Wednesday 30 April 2014

Local authorities lobbying the government

Earlier this month, Eric Pickles MP, the Minister for Communities and Local Government, took a number of councils to task for breaching the Publicity Code, which prohibits taxpayer-funded political agitation.

Five councils have a fortnight to explain Publicity Code breaches before the Secretary of State issues legal directions.

Five councils have been given a fortnight to explain why steps should not be taken to stop their “propaganda on the rates”, Local Government Secretary Eric Pickles announced today (17 April 2014).

Formal letters have been sent to 5 London boroughs triggering the first legal steps the Secretary of State can now take to require compliance with the Publicity Code for local authorities, under the new Local Audit and Accountability Act.

Looking at the Publicity Code, a number of clauses leap out...

15. Local authorities should ensure that publicity relating to policies and proposals from central government is balanced and factually accurate. Such publicity may set out the local authority’s views and reasons for holding those views, but should avoid anything likely to be perceived by readers as constituting a political statement, or being a commentary on contentious areas of public policy.

16. Any publicity describing the council’s policies and aims should be as objective as possible, concentrating on the facts or explanation or both. Local authorities should not use public funds to mount publicity campaigns whose primary purpose is to persuade the public to hold a particular view on a question of policy. It is acceptable for local authority publicity to correct erroneous material which has been published by other parties, despite the fact that the material being corrected may have been published with the intention of influencing the public’s opinions about the policies of the authority. Such publicity should seek to explain the facts in an objective manner.

26. Local authorities should not incur any expenditure in retaining the services of lobbyists for the purpose of the publication of any material designed to influence public officials, Members of Parliament, political parties or the Government to take a particular view on any issue.

All of this is highly germane to the 'sock puppets' issue that I have written about, particularly since 'public health' responsibilities have been devolved to local authorities.

Take an old favourite, Balance North East, for example. According to its website "Balance is funded by the North East’s 12 local authorities" and so it is. Elsewhere on its website, you will find countless "political statements", "commentaries on contentious areas of public policy", "publicity campaigns", "lobbying" and attempts to "persuade the public to hold a particular view on a question of policy".

Take its campaign for further restrictions on alcohol advertising, for example...

Alcohol marketing is recruiting our kids as the next generation of problem drinkers. We don’t think this is right and we need your help to do something about it. We’ve started a petition calling on Government to restrict alcohol marketing and protect children and young people.

Please sign it now and protect them before it’s too late.

Or it's campaign for minimum pricing...

Show your support for MUP

MUP is a targeted measure which will increase the price of products such as white cider and very cheap vodka which are traditionally drunk by the young and people drinking at very harmful levels.

It wouldn’t affect the price of a pint or a glass of wine in a pub and, if you drink within the Government’s recommended limits, is estimated to cost you an average of 28p on your weekly alcohol bill. Isn’t that a price worth paying to save 3,000 lives a year and reduce alcohol related crimes by 46,000?

That’s why this policy is supported by our GPs, our police force and even our publicans. It is also supported by the majority of the people in the North East.

Professionals and politicians from across the North East are telling the Government to ignore the vested interests of the global alcohol industry and introduce minimum unit price. You can add your voice to theirs by writing to the Prime Minister directly or calling on your MP to do so on your behalf.

To email the PM use the following address

To contact your MP go to

Or this...

A question of trust

Some global alcohol companies oppose minimum unit price. You may hear their arguments, but at the end of the day, it all boils down to trust. A minimum unit price is supported by people who put your health and wellbeing first, such as the British Medical Association. It is opposed by some who have a legal obligation to put the profits of their shareholders first.

Or this...

You have the power to bring change...

But it won’t happen overnight. An important first step in getting Government to listen is contacting your MP. Let them know you are concerned about the impact of alcohol marketing on children. Your MP will raise the issue on your behalf. Why not send them a quick e-mail right now?

