Monday 31 March 2014

Stay away from the chairs!

In an article that reports the results of a survey showing that most Americans do not find e-cigarette vapour annoying, we get a quote from vetaran anti-smoking crusader, Jonathan Samet...

“There have been two reasons to handle e-cigs the same as combustible products,” Samet said. “People would be exposed to the nicotine in the air, so the vapor could settle on people. It could contaminate the air that they breathe. It could contaminate a chair, and they could touch it and nicotine can go through the skin.”

Unlike many in his movement, Samet has real scientific qualifications. He must know that (a) 'passive vaping' is harmless, (b) nicotine is harmless at these kind of trace levels, and (c) 'thirdhand smoke', let alone 'thirdhand vapour', is a joke. And yet he brings all three of these weird ideas together in a desperate attempt to justify his dislike of e-cigarettes.

The result of this lunatic cocktail of crank theories is a lunatic conclusion: that a chair that has been exposed to what is basically steam poses a health threat to anyone who lays a finger on it.

Do these people realise how mad they sound? Do they care?

Fundamentalism does strange things to people's minds.

Thursday 27 March 2014

Oborne on the money

Peter Oborne covers the lot in the Telegraph today - the state-funded activists, the failure of plain packaging, the damage done by the smoking ban and the rising unrest against the nanny state.

Go read it.

Tuesday 25 March 2014

E-cigarettes and thought experiments

I've written a blog post for Save E-cigs...

The classic thought experiment is to imagine how putative health groups would react to the creation of a safe cigarette. In this hypothetical situation, those who are genuinely concerned with health would be delighted while the moral crusaders and anti-industry fanatics would be inconsolable. Thanks to the e-cigarette, this scenario is no longer hypothetical and what a litmus test it has been for those of us who have always wondered how many zealots and opportunists were masquerading as health campaigners.

Read the rest here and then please sign their petition.

Monday 24 March 2014

Australia under plain packaging: legal sales up, illegal sales up

Well, this is awkward...

Australia tobacco sales increase despite plain packaging

Deliveries of tobacco to retailers in Australia rose slightly last year for the first time in at least five years, even after the introduction of plain packaging aimed at deterring smokers, according to industry sales figures to be released on Monday.

... In 2013, the first full year of plain packaging, tobacco companies sold the equivalent of 21.074 billion cigarettes in Australia, according to industry data provided by Marlboro maker Philip Morris International.

That marks a 0.3 per cent increase from 2012, and reverses four straight years of declines.

The exact reason for the upturn was unclear. Some tobacco companies argue that higher shipments of loose tobacco and a decline in cigarettes suggest smokers may be trading down to cheaper products and can therefore afford to buy more of them.

It seems that people buy tobacco for the tobacco, not the packet. Who'd have thunk it?

Add this rise in legal tobacco sales to the rise in illegal sales and it would appear that the Nicola Roxon/Simon Chapman vanity project is suffering from lots of unintended consequences and no intended consequences.

Friday 21 March 2014

Action on Junk Food Marketing

If there's one thing Britain really needs it's another nanny state campaign group that starts with the words 'Action on...', so imagine my delight when I heard that Action on Junk Food Marketing was being launched today. It wants to ban the marketing of whatever foods are currently out of fashion on television before 9pm. Its press release - which will doubtless be made even worse by inept journalists - bears very little relationship to the research it is announcing. It is, to be blunt, dishonest.

Their big claim is that 22 per cent of prime time television advertising is for 'junk food'...

An analysis of over 750 adverts found almost one in four TV ads shown between eight and nine pm were for food (22%), with viewers seeing as many as eleven junk food adverts per hour.

I have seen this research (in reality, a Word document) and there are several errors in this sentence alone. Firstly, 22% is closer to one in five than one in four. Secondly, the figure is actually 17%, not 22% - one in six. Thirdly, and most importantly, these 17% of adverts include all food ads, all supermarket ads and even includes adverts for vitamins. The research itself never uses the word 'junk', nor does it give an estimate of how many commercials featured 'junk food' by any definition. Nevertheless, the press release is entitled: 'Family TV programmes saturated with junk food ads'.

There then follows some ridiculous assertions about how food advertising is aimed at children...

With regards to the primary target audience of food adverts, the majority were aimed at families (60%), however children or child aged characters (not including brand equity or licensed characters) were used in the majority of food adverts in this sample (52.6%).

It's pretty hard to depict families without showing 'child aged characters', is it not? What do they want, Steptoe and Son?

The clips analysed seem designed for a young audience, with nearly a third (31%) of food adverts shown between eight and nine pm using themes of ‘fun’ rather than more adult concerns of price or convenience.

Because having fun is not an 'adult concern', is it? What we really want is a price list, the duller the better.

Around a third of ads studied ended with a website or Twitter hashtag - a key way of reaching teenagers, as thirty six per cent of 8-15 year olds use smartphones or laptops ‘most times’ when watching TV.

