third argument (about some people being affected more heavily than others) is used by campaigners against the Bedroom Tax.

The fourth argument (about negative effects on the economy) are used on a daily basis, often legitimately, by every campaigner and politician under the sun.

The sixth argument (about negative effects on public health) is used routinely by public health campaigners.

The eighth argument (about "other negative unintended consequences") is so absurdly broad that it is used by every human being in the world, as is the argument that "regulation is more extensive than necessary".

I could go on, but I think you get the picture. In her attempt to divert attention to the weaknesses of her own arguments, Gilmore damns the entirety of political discussion.

Meanwhile, after fifteen months, we continue to wait for a scintilla of evidence from Australia showing that plain packaging has deterred a single minor from starting to smoke.

Monday 10 February 2014

BBC: It's not about the children, it's about denormalisation

A ban on smoking in cars with under-18s, plain packaging of tobacco, and an enabling act to allow future health secretaries to regulate tobacco in any way they want. Not bad for a few grubby amendments patched onto an unrelated piece of legislation by unelected Labour peers at the eleventh hour.

Will the anti-smoking groups now disband? Can we stop giving them millions of pounds of public money? Of course not. The crusade marches on.

I have often said that the ban on smoking in cars had nothing to do with children or secondhand smoke. Like all anti-smoking legislation, it is really about harassing and bullying adult smokers. And now that the amendments have made it through parliament, the BBC can let its hair down and speak this truth openly.

Much of the debate about banning smoking in cars has been talked about in terms of protecting children.

That is understandable. Research published in 2009 showed that a single cigarette in a stationary car could produce levels of second-hand smoke 11 times greater than that found in a smoky bar.

Although it should be pointed out that the study also said if the car was moving and a window open it reduced the toxins to well below that level.

Indeed. It's not about secondhand smoke. It's a bluff. (And how obscene that figures based on smoking in a stationary car with all the windows up came to dominate the political discussion and were quoted in the House of Commons this evening.)

But it is also an inescapable fact that this issue is the latest in the fight to make smoking socially unacceptable.

No kidding.

From the smoking ban to the warnings on cigarettes, one of the underlying aims of all interventions is that they should push smoking away from what is considered normal behaviour.

It is, let's face it, the only aim. It is a top-down process of gradual, forceful stigmatisation. This is why those of us with liberal views find the tobacco control movement morally repugnant.

It is now up to ministers to decide whether they want to take this next step. At the moment, they are saying there are no immediate plans, but that could easily change.

There are no immediate plans. The plans get drawn up tomorrow morning.


Sure enough, plans are afoot. Plus, a new article from Nick Triggle: Is a complete ban on smoking next?

Hostage to fortune

The anti-smoking lobby's track record of predicting the future is notoriously pisspoor. ASH's 'Myth and Reality About Smokefree England' was such a humdinger that virtually all the 'myths' had become reality within a few months of the smoking ban being introduced. Likewise, reassurances that food and alcohol would not be treated in the same way as cigarettes have proven to be hilariously hollow.

The CEO of the British Lung Foundation should therefore know better than to describe legitimate concerns as 'myths', but needs must when there's a campaign to win. And so she has produced the Top Ten Myths About the Ban on Smoking in Cars Carrying Children, which includes this nugget:

It's a keeper isn't it? The hubris about 'bans in all cars' is particularly inappropriate when you consider that the British Meddling Association was demanding exactly that only three years ago.

I wonder how long it will be before we can look back on this reassurance as an 'insult to the intelligence of the public'?

Minimum pricing and the magic 4p

Yet another version of the Sheffield minimum pricing model and yet another shed load of media attention. (This, from the people who claim that "we can’t really change the narrative in any way—we don’t have that power—but bodies such as the Adam Smith Institute have this public megaphone"!)

The 2009 Sheffield model claimed that minimum pricing would save 2,040 lives in its tenth year. In 2013, it said it would save 624 lives. The latest incarnation says 860 lives. It doesn't really matter what number they conjure up. It's all fantasy modelling based on misconceptions such as the belief that alcoholics are more responsive to price increases than moderate drinkers and that there are no substitution effects or unintended consequences from ratcheting up prices.