100 per cent taxpayer-funded, all of it. Not only is it entirely biased towards one point of view, but it actively invites the public to lobby politicians on contentious matters of public policy. Could there be a more brazen breach of the Publicity Code? And there are plenty of other examples of overt political campaigning by similar groups - see here, here and here for examples.

If you have other examples of local authorities breaching the rules - whether under the aegis of 'public health' or not - please leave them in the comments. It's time that something was done about this outrageous use of public money.

Probably shouldn't laugh...

...but it was a long time ago.

I came across this little news item in the New York Times from 1985:

Victim at Lifeguards' Party

A guest at a party for lifeguards celebrating their first drowning-free swimming season in memory drowned Tuesday, the director of the New Orleans Recreation Department said today. Madlyn Richard, the department director, said the body of Jerome Moody was found on the bottom at the deep end of a department pool as the party ended. She said Mr. Moody, who was 31 years old, was not a lifeguard, but four lifeguards were on duty at the party.

Aside from the multiple ironies, I like the idea of throwing a party for a "drowning-free swimming season", particularly since it was (so nearly) their first.

Tuesday 29 April 2014

ASH's cash

Good to see that Philip Davies is looking for answers as to why Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) claim that they don't use taxpayers' money for lobbying while explicitly telling the government—in their grant applications—that taxpayers' money will be used for lobbying.

An MP has called for an investigation into the "improper funding relationship" between Britain's Department for Health (DH) and an anti-smoking lobby group. Philip Davies MP made the demand after revelations that DH granted money to Action on Smoking and Health (ASH), which the group subsequently used to lobby for tobacco control measures under consideration by the department.

Documentation obtained by Breitbart London shows that ASH – a leading proponent of laws that would mandate standardised packaging of tobacco products as well as other rules intended to curb smoking – applied for and received a section 64 grant from the Department of Health to pursue its 'Capitalising on Smokefree' project.

The grant application indicates on Page 4 (below) that UK taxpayer funds would help to achieve the objectives by enabling ASH to engage in "media advocacy and lobbying" and running "training sessions for new DH officials."

It's a question that every British taxpayer should be asking. Why are we being forced to fund neo-prohibitionist lobby groups? And why have ASH and the Department of Health been covering it up?

Monday 28 April 2014

Gambling interview

I recently spoke at length about gambling with Joe Attard for I hope I didn't say anything controversial. You can watch the interview here.

Sunday 27 April 2014

School dinner control freaks

This is the perfect story for the Observer. It combines its obsession with food with its thirst for central planning and its hatred of Michael Gove, all brought together in the context of the obesity 'epidemic'.

The word 'story' flatters it, since there is no news content (it is no secret that free schools can shun Jamie Oliver's horrible food); it just quotes the opinion of 'public health' busybody Terence Stephenson who I last saw lobbying for a tax on fizzy drinks.

One of Britain's top doctors has warned that children's health is being damaged because academies and free schools are allowed to opt out of serving healthy lunches to their pupils.

"It's damaging children's health," he said. "Allowing children in academies and free schools to be exposed to unhealthy choices, unhealthy foods and unhealthy diets when there's still huge concern in this country about obesity in children is definitely a backward step."

Allowing children to be exposed to unhealthy choices, for God's sake. It's no wonder Observer sales have been plummeting if this is their idea of a front page story.

Let's take several leaps of faith for the sake of argument. Let's assume that (a) there is a childhood obesity epidemic, (b) that state-mandated school meals are less caloric than academy meals, (c) that the difference between the two meals could have any meaningful effect on obesity prevalence. All of these assumptions are dubious to say the very least, but let's proceed.

Now skip to the bottom of the Observer scoop...

"A survey by the Children's Food Trust found 99% of academies have voluntarily agreed to follow the food standards, even though they are not required to do so."