One of these days I must try to catch up with this 'internet' phenomenon that kids talk about these day. As I understand it, youths today spend most of their time reading about butter on the Flora website and catching up with the latest news from Aldi on Twitter. Alas, as an adult, these 'websites' of which they speak are not really my cup of tea. 

There is more of this drivel but the 'study' itself is quite simple. The authors sat around watching television during the last hour of the watershed (8pm - 9pm). They watched just three programmes: The X Factor, Hollyoaks and The Simpsons. As they watched this stuff, they counted all the adverts that featured food or food retailers. This turned out to be 22% on ITV and 11.8% on Channel 4.

The list of alleged offenders is extremely broad. It includes ASDA, Tesco, Clover margarine, McCain baked potatoes, Subway, Flora, Berocca vitamins, crumpets, Coca-Cola Zero, Lidl roasts, bread, Uncle Ben's rice, Liberte yoghurt and many others. All of these are implicitly portrayed as 'junk food' in the press release.

There are two possible explanations for this. Either the health lobby has become so fanatical that they think children should be protected from seeing adverts for rice and crumpets, or they have deliberately misrepresented the results of their research for dramatic effect.

I will let you, dear reader, draw your own conclusion as to whether these are scrupulously honest people, but to help you on your way, take a look at the testimonies from ordinary people that they use in their two press releases. The first is the English press release, the second is for Scotland. See if you can spot any similarities.

Here's the English press release:

Lyn Rodney, whose diabetes diagnosis led to a healthier diet for her and her teenage son, said: “As a busy mum, it’s hard enough to make sure your family eats healthily without seeing ads for junk food wherever you go.

“In the past, unhealthy food became a quick and easy option for me and my son. However, I now know that being overweight may have contributed to my diabetes and I want to do everything within my power to stop my son getting the same condition.

“It’s upsetting to see so many ads for junk food on TV and online. I’m getting behind this call to restrict junk food marketing for the sake of my son and the future health of kids his age.”

And here's the Scottish press release:

Maureen Smyth from Langholm, whose two daughters are aged 15 and 10, said: “As a busy mum, it’s hard enough to make sure your family eats healthily without seeing ads for junk food wherever you go.

“I’ve always encouraged my children to make healthier choices about what they eat, but it’s much more difficult when they’re bombarded with junk food on TV and online. I’m getting behind this call to restrict junk food marketing for the sake of my daughters and the future health of kids their age.”


In debunking research like this, there is a risk of tacitly accepting the premise of the authors, so let it be said loud and clear that there is nothing - absolutely nothing - wrong with advertising chocolate bars, biscuits, white bread or any other so-called 'junk food' before 9pm. Even if children bought their own food (which they generally don't), and even if advertising somehow compels people to buy things (which it doesn't), there can be no justification in a free society for forcing food and drink manufacturers to advertise in the wee small hours.

Begone with you, Action on Junk Food Marketing. Take your deceitful propaganda with you and never darken our doorstep again.

(I'm retiring to bed now, but it's no surprise to that The Guardian has been first off the blocks to report this rubbish.)


The BBC has not quite taken the press release at face value and has dug into the data itself. It says...

Action on Junk Food Marketing analysed 750 adverts shown during the X Factor on ITV and the Simpsons and Hollyoaks on Channel 4 over 20 hours.

It found one in 10 promoted fast food restaurants, confectionery or supermarket 'junk food'.

This figure is not in the report and seems to have come from combining the number of ads for supermarkets, fast food restaurants and chocolate/confectionery = 44% of the total food ads = about 10% of the total ads. This figure (which is less than half of the 22% flagged up in the press release) is closer to the truth, although it is very unlikely that all the supermarket ads were for 'junk food'.

The Beeb quotes the Advertising Association, which calls the report "lobbying dressed up as science". They say that the actual proportion of 'junk food' ads on TV between 8pm and 9pm is 5 per cent, not 10 per cent, let alone 22 per cent. Their response is worth reading:

“According to this report, just one in every twenty ads shown during family programmes are for brands which might be considered unhealthy and appealing to children. Those ads cannot appear around children’s programmes themselves and must not encourage poor eating habits or unhealthy lifestyles. That clearly shows the UK’s evidence-based approach to the advertising rules works, balancing sensible protections with the freedom to advertise, allowing companies to compete – to the benefit of us all – and providing important funding for free-to-air TV.”

Thursday 20 March 2014

Quote of the day

A health expert

"Just because they are safer than cigarettes doesn't make them a healthier alternative"
—Award winning anti-smoking expert Stanton Glantz

Read the rest at Dick's place.

Wednesday 19 March 2014

The budget, minimum pricing and another silly cost study

A few of things that I have written beyond the confines of this blog...