The real objective of the Version 2.6 is to make people think that a policy that deliberately raises the prices of drinks that are disproportionately bought by the poor is—honest guv'nor—not regressive and that "respectable people"—as one self-proclaimed socialist calls them—have nothing to fear. The emerging myth is that minimum pricing will, as the Daily Mail puts it, "barely affect sensible drinkers".

The most eye-catching figure in the study involves the risible claim that moderate drinkers on low incomes will only pay an extra four pence as a result of a 45p minimum price. That's 4p a year! According to the Sheffield modellers, these people have a very fixed budget for alcohol and won't pay any more when prices rise (hence, consumption will fall by 1.6 per cent, they reckon).

A few points need to be made:

1. If minimum pricing comes in, there is no chance that it will be at 45p per unit. Scotland is aiming for 50p per unit. The British Medical Association wants 60p. And when the policy inevitably fails, you can be sure the medical temperance lobby will be calling for dramatic rises in the minimum price. Any study that looks at a 45p unit price is bound to underestimate the cost and is irrelevant to the political debate.

2. The Sheffield researchers' definition of an average moderate drinker on a low income is someone who drinks 4.6 units a week. This is the equivalent of one pint of premium lager on Friday, another one on Saturday and nothing for the rest of the week. I will allow you, dear reader, to be the judge of whether you consider that to be credible premise.

3. They use alcohol consumption figures from 2009 to make their estimates. Alcohol consumption has fallen by considerably more than 1.6 per cent in the intervening years without anyone noticing a decline in alcohol-related mortality.

4. Amongst people who are supposedly 'harmful drinkers', the Sheffield researchers claim that most will save money from minimum pricing. The poorest group, for example, will spend £34.63 less per year and yet will also reduce their consumption by 7.6 per cent. Not only will higher prices make these heavy drinkers decide to cut down on their drinking, but they will reduce their entire drinking budget! What alchemy is this? Only the richest group will be 'hit'—to the tune of £16.35, which is chicken feed, and this group will also reduce their consumption (by 1 per cent). Again, I leave it to the reader to consider whether he or she finds this remotely likely.

Sunday 9 February 2014

Former Surgeon General on e-cigarettes

There's a short interview with former Surgeon General Richard Carmona in the current issue of Science. Carmona caused consternation amongst the intensive care wing of the anti-smoking lobby when he joined the board of NJOY.In this interview, he addresses some of the standard objections.

Q: As a doctor and former surgeon general, why did you join the board of an electronic cigarette manufacturer?

R.C.: At first, I immediately rejected their offer. But with some due diligence I came to see that they were willing to do the necessary science and that we could be allies in the antitobacco movement. That said, I offered to join only under certain conditions: that they request FDA regulation— which is in the public’s best interests—that they conduct and publish their own research in peer-reviewed journals, even if the findings hurt the bottom line; that they don’t use my name or refer to the surgeon general in their advertising campaigns; and that they don’t market to kids. So far, they’ve delivered on all those promises.

Q: E-cigarettes are touted as a way to stop tobacco smoking. But would you advocate that people who do that successfully then also try to wean themselves off e-cigarettes?

R.C.: Yes, but the urgency isn’t as great because people who use them aren’t inhaling large amounts of carcinogens and cardiovascular disease–causing agents.

Q: How can you be sure they’re safe?

R.C.: As research priorities, we’re asking about cons from long-term nicotine use, and we’re examining the different components in side-stream vapor to make sure they’re not unsafe. So far we don’t see any problems. And we’re also looking into long-term efficacy: How many people who use e- cigarettes quit and for how long? We just have to craft the right questions and then report back to the public.

Q: Won’t e-cigarettes just lead to more people getting hooked on nicotine?

R.C.: That same question came up decades ago when nicotine gum, patches, and sprays came on the market. People said they would create new nicotine addicts and that never happened. But e-cigarettes are a different kind of nicotine delivery device, so they raise unanswered questions that we’re looking into.

Q: On what basis do you think e-cigarettes can help people quit smoking?