Free schools and academies make up a small minority of Britain's total schools (about 10 per cent). Within this small minority, one per cent are not following the questionable dietary regime the state mandated in 2006 after being lobbied by a fat-tongued television chef. How much of a control freak do you have to be to give a monkey's about this?

Wednesday 23 April 2014

Alcohol and violent crime

From the front page of The Times...

Shock drop in violent crime

Serious violent crime has halved in a decade as Britons cut down on binge-drinking and move towards a less macho culture, research has found.

This echoes a very similar story from the same newspaper last year...

Violent crime has fallen to its lowest level for 30 years and firearms offences are down for the eighth year in a row.

Indeed, the same story could have been told every year for the best part of two decades. The Office for National Statistics notes that violent crime peaked in 1995 and has been falling ever since. A similar trend has been seen in many developed countries and no one knows quite why.

Many theories have been put forward to explain why murder and violent crime started falling dramatically in the early 1990s. Some attribute it to the the rise of CCTV. Others say it is the result of higher incarceration rates. The Freakanomics authors link it to legalised abortion. Earlier this week, the BBC revived the intriguing idea that it is due to the decline of leaded petrol (although I suspect this is a classic correlation without causation). The Spirit Level authors try to link it to inequality (despite the fact that there is not even a correlation in that instance). And so on.

Today, the claim is that it is due to the decline in alcohol consumption...

Jonathan Shepherd, lead author of the study by the University of Cardiff’s Violence and Society Research Group, said: “Binge drinking has become less frequent, and the proportion of youths who don’t drink alcohol at all has risen sharply. Also, after decades in which alcohol has become more affordable, since 2008 it has become less affordable. For people most prone to involvement in violence, those aged 18 to 30, falls in disposable income are probably an important factor.”

It's always nice to see the press report the decline in alcohol consumption, which now amounts to an 18 per cent fall since 2004. The problem with the boozing/violence theory is that the ONS's figures show that the biggest fall in violent crime preceded the fall in drinking by ten years. Since then, the decline has been less impressive...

Between the 1995 and the 2001/02 surveys, the number of violent crime incidents fell, from 4.2 million in 1995 to 2.7 million in 2001/02. Since then there has been a general trend where the CSEW [Crime Survey for England and Wales] has seen a period of modest annual decreases (though often not large enough to be statistically significant year on year).

The ONS shows the rise and fall of violent crime in this graph...

It's also refreshing to hear - contrary to the usual hand-wringing - that alcohol has been getting less affordable in recent years, not that it will stop talk of 'pocket money prices' or silence those who want even higher taxes on booze. Changes in affordability are primarily the result of changes in incomes (alcohol is still more expensive in real terms), and incomes have fallen back to the levels of 2004 during the economic crisis.

Alcohol affordability has therefore also returned to the level of circa 2004. In the great scheme of things, this change is not huge. After a dip during the recession, affordability seems to have ticked upwards again more recently. As temperance campaigners would happily point out in any other context, alcohol is more affordable than it was when violent crime was much more common.

None of this really tallies with the alcohol consumption data, which show that per capita consumption started rising in the mid-1990s just as violent crime was starting to fall and started falling while alcohol was still becoming more affordable.

It wouldn't be surprising if alcohol consumption and violent crime were linked; a lot of violent crime is committed by drunks. And it is certainly true that recent years have seen a decline in both, but the correlation does not stand up if we go a few years further back.

The bigger picture shows that the decline in violence - which has been seen in other countries which have very different drinking patterns - preceded the decline in alcohol consumption by many years and was initially accompanied by a significant increase in alcohol consumption. The decline in violence was also accompanied by an increase in the affordability of alcohol until quite recently.

So whilst we cannot rule out a 'recession effect' on heavy drinking amongst some groups which might have had an impact on the prevalence of violent crime, it does not seem to have been - indeed, cannot have been - the cause of the long-term decline.

Tuesday 22 April 2014

Toys out of the pram

The toys are out of the pram again in Scotland with the latest hissy fit from the temperance lobby.