My response to Simon Chapman in the British Medical Journal apparently got buried at BMJ Towers so they asked me to send it again. It is now up as a (not so) Rapid Response here.

On Sunday, the Observer combined two of my research interests, The Spirit Level and dogy cost estimates. There was so much nonsense in the report that inspired that it took me two blog posts to cover it all. If you are so moved, you can read them here:


Finally, there is my reaction to yesterday's budget:

Tuesday 18 March 2014

Siegel's despair

Dr Siegel has had enough...

The rest of the story is that this is complete garbage.

It is truly depressing to me to watch this - day in and day out.

When the tobacco industry decided - sometime back around 2000 or so - to stop monitoring tobacco control science and to just let us say anything we wanted to - I thought they had made a poor decision. But in retrospect, I think it may have been brilliant. They apparently knew that before long, without the restraints of having to answer to Big Tobacco's public questioning, our science would deteriorate and we would just start saying anything we wanted to. Unrestrained, the tobacco control movement's scientific rigor would fall to such a low level that we would end up discrediting ourselves and undermining our own credibility.

Well, we're there. We're officially there.

I'm sure I'll have more to say about this later. But for now, I'm just too damn depressed.

Read his post to find out what has irked him.

35,000 tobacco plants seized in Australian raid

In Australia yesterday, police carried out a dawn raid on an organised crime syndicate...

Police executed 44 search warrants at properties in a number of northern and western suburbs including Altona North, Williamstown, Truganina and Sunshine on Tuesday morning. They expect to make more arrests during the day.

More than 500 police officers, backed by other agencies, were involved in the operation, which began about 4.30am and will continue through the day.

They seized firearms, drugs, cash, ammunition, vehicles and allegedly stolen property.

But they also walked out with something else...

The haul included 100kg of dried cannabis, 35,000 tobacco plants and nine firearms, Mr Fontana said.

35,000 tobacco plants! Do you know how big tobacco plants are? Can you imagine how much room you need for 35,000 of them?

The question is why do tooled-up criminal gangs, who already have a huge stock of an illegal drug, want to farm enormous quantities of a product that you can buy over the counter?

He said tobacco plants, which were seized from a property near Geelong, were grown to avoid millions of dollars in excise tax.

No fooling. I guess having a Prohibition-era problem with black market tobacco is a small price to pay for being a 'world leader' in tobacco control and getting a gong from the WHO.*

This madness has to stop. Australia has brought it on themselves, but governments elsewhere should let the shipwrecks of others be their landmark.

* Tobacco control assures us that there is no connection between eye-wateringly high tobacco taxes and the growth of the black market, so everything's okay, you can go back to sleep. They would never lie to you. They're professionals.

Monday 17 March 2014

Hysterical anti-sugar campaigner complains about anti-sugar hysteria

In the Observer yesterday, Action on Sugar's scientific director, Aseem Malhotra, tried to strike a conciliatory note..

Our aim is to press the food industry into reducing added sugar in processed foods. We are not telling you – despite some of the screaming "sugar is toxic" headlines – that bananas and oranges are evil.

Where did all these irresponsible newspapers get the "screaming 'sugar is toxic' headlines" from? Step forward, Dr Aseem Malhotra...

Aseem Malhotra, October 2012: "There is mounting scientific evidence that not only is sugar toxic to the body..."
Aseem Malhotra, January 2013: "A paediatric endocrinologist, Prof Robert Lustig, has highlighted the toxic, addictive and appetite-driving properties of sugar."

Aseem Malhotra, February 2013: “It’s not only toxic to the liver but it increases the risk of Type 2 diabetes.”

Aseem Malhotra, March 2014: "Scientific studies reveal that the fructose component of added sugar is toxic..."

As for oranges and bananas being evil, no one is saying that, but since Malhotra thinks that "fructose is a poison", that would be his logical conclusion. Or it would be if he understood that fructose in the intrinsic sugar in fruit. Which he doesn't.


A few more examples of the good doctor definitely not encouraging people to believe that 'sugar is toxic'...

Sunday 16 March 2014

Soda taxes still don't work

Out here in the real world (ie. away from the fantasy computer models of 'public health'), there is plenty of evidence that sin taxes are highly inefficient, create unintended consequences and don't have the impact that campaigners think they will.

One of the main flaws in 'public health' models is the reluctance to estimate what the substitution effects will be (ie. what products people will consume if they cut down on the targeted product.) This is a major issue when it comes to food and drink because people obviously need to eat and drink something.

One study (Fletcher et al., 2010) that looked at the effect of soda taxes on children and adolescents (using real world evidence from the USA, rather than a theoretical model) found that the "reduction in soda consumption is completely offset by increases in consumption of other high-calorie drinks".