R.C.: There is evidence that gums, patches, and sprays work, but they don’t work well enough. And early evidence suggests that because e-cigarettes reinforce the physical movement of smoking, they can enhance tobacco cessation, but we don’t have all the information yet. We have to continue doing the research and publishing data to demonstrate that they’re helpful.

Q: What about children? Some of these e-cigarettes are candy flavored.

R.C.: As a company, we’ve made a commitment that these products should not be sold to kids under any circumstances. Children don’t factor into NJOY’s marketing, but if a customer says they like a particular flavor, then I have no problem with that—adults enjoy these flavors, too.

Q: How would you respond to critics who say you shouldn’t be doing this?

R.C.: Making tobacco obsolete is part of NJOY’s value ... and it’s consistent with my efforts to move people away from cigarettes with combustible toxins that lead to cancer and cardiovascular diseases. I accept that my colleagues have concerns and that the antitobacco world is divided on this. You’ve got two camps here: an abstinence-only camp that thinks anything related to tobacco should be outlawed, and those of us who say abstinence has failed, and that we have to take advantage of every opportunity with a reasonable prospect for harm reduction.

Saturday 8 February 2014

Response to BMJ hatchet job

On behalf of the Institute of Economic Affairs, I have responded to the British Medical Journal's hit job on opponents of minimum pricing (previously discussed here).

The BMJ has published it as a rapid response here and you can also read it on the IEA blog.

Thursday 6 February 2014

"The strategy is to isolate an unhealthy product and bash it relentlessly."

An article in The Telegraph about sugar sums up the unending public health crusade...

So why has our affair with sugar suddenly turned bitter? Well, partly because we needed a new target. We’ve had the war on tobacco, and on fat. Salt is another recent adversary, with a group called the Consensus Action on Salt and Health, or CASH, spearheading a British campaign to lower salt in foods. The strategy is to isolate an unhealthy product and bash it relentlessly.

That's the plan and, as the writer says, it has "been brilliantly successful". In campaigning terms, this is true. In scientific terms, not so much. The war on saturated fat turned out to be based on a poor evidence and has since been abandoned, but not before food manufacturers were pressured into creating a range of low-fat products which had more sugar in them.

The war on salt was similarly based on hysterical claims and has fallen over the radar, with Consensus Action on Salt and Health morphing seamlessly into Action on Sugar.

The bone-headed policy of 'isolating an unhealthy product and bashing it relentlessly' is not too clever when you're dealing with salt, sugar and fat. None of them are unhealthy per se, and there are unintended consequences that come from 'bashing' them.

Campaigners will only be trusted if they play it absolutely straight.

That's Action on Sugar screwed then. Aseem Malhotra is their scientific director.

Wednesday 5 February 2014

Don't mess with the state

The Mini Cheddar Martyr has been expelled...

Boy, six, suspended from school after taking a packet of Mini Cheddars in his lunchbox has now been EXPELLED because parents vented their outrage in the press

In stories like this, there is sometimes more than meets the eye. Perhaps the lad has been expelled for some more serious crime than eating cheesy snacks?

The school has insisted a pupil was not excluded 'for just having Mini Cheddars in their lunchbox'...


...but because there had been a 'persistent and deliberate breach of school policy, such as bringing in crisps, biscuits, sausage rolls, mini sausages, scotch eggs and similar'.

And that really is it. No fighting, truancy or vandalism. This six year old has been expelled from school because he won't obey Big Public Health. Oh, and also because his parents have been exercising their freedom of speech...

In a statement the school said a pupil had been permanently excluded because 'during the course of a recent four day exclusion, the pupil’s parents made it publicly clear that their child would not be following the school's policy on healthy eating upon their return'.

No dissent allowed.

'I’m just devastated,' said Mr Pearson, last night. 'He rang and told me the decision had been made to exclude Riley permanently and we had given the school a bad reputation because of the media coverage.'

A case of shooting the messenger if ever there was one. Could it not be that the school's illiberal food policy and evil headteacher are what has given it a 'bad reputation'?