A high-profile health group has criticised the Scottish government’s decision to include representatives of the alcohol industry on a Holyrood body examining licensing hours.

Evelyn Gillan, chief executive of Alcohol Focus Scotland, said that the Scottish government had dismissed concerns from public health bodies over the presence of representatives of the alcohol industry on the National Licensing Advisory Group (NLAG).

The 'representatives of the alcohol industry' are the Scottish Retail Consortium, the Scottish Licensed Trade Association and the Scottish Grocer's Federation, all of whom are entitled to have their voices heard on a matter that clearly affects them. By contrast, the 'high-profile health group' is Alcohol Focus Scotland, a government-funded sock puppet that represents no one at all.

The temperance nutters in Scotland, as elsewhere, have a 'no platform for industry scum' stance and have predictably stormed out...

The body was set up to explore ways for “improving the operation of the licensing regime”, but NLAG’s four public health representatives, including Dr Gillan, quit after the government failed to agree to proposals to restrict the role of the drinks industry on the group.

By 'restrict', they mean 'eliminate'. In the Stalinist world of public health, it is not enough to be invited to the party. Everybody else must be forced to leave.

This all started when the temperance groups demanded the industry groups be thrown off the panel last year...

The dispute dates back to November, when the four health experts wrote to Mary Cuthbert, a civil servant and NLAG chairwoman, calling for NLAG to be made up of licensing regulators, such as local authorities, rather than industry representatives.

The letter read: “In our view, it is not appropriate for the producers and retailers of alcohol to be involved in determining the conditions of their own regulation in the manner that the NLAG’s membership and work programme entails.”

This game of brinkmanship backfired when the government decided that the licensing group should be more than a forum for anti-alcohol agitators.

The quartet then wrote to Kenny MacAskill, the justice secretary, warning him that there was what they called an “obvious conflict of interest” in having industry representatives in NLAG, but Mr MacAskill said that the group’s diverse membership offered a “valuable fresh perspective”.

And so they quit. Adios, so long, close the door behind you, etc. We are used to 'public health' lobbyists going home and taking their ball with them when they don't have a 100 per cent majority in a meeting.

Except it's not their ball and they can't take it home. As with the Responsibility Deal, proceedings continue in their absence.

Rather generously, the government has told the unruly toddlers of public health that they "remain welcome to return to the group", an offer that would surely not be extended to the industry bodies if they had acted in the same petulant manner. Almost incredibly, Alcohol Focus Scotland has instead decided to attack the NLAG for not having any 'public health' groups on it.

Dr Gillan said: “We are very disappointed in the government’s attitude. This is now a predominately industry body, examining a public health issue. There are now no public health organisations involved on this body, so it is wrong to say NLAG incorporates a broad mix of views. The health perspective is missing.”

Er, that's because you all left, remember?

Plain packs - just the facts

I've written a concise paper about the issues facing the UK government with regards to plain packaging for the IEA.

The Chantler review was only ever intended to give the 'public health' perspective on this policy, but there are many other important aspects to consider. This paper looks at them all and suggests the government does likewise.

You can download it here (PDF) and there's a summary here.

Wednesday 16 April 2014

If Breaking Bad was really set in Britain

Since the last season of Breaking Bad was broadcast, there's been an amusing cartoon doing the rounds suggesting that the concept wouldn't have worked in any country other than the US.

Although I hate to tarnish American liberals' rose-tinted view of socialised medicine, I would suggest that the conversation in Britain would go more like this:

"I'm afraid you have incurable lung cancer."

"Can you give me any drugs to prolong my life?"

"I'm afraid not. The NHS can't afford them. Lung cancer patients, in particular, are a low priority."

"Can I pay the NHS to give me these drugs?"

"I'm afraid not. That would be illegal. You can obtain them if you have private health care. Do you have private health care?"