Our results suggest that soft drink taxation, as currently practiced in the United States, leads to a moderate decrease in the quantity of soft drinks consumed by children and adolescents. As a result, soft drink taxation may yield lower revenues for states than expected if behavioral responses to the tax are not accounted for. Additionally, soft drink taxes do not appear to have countered the rise in obesity prevalence because any reduction in soft drink consumption has been offset by the consumption of other calories.

The 'public health' response to this kind of news is usually to complain that the tax (which they campaigned for) is too low to make much difference. Last year, another group of researchers found that soda taxes don't work and raised this very question.

Our research does not support the theory that soda taxes have a negative effect on body-mass index. Current soda tax rates range from two percent to 7.25 percent and it’s possible these may not be high enough to affect BMI. Further research that addresses consumption and includes data on local soda taxes is warranted.

This week, the team that conducted the 2010 study have provided an answer to that question. In a study of calorie consumption in places that have higher soda taxes, they conclude that the answer is still 'no' (Fletcher et al., 2014)...

Together, our results cast serious doubt on the assumptions that proponents of large soda taxes make on its likely impacts on population weight. Together with evidence of important substitution patterns in response to soda taxes that offset any caloric reductions in soda consumption (Fletcher et al., 2010a), our results suggest that fundamental changes to policy proposals relying on large soda taxes to be a key component in reducing population weight are required.

Any minute now, those evidence-based folk at Action on Sugar will mention these studies, right?

Friday 14 March 2014

Why is the EU paying for hatchet jobs?

I was in Edinburgh recently to talk about drugs with the newly founded Buchanan Institute and had the opportunity to finally meet John Duffy, my co-author of a short report we wrote about minimum pricing in 2012. And a splendid fellow he is too. He has since sent me the e-mail he received from Jonathan Gornall who went on to write the gutter journalism that the BMJ passed off an exposé. I reproduce it below with his permission.

Dear Mr Duffy,

I'm a UK-based journalist working with the British Medical Journal on an EU-sponsored investigation into the role of alcohol industry lobbyists in the formulation of public health policy in the UK and Europe.

Would you be available for a telephone interview at some point in the next week or so? I would like to talk to you about the difficulties/challenges of working on industry-funded research.

I understand that in 1989 you received a grant from the Portman Group, to support your research on alcohol issues and your secondment to the then Alcohol Education and Research Council, and that in 1995 you received a grant from the AERC for further work in the field of alcohol.

More recently, I see you were co-author with Christopher Snowdon of "The minimal evidence for minimum pricing", an Adam Smith Institute paper in which you questioned the validity of the Sheffield alcohol policy model. I would be very interested to discuss how you came to be involved in this piece of work.

For your information, the BMJ work in this area is one strand of the ALICE-RAP initiative, "a trans-disciplinary EU project which aims to help policy makers 're-think and re-shape' current and future approaches to the huge human and economic costs of addictions and lifestyles in Europe". See for more information.

I look forward to hearing from you.

Best regards,

Jonathan Gornall

John didn't reply because (a) he was tipped off that Gornall isn't a serious journalist and was preparing a hatchet job, (b) he doesn't have a high regard for people who get the facts wrong (eg. he was never seconded to the AERC), and (c) he doesn't know any "alcohol industry lobbyists". A few further points are worth making...

1. At no point did I receive an e-mail from Gornall, although I would have happily explained how the ASI minimum pricing report came about (I wrote about it here - the short version is that I presented the idea to ASI. At no point was the booze industry involved and, AFAIK, they didn't know anything about it until it was released. This is trivia, however. It would have made no difference to the evidence and arguments in the report if the drinks industry had been involved because, unlike certain journalists, we are not hacks for hire.)

2. Gornall's claim that he wanted to talk to John "about the difficulties/challenges of working on industry-funded research" is disingenuous to say the least. He was looking for a scandal and when he didn't find one he resorted to insinuation. His misleading e-mail might be considered acceptable for a tabloid looking to entrap someone, but it is not what you'd expect from a medical journal. How telling it is that BMJ is now working with such people.

3. It is appalling, yet predictable, that the EU is funding smear jobs against private citizens in support of a policy (MUP) that is illegal under its own laws. The temperance lobby is a fine example of the Euro Puppet state. The EU has little authority to regulate alcohol itself and so it funds quasi-autonomous organisations that are working towards "a world free from alcohol" (more details here). What is the taxpayer getting for his money when he is forced to pay for ALICE-RAP? Well, it is run by Peter Anderson, a veteran temperance zealot who coined the term 'passive drinking'. One of its 'leading scientists [sic]' is the conspiracy theorist and smear merchant David Miller, a sociologist. ALICE-RAP sees the issue of alcohol as entirely negative and is eager to demonise their opponents, hence the involvement of Miller who appears to be working on an alcohol version of the TobaccoTactics wiki (see Area 4). ALICE-RAP's blog gives a fair idea of its anti-business, anti-freedom, pro-government mindset.

If we want to talk about funding, let's start by asking why EU citizens are being forced to pay for their own vilification.