It beggars belief that a school would sacrifice a child's education because he eats what his parents want him to eat, but as I said in my previous post, you can't afford top mess with Public Health. Expect much more of this kind of thing as the years go on.

The Sock Doctrine

In an IEA report published today, I return to the issue of state-funded political activism. Following on from Sock Puppets and Euro Puppets, The Sock Doctrine looks at the options available to government in preventing taxpayers' money being used for lobbying, advocacy and campaigning.

The paper also looks at some recent examples of state-funded activism and reflects on the situation in the USA and Australia where there is a similar problem. Finally, it includes a list of special interest groups that receive up 100 per cent of their income from the government.

It's free to download.

And I've written an article about it for ConHome.

Tuesday 4 February 2014

Prohibition fails again

You may recall that the tinpot monarchy of Bhutan banned tobacco in 2005, to great acclaim from The Lancet...

The tiny kingdom of Bhutan has gone furthest of all by banning the sale of tobacco products altogether. The tobacco-free age is just around the corner.

As previously covered on this blog, Bhutan's government enforced the tobacco ban with remorseless vigour using the full apparatus of a despotic state. Nevertheless, a 2011 study found a thriving black market and widespread tobacco use in all its forms. As I wrote at the time...

Published in International Drug Policy, ‘History of Bhutan’s prohibition of cigarettes: Implications for neo-prohibitionists’ takes a look at how the tiny kingdom of Bhutan has been getting on after seven years of tobacco prohibition.

There is, says its author, “a thriving black market and significant and increasing tobacco smuggling… 23.7% of students had used any tobacco products (not limited to cigarettes) in the last 30 days… tobacco use for adults has not ended or is even close to ending… cigarette prohibition is instrumental in encouraging smuggling and black markets… The results of this study provide an important lesson learned for health practitioners and advocates considering or advocating, albeit gradual, but total cigarette ban as a public policy.”

That’s right. Prohibition still doesn’t work.

In 2013, Tshering Tobgay became Prime Minister of Bhutan. I immediately warmed to him when he called Bhutan's notorious Gross National Happiness measure a "distraction" because I had referred to it as the "Gross National Distraction" two years earlier. He is doing his best to bring some sanity back to Bhutan and has decided to stop flogging the dead horse of prohibition.

In 2012, a compromise was brought before parliament allowing some concessions which, as Tobgay said in a blog post, were not good enough. (Yes, he blogs! And he is on Twitter.)

...the amendment, like the existing Act, does not recognize the simple fact that prohibition has never worked and will not work. That’s why a black market quickly (and effectively) established itself in spite of the draconian provisions of the existing Act. That’s why, in the year since the Tobacco Control Act came into effect, many people took their chances despite the stiff sentences in it. Of the many, 84 people got caught. And of them, 39 people have already been sent to jail.

If the amendment goes through, a minority of us will continue to be able to procure and consume tobacco legally. But for the most of us, if we consume tobacco, we will continue to be doing so illegally. That would make us criminals. And because the penalties have now been staggered, expect a bigger black market; expect many more criminals.

 And now—with apologies for the dodgy English from this Bhutanese website—this has happened...

Bhutan’s U-turn on tobacco ban

Bhutan’s second parliament is likely to set the history of ‘ban lift’ as it takes steps to do so one after another. Very recently the country lifted ban on import of furniture [!!! - CJS] and alcohol.

Now the country’s Upper House resolves that ban on import of tobacco must end. In a majority resolution on Monday (3 February 2014), the house said ban on import and sale of tobacco products must end to control the black market.

Well done Mr Tobgay. We wish you well in bringing Bhutan to its senses. Now we just need to make The Lancet understand...

The politics of 'public health'

I've written an article for the Free Society about the poisonous politics of the so-called public health movement, inspired by the recent barrage of propaganda about 'Big Food'.