Banning fast food outlets

God almighty, it never ends...

Takeaway clampdowns 'may combat obesity epidemic'

Restricting the number of fast-food outlets around offices and homes could help combat the obesity epidemic, UK researchers say.

Notice how the Beeb takes it as read that there is an obesity 'epidemic'.

Dr Thomas Burgoine, who led the study, told BBC News: "Those most exposed to takeaway food outlets overall were nearly twice as likely to be obese, compared to those least exposed."

"Exposed to takeaway food outlets". Exposed! Like it's some sort of virus rather than a shop on a street.

Measures to restrict access, such as not opening takeaway restaurants near schools, may help, scientists report in the BMJ.

If you class some doofus with a degree in geography as a scientist. I notice that legendary quackademic Jill Pell is involved as well.

Others argue that policymakers should focus on making fast food more healthy.

This is a class BBC false dichotomy. One one side, there's meddling with the number of food outlets. On the other side, there's meddling with the food they're allowed to serve. Option 3 is that it's none of the government's damn business, but that didn't make the final copy.

"It is difficult now to imagine a world in which broccoli rivals chips at the takeaway counter, but small steps in this direction are already being taken."

I bet they are, you vicious, statist crank.

"Our research suggests that policies to make our neighbourhood more healthy by restricting access to takeaway food might be successful," said Dr Burgoine.

Sorry to ruin your party but they do deliveries. Your move.

Thursday 13 March 2014

The scream test

In the field of public health they have something called the 'scream test'. This says that you know that a policy will work if the industry involved kicks up a big fuss and complains. It is assumed that anything that annoys or damages the industry must be good for people's health.

As childish as this sounds, they really believe it...

One of the measures used by anti tobacco campaigners to determine the effectiveness of an innovation, action, legislation or reform is how loudly the tobacco industry “screams”.

If the tobacco industry complains loudly and long and lobbies all the politicians it can find then you know that you are winning. You know that whatever it is the anti-tobacco campaigners or governments have done is going to reduce sales of tobacco.

Although initially used with regards to tobacco, this theory has inevitably been applied to other industries that zealots dislike...

Tomorrow sees the start of Senate hearings on the alcopops tax. This tax passes the “Scream Test” with flying colours: its impact on sales could not be clearer from the way the distillers are opposing it. [The alcopop tax was another public health glorious failure, see here for details - CJS]

The scream test is one of the most pathetic and risible concepts in a field that abounds with idiocy. It has been much in evidence in the debate about plain packaging. Lacking serious evidence that plain packaging won't be another over-hyped cock up, campaigners have resorted to saying "hey, it must work otherwise the industry wouldn't be spending so much time opposing it, right guys?"

Here are just a few of the many uses of this fallacious argument...

“This absolutely passes the tobacco industry scream test. They have thrown major PR resources at it, major legal resources at it." (Sheila Duffy, ASH Scotland)

"Why would the tobacco industry and its allies be so vehemently opposed to plain packaging if they weren’t so frightened that plain packaging would work?" (Deborah Arnott, Director ASH England)

"If [plain packs] have no impact then Big Tobacco has nothing 2 fear. Go figure." (Simon Chapman, Australian brain donor)

But, as Chapman let slip two years ago, the reason the industry is opposed to plain packaging is the same reason any industry would 'scream' about it. A ban on branding hinders their ability to make more profit from premium brands. It is not about fears that smoking rates will fall - which is what the campaigners mean when talk about the policy 'working' - but about making profits in a declining market from selling more expensive brands. And, since the anti-smoking lobby is in favour of more expensive cigarettes, plain packaging is a counter-productive policy for both sides.

Chapman is not the only one who knows that the 'scream test' nonsense is a rhetorical trick. Tucked way in the transcripts of Cyril Chantler's interviews is the same admission from another anti-smoking sociologist, Luk Joossens.

"There is only one reason why [cigarette companies] are campaigning so heavily against plain packaging: because they've made their gains with premium brands and they believe there will be shift to the cheaper brands and they will lose their profits."

Bear that in mind next time someone uses the scream test argument. As the man says, "there is only one reason why they are campaigning so heavily against plain packaging" and it is the fear of brand-switching.

Scraping the barrel for good news about plain packs

This story has been passed around quite a bit in recent days by people who clearly haven't read it properly...

Tobacco industry claims on impact of plain packaging go up in smoke

One of Australia's biggest tobacco companies has been accused of lying after it claimed plain packaging of cigarettes has had "no impact" in Australia except to increase illegal cigarette smuggling.

...In fact, despite the Australian Customs and Border Protection Service increasing its capture of illegal tobacco, only one haul of "plain packaged" illegal cigarettes has been found.

The illicit "plain packaged" cigarettes from China likely represent fewer than 4 per cent of all cigarettes captured since plain packaging began, a Fairfax Media analysis has found.