Dig a little deeper into the ‘public health’ movement and its true political nature reveals itself. Roberto de Vogli, the “top doctor” quoted by the Independent (see above) is neither a medical doctor nor a leading figure in his field (which is, at least ostensibly, epidemiology). His real preoccupation is with “global neoliberalism” and “market greed”. The real cause of obesity in the UK, he said, was its “deregulated, liberal economy model”. In the WHO-funded study that he was promoting, a relationship between Body Mass Index and “economic freedom” was identified. The policy implications are obvious. “Governments should take steps to regulate the economies,” he said, “not let the invisible hand of the market self-regulate the food system.”

“Economic freedom” and “personal choice” are therefore the explicit enemies of the ‘public health’ movement. No wonder, then, that ‘public health’ has become a base from which discredited socialist ideas are reframed as quasi-medical issues. All the old targets are present and correct—capitalism, individualism, advertising, American corporations, income inequality—all served up with a dash of genuine puritanism. In the hands of academics such as Richard Horton, Richard Wilkinson and Michael Marmot, antediluvian leftism has been unashamedly injected into the discourse of health, while the words and deeds of such figures as Gerard Hastings and Martin McKee display a quite staggering degree of undergraduate Marxism. Throw a rock in the air at any public health conference and you will hit a member of the loony left.

Please read the whole thing.

Monday 3 February 2014

'Secret' meetings with ministers

From the Daily Mail...

How food giants sweet talk ministers: Sugar campaigners' fears over 'secret stitch-up' meetings

The food industry lobby has been given unprecedented access to the heart of government, a Daily Mail investigation has found.

Fast food companies, supermarkets, restaurant chains and chocolate and fizzy drinks firms have had dozens of meetings with ministers.

... Tam Fry, of the National Obesity Forum, said: ‘These meetings are an example of how the industry has a charmed route into the corridors of power that is denied to everyone else."

This bears an uncanny resemblance to the Daily Mail's story of January 8th...

Anger at 'shabby truth' of meetings between ministers and drinks industry in weeks before minimum alcohol pricing was axed

David Cameron today faced claims the government caved in to pressure from the drinks industry to ditch plans to impose minimum alcohol pricing.

Ministers met drinks firms, trade bodies and supermarkets dozens of times before dropping the policy last year.

Tory MP Sarah Wollaston said condemned the ‘shabby truth’ which had emerged while Labour accused the Prime Minister of ‘cosying up to vested interests’.

The first story is pretty much a carbon copy of the second, but with the word 'drinks' replaced with 'food'. Public health lobbyists know a good template when they see one.

The same comments can be made of both these 'stories'.

1. The food industry is made up of many different companies, all of which deserve to have meetings with the government.

2. Many of the 'health groups' have thrown their toys out of the pram and walked out of the government's Responsibility Deal and have therefore resigned their seat at the table.

3. The meetings were not 'secret', hence the Daily Mail being able to get the details of them by simply asking.

4. Unless we know how many meetings have been held between the government and the 'health groups', we have no way of knowing whether there is an imbalance of access. Neither last month's BMJ hatchet job on the alcohol industry nor today's pisspoor (and yet front page) investigation at the Mail gives us these figures.

I would be very interested to know how many meetings the National Obesity Forum, the UK Faculty of Public Health, Action on Sugar, the Royal College of Physicians, the British Medical Association and all the other authoritarian special interest groups have held with ministers but they are secret no one has asked. I suspect the number is large and that the health lobby has an influence that far exceeds its level of public support.

The idea that the food industry has exceptional access while the 'health groups' are left out in the cold is ridiculous, as unwittingly demonstrated by the anti-sugar clown Aseem Malhotra when he pointed his Twitter followers towards the Mail's story earlier today.


Humourless harridans

As reported by Ep-ology, Dick Puddlecote, Redheadfullofsteam, Headrambles and others, ASH have create a Streisland Effect by trying to close down the Tobacco Tacticss Twitter account.

Tobacco Tacticss is very obviously a parody account (as hinted at by the words "official parody" in the description) with amusing satires of the excesses of the anti-smoking lobby such as this (which is a parody of this):

ASH have gone crying to Twitter about such images, claiming that the borrowing of their photos constitutes a breach of copyright. They don't understand the concept of 'fair use' and haven't got a leg to stand on under UK or US law, but it's telling that these granite-faced prohibitionists want the state to silence anyone who criticises them.