So what? The evidence coming in from Australia indicates that the main effect of plain packaging has not been to encourage the counterfeiting of plain packs, but to encourage the production of completely fake brands such as Manchester (shown below). Manchester is not a legal brand and never has been and yet it had a 1.4 per cent market share in Australia in 2013 (up from 0.3 per cent in 2012).

In any case, the fact that 3.9 per cent of seized cigarettes were in plain packs tells us nothing about about whether plain packaging has increased cigarette smuggling.

The latest Customs annual report states it seized an average of 17 million cigarettes each month, meaning about 255 million have been captured since plain packaging began.

That is a hell of a lot, but there is still no indication of whether it is more or less than was seized before plain packs came in. Finally, in the penultimate sentence, we get this...

...the Customs annual report showed the highest detected levels of illicit tobacco in three years.

In other words, the number of seizures has risen since the policy was introduced in December 2012. Although seizures reflect only a small proportion of the total illicit market - which must be massive - the seizure figures are consistent with the prediction that the market would grow while being totally inconsistent with the headline.

The prohibitionists are getting desperate with this kind of garbage and yet the media laps it up.

Tuesday 11 March 2014

"Planetary health" and medical socialism

Last month I wrote and article for the Free Society about how 'public health' is primarily a left-wing political movement which has very little to do with medicine.

“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 use a large rock.

The Lancet has recently published a 'manifesto' which rather proves my point. It contains no policies or targets about health and disease, but instead calls for a "social movement to support collective public health action at all levels of society - personal, community, national, regional, global, and planetary." Since its authors include unreconstructed leftists like Richard Horton and Martin McKee, this technocratic utopia can only be achieved by overthrowing the existing economic order, ie. capitaism.

The discipline of public health is critical to this vision because of its values of social justice...

'Social justice' just means socialism, as far as I can tell. Thomas Sowell says that it should really be called 'cosmic justice' because its dream of total equality of income, personal characteristics and opportunity can never be achieved without some higher power. Any attempt to achieve it (eg. communism) can only lead to "arbitrary power and shameless lies" (which not a bad description of the 'public health' scam).

Planetary health is an attitude towards life and a philosophy for living. It emphasises people, not diseases, and equity, not the creation of unjust societies.

It really isn't about health, is it?

We have created an unjust global economic system that favours a small, wealthy elite over the many who have so little.

It would be interesting to know what people like Horton and McKee earn. I'll bet you a pig to a pork scratching that they are in the top 0.1 per cent globally.

The idea of unconstrained progress is a dangerous human illusion...

This typically means that we should accept lower living standards in the search for income equality.

Our tolerance of neoliberalism and transnational forces dedicated to ends far removed from the needs of the vast majority of people, and especially the most deprived and vulnerable, is only deepening the crisis we face.

'Neoliberalism' means free markets and 'transnational forces' means globalisation, ie. free trade between countries. These are the main factors that have led to the extraordinary reduction in poverty in developing countries since 1980. The world suffers less from an unequal distribution of wealth than it does from an unequal distribution of capitalism. Countries which have resisted free market reforms have suffered greatly as a result.

We need a new vision of cooperative and democratic action at all levels of society and a new principle of planetism

In the context of public health, 'cooperative and democratic action' means unelected organisations like the World Health Organisation telling citizens of the world how to live.

The voice of public health and medicine as the independent conscience of planetary health has a special part to play in achieving this vision. Together with empowered communities, we can confront entrenched interests and forces that jeopardise our future.

"Planetary health"? What next, galactic health? How about focusing on genuine public health issues such as outbreaks of scarlet fever?

This evening, Richard Horton will be chairing a debate about economics, a subject that he demonstrably knows nothing about, alongside Martin McKee who knows as much about it as he does about e-cigarettes. Details here.


This, from a story about obesity on the BBC website, is apropos:

Dr Mark Temple, a member of BMA Cymru's Welsh Committee for Public Health Medicine, told BBC Wales: "I know that the Welsh Medical Committee suggested to the Welsh government that they had to response [sic] to the obesogenic environment...

"The free market is not a good idea," he added.

Monday 10 March 2014

Sugar tax: the people have spoken

This afternoon I had the strange yet enjoyable experience of being on the Alan Titchmarsh Show to debate the merits of a sugar tax with a meddlesome doctor from Action on Sugar. Some people would say that this programme's Monday-Friday 3pm scheduling means that it is only watched by pensioners, invalids and the workshy, but they would be unkind people.

You can watch Alan's Ding Dong—for that it what it is actually called—here at about 25 minutes, if you can be bothered to sit through all the adverts. You can even watch till the end and watch some cheerleaders dunk their heads in a fish tank to test the water resistance of mascara. It's very much a variety show.

If you don't want to know the result, look away now.

The people holding the yellow paddles are voting against a sugar tax. As you can see, it is a landslide majority with one rather unhappy abstainer seated at the front, third from the left. I am the shorter of the two gentlemen standing self-consciously in the middle of the audience. The fellow to the left is the director of Action on Sugar who told the audience that "we are all getting massively obese", a comment which may not stand up against the facts. I offered him a selection of mini-chocolates after the show. He seemed non-plussed.

I won't pretend that Mr Titchmarsh's audience is demographically representative. You will search in vain for spring chickens. Nevertheless, these are the people who are most likely to vote. Politicians, be warned.

Friday 7 March 2014

For the record: correcting Simon Chapman

I wrote a short article/long letter to the British Medical Journal last month after they published Jonathan Gornall's conspiracy theory about minimum pricing. Some days later, Simon Fenton Chapman played the uninvited guest with an off-topic Rapid Response about what a mean, mean man I am. As it contained his trademark untruths, I felt moved to post a Rapid Response myself to set the record straight. I submitted it on Monday.

The BMJ publishes Rapid Responses at its own discretion and has do far failed to publish my response. This is puzzling editorial decision considering that I am the author of the original piece and I was only writing to correct factual inaccuracies in a reader's comment. The BMJ moves in mysterious ways.

So, for the record, here is Chapman's Rapid Response followed my (unpublished) reply. I've had to write it from memory but it is essentially the same as the original.

Chris Snowdon's call for civility ("This exceeds the limits of civilised discourse. We trust that in the cold light of day the BMJ recognises that smearing opponents of price fixing as Fascists is disgraceful. An apology and retraction would be welcome.") will surely have no competitors this decade for the most unctuously nauseating piece of hypocrisy to appear in the BMJ's pages.

Snowdon's blog is little more than a foaming sewer of schoolyard invective. He has no economic qualifications and to my knowledge has never published a single piece of research in any peer reviewed journal.

Here are some choice examples he has fired at me in recent years: 23 May 2011: “His insane wibblings are worrying yes, but still bloody funny to read. It's quite incredible that such a retard has achieved so high a profile since he must take 10 minutes every morning figuring out how his trouser zip works.”

“that sad old sociologist Simon Chapman”; “the irksome, omnipresent über-wowser Simon Chapman”; “Anti-smoking dinosaurs like Simon Chapman”; “the creepy sociologist Simon Chapman”; “scrotum-faced head-banger Simon Chapman” “reptilian sociologist” “wizened quackademic Simon Chapman” “wrinkly rocker Simon Chapman” “that twisted old narcissist Simon Chapman” “Coffin-dodging sociologist Simon Chapman”

I note he declares no competing interests. I have a screen shot from his blog dated 12 March 2008 where he says "he has no affiliation of financial ties with the tobacco industry or any anti-smoking group." That declaration was later quietly removed. Snowdon has many ties with tobacco interests (see Will the BMJ be asking Snowdon to elaborate on his declaration about alcohol?

My reply:

While I am happy to take the credit for colourful adjectives regarding Prof. Chapman's advancing years, his killer example of my 'invective' ('insane wibblings' etc.) was not written by me but by one of my blog's readers. As Chapman provides a link to the post in question, it is surprising that he did not read it more thoroughly. My words appear in the main text of the post under my name whereas comments appear below the post under the heading 'comments'. This is how blogs typically work.

Contrary to Prof Chapman's claim, I have had articles published in peer-reviewed journals and I have also reviewed articles for peer-reviewed journals. However, considering the amount of nonsense that has passed peer review over the years - including deliberate gibberish such as the Sokal hoax - I prefer to look at the merits of research rather than relying on its source.

I am happy to expand on my declaration by reproducing verbatim what I originally sent the BMJ:

"The author has occasionally spoken at meetings organised by the alcohol industry and the government. He has received a fee in neither instance, but has sometimes received travel and accommodation expenses." 

If the BMJ chose not to include this when it published my article in the print edition, I assume it is because they consider such "ties" - as Chapman would doubtless describe them - too trivial to be a competing interest.

Thursday 6 March 2014

The Daily Mash nails it

Glad to see somebody hasn't forgotten...

Sugar definitely worst thing say same people who said it was definitely fat

The people who were utterly convinced that fat was the worst thing are now utterly convinced that it is sugar.

Food scientists revealed that this time they were almost certainly 100 percent correct and the thing you must absolutely avoid is definitely probably sugar.

Dr Martin Bishop said: “Did I say it was fat? I don’t think I did say it was fat.

“Okay, maybe I did. It was a long time ago and there was a lot of stuff going on in my private life that I don’t want to talk about. Anyway. It’s definitely sugar.

“Or protein.”

Let's also remember that Action on Sugar is the remnants of Consensus Action on Salt and Health.

But this time it's different, right?

Read the whole article.