Meanwhile, the term 'humourless harridans' falls under the category of 'vulgar abuse'.

If you don't already follow @TobaccoTacticss, be sure to do so.

Saturday 1 February 2014

Spelling mistake of the day

From a headteacher in the comments section of The Guardian, defending her right to suspend kids who don't eat what she wants them to...

"We are their [sic] to educate families, not just children"

These nine words sum up the teaching profession in so many ways.

A message from the lunchbox police

From the Mail, the Guardian and the Mirror...

Boy, six, suspended from school for four days after he was found to have a packet of Mini Cheddars in his lunchbox

A six-year-old boy who went to school with a bag of Mini Cheddars in his packed lunch has been suspended for four days after teachers said it contravened its healthy eating policy.

Riley Pearson, from Colnbrook, near Slough, was excluded from Colnbrook C of E Primary School after teachers discovered the snack and called in his parents.

... A letter was sent to parents saying that from 14 January, packed lunches should be 'healthy and balanced'.

Parents were told: 'Chocolate, sweets, crisps and fizzy drinks are not allowed.

'If your child's lunchbox is unhealthy and unbalanced they will be provided with a school lunch for which you will be charged.'

How heartwarming to see Public Health being taken seriously by the nation's educators. What better way to encourage a balanced diet than to have an outright ban on entire categories of food, especially those that children like best?

Look, this family was warned and now they must suffer the consequences. It's good to know that the school is considering a "permanent exclusion" unless these health criminals repent.

Today Riley's mother, airport shuttle worker Natalie Mardle, 24, said: 'We just do not see how they have the right to tell us what we can feed our son.'

Oh, come on, Miss Mardle. That's a terribly old-fashioned way of looking at things. These days we have experts to tell us what people should be eating. They care about the well-being of your child much more than you ever could. Are you an expert, dear? Are you even a member of the British Medical Association? No, you work at an airport, so pipe down and let us public health professionals dictate what your offspring eat. Nanny knows best.

'If anything, Riley is underweight and could do with putting on a few pounds.'

It may look that way from his outward appearance, Miss Mardle, but by inappropriately applying the archaic and arbitrary Body Mass Index measure to growing children, we can—and do—frequently classify perfectly slim and healthy children as being overweight and obese. Then we call it an epidemic and get to tell people what to eat based on whatever fad theory about salt/sugar/carbohydrates/fat/trans-fats happens to be in vogue.

Miss Mardle, who is expecting her fourth child, added: 'Having a balanced diet also includes eating some carbohydrates, sugars and fats.

'It is not about excluding some foods, it is about getting the mix right.'

Don't try to bamboozle us with your 'common sense', Miss Mardle! That's the kind of thing someone's grandmother might say. We don't do things like that any more. These days we pick a particular ingredient (sugar, this week), demonise it and then try to tax the pants off it. Whichever target we pick, we make sure that it is made by a large industry, is sold in supermarkets and is popular with ordinary people.

We've already explained that a balanced diet means one in which chocolate, sweets, crisps, fizzy drinks and God knows what else is completely excluded. That might sound like an unbalanced diet to some people, but that's because they're untutored ignoramuses from outside of Public Health who don't have a peer-reviewed study or a teaching qualification to their name and whose only life experience comes from raising three perfectly healthy children.

Don't play dumb here, Miss Mardle. You thought you could get around the ban on crisps by bringing Mini Cheddars into the equation. More fool you. When we say that we want to encourage children to eat a balanced diet, we mean that we will force your children onto the kind of diet that is favoured by Islington neurotics. And we do mean force, Miss Mardle, as your son has just found out.

'Surely the headteacher has better things to do with his time than search lunchboxes?'

What could be more important in a school that was "placed in special measures after Ofsted inspectors deemed it 'inadequate'" than implementing 21st century public health policies? Nothing could be more important than keeping your son away from salty snacks, Miss Mardle. Nothing. Get thee to a nunnery and we shall protect your child.

We can do this the hard way or the easy way but, god damn it, you will learn to obey Public Health.