Smoking bans in the home: the next logical step

Never ones to let the grass grow under their feet, the tobacco prohibitionists have predictably got their eyes on banning smoking in the home as the 'next logical step' after banning it in cars. Hence this reporting from the BBC's number one 'public health' collaborator Michelle Roberts of this rather feeble study...

Passive smoking causes lasting damage to children's arteries, prematurely ageing their blood vessels by more than three years, say researchers.

I was going to delve into the study itself, but Lee Jones has written a superlative post about it already which I warmly recommend.

What does the study actually show? The researchers looked at two groups of Finnish and Australian people, asked whether their parents were smoking in 1980 and 1983, and measured their carotid arteries during 2004-2006. If the parents didn’t smoke, the average catorid IMT ranged between 0.611mm and 0.653mm, while with both parents smoking it ranged from 0.625 to 0.669. Note, to begin with, it takes both parents smoking to see any results at all. If only one smoked, there is no difference at all between the results. Even with both smoking, the differences in IMT are obviously extremely slight, with a considerable overlap in the range of sizes recorded. Moreover, when a small group of the Finnish participants were measured three months apart, to check the validity of the IMT measurements, they found that the measurements varied by between 0.01 and 0.09mm. In some cases, then, the sheer inaccuracy of the measuring instruments would suffice to erase any difference between the smoker/ non-smoker groups. Bearing in mind that only 6% of the sample of Finns had two parents who smoked, this is a serious problem. The authors concede on p.7: “it is possible that the level of IMT and the difference in IMT between exposure groups differs to that shown here. As such, the results should be interpreted with caution”. This despite the shrill demand for “all measures” to be deployed just one page earlier, and equally strident remarks in the media.

Moreover, the article does not even try to quantify, in absolute or relative terms, the enhanced risk of heart disease implied by their findings. Note that their findings only relate to the thickness of arteries; they don’t say what the health effects are. They merely use the scary “aged by 3.3 years” line. Why might this be? Perhaps because although there is growing evidence of an association between the thickness of the carotid artery and heart disease, the link does not appear a very strong one. The most widely cited study I could find on this showed that an IMT of less than 0.5mm was associated with a rate of cardiovascular disease of about 0.1 per 100 person-years. The rate increased to about 0.2 per 100 person-years between 0.5mm and 0.75mm, and about 0.8 over 0.75mm. So, there is an association, but it’s not a very strong one, and in the range the passive smoking study is interested in, the difference appears pretty miniscule; it’s where the artery hardens to over 0.75mm that we see big changes. The other paper shows that build up of calcium – “plaque” – in the arteries is actually a much better predictor of cardiovascular disease.

So, in other words: the passive smoking study shows minor differences in the thickness of arteries that may not even exist, and these minor differences are not particularly strongly associated with a higher rate of heart disease. And yet, on this basis, the lead author insists that anyone even imagining that they might have children must stop smoking, her research team supports “all measures” to prevent passive smoking as a “priority”, and public health alarmists garner more ammunition for their campaign.

Do read the whole piece because he also makes some wider points about the notion that policy should follow 'The Science' which echo much of what Jamie Whyte says in his excellent IEA book Quack Policy.

Monday 3 March 2014

Smoking breaks revisited

From The Guardian:

Smoking breaks at work cost British businesses £8.4bn a year, study finds

Cigarette breaks at work cost British businesses £8.4bn a year in lost productivity of smokers who disappear for a cigarette for 10 minutes four times a day, new research reveals.

We've been through this before, haven't we? It's quite simple...

1. All workers are entitled to breaks by law. Nonsmokers use them to have a coffee. Smokers use them to have a coffee and a cigarette.

2. The relationship between minutes worked and worker output is not as crudely linear as these kind of studies assume. Productivity has increased greatly in the last 100 years despite working hours falling. The three day week saw a surprising small reduction productivity despite working hours being reduced by 40 per cent. "The goal isn’t really to do more; it’s to accomplish more."

3. There is evidence that work breaks make employees more productive.

4 There is evidence that nicotine improves performance in many areas.

5. Most - probably all - jobs involve periods of intense activity and periods of relative quiet. A break taken at a moment when you would otherwise be hanging around (waiting for a delivery, having your computer fixed, etc.) cannot affect your productivity.

6. If smoking breaks cost business £8.4bn, then nonsmoking breaks - assuming 30 minutes a day and a smoking prevalence of 20 per cent - must cost something in the region of £24bn. Should we ban work breaks or do we accept that breaks make for a happier, less error-prone and more productive work force?

7. If smoking breaks made smokers less productive than nonsmokers, employers would have got wise to it by now and stopped employing them. The fact that very few companies discriminate against smokers suggests that they know better. The few that do discriminate against them (eg. the WHO) do so for ideological reasons, not efficiency reasons.

8. Even if smoking breaks reduced productivity, it would - strictly speaking - be an externality created by smoking bans, not smoking per se.