"No. I can't afford it. A large part of my lifetime income has been spent on tax and national insurance to provide me with cradle-to-grave health care. I guess I'll have to start making crystal meth."

"There isn't enough latent demand for crystal meth in the UK to make it worthwhile."

"Damn it."

"You're going to die. There's a 70 per cent chance you'll be dead within a year. Unlike the US, which has the highest cancer survival rates in the world, rates in Britain are very low, particularly for lung cancer."

"Aw, man."

"It serves you right for smoking."

"I don't smoke."


Tuesday 15 April 2014

An interview with Dr Ashok Kaul

Last week I mentioned that the only piece of real world evidence about underage smoking rates in Australia since plain packaging was introduced was not mentioned in the Chantler review. The research was carried out by the statisticians Dr Ashok Kaul and Dr Michael Wolf. It was presented to Chantler's team in a meeting in London last month and clearly indicates no increase in the rate of decline of smoking prevalence amongst 14-17 year olds in the thirteen months between December 2012 (when plain packs came in) and December 2013.

ASH director Deborah Arnott has since co-authored a letter to The Lancet in which she complains that 13 months is not long enough to see an effect (she doesn't explain why) and claims (wrongly - see below) that an implausibly large effect would be needed to show up as statistically significant.

I decided to e-mail one of the authors, Dr Kaul, to ask him what was going on and he generously agreed to answer a few questions on the record. Here they are...

You met with some of Chantler's team in March 2014 and explained your research in great detail. Why do you think it was not mentioned in his final report?

It is difficult to speculate about the reasons why our research was not explicitly referenced. The Chantler review team claims that our work was considered in reaching the conclusions of the review. We find this quite remarkable, though, since Sir Chantler apparently did not feel the need to reference the only paper on plain packaging based on real-world data in his report to support his findings. In particular, a neutral reader of the review would expect to find a complete reference list of original research to be able to draw his own conclusions.

In response to your research, some proponents of plain packaging have implicitly accused you of 'misrepresentation of the evidence'. In particular they criticise the 'small sample size'. How do you respond?

We not appreciate being implicitly accused of `misrepresentation of the evidence'. We have analyzed the data in a completely open and reproducible way. If anything, as detailed in the paper, there is a (slight) bias in our methodology in favor of finding a plain packaging effect. But we have not found any evidence of a plain packaging effect. What exactly does `misrepresentation' mean in this context? We agree that the sample sizes are relatively small, and state this explicitly in the paper. Currently, in our opinion, there is no better data set available.

How much of an immediate effect on smoking prevalence would be needed to pick up a statistically significant decline in this data set?

Despite the relatively small sample sizes, the power of our methodology against a meaningful immediate effect on smoking prevalence is not tiny. For example, the power against an immediate effect of reducing smoking prevalence by 0.5 percentage points (beyond the existing time trend) would have been around 0.65. This is quite large, actually. A power near 1.00 is never realistic; a typically number one aims for in controlled (!) experiments is 0.8. In a nutshell, our approach would detect a non-negigible effect of plain packaging on smoking prevalence of minors in Australia with a pretty high probability - despite the small sample size. Criticizing the 'small sample size' is therefore quite absurd.

Are you aware of any other empirical evidence on youth smoking since plain packaging was introduced in Australia?

We are not aware of any other piece of research based on real-world data on the effects of plain packing on youth smoking behavior in Australia. We are therefore quite disappointed that our work was not explicitly referenced in the Chantler review.

Some campaigners have said that they would not expect any short term effect from plain packaging on underage smoking. Do you have a view on this?

Some people expected a short-term effect, others did not. It is a legitimate and important research question to ask whether there is evidence for a short-term (lasting) effect of plain packaging. The empirical evidence so far does not support the conclusion of a short term effect. Of course, short-term effects are important for policy makers around the world who would like to chose their regulatory policies from a set of alternatives that have been proven to be effective - plain packaging is so far not part of this set.

Together with the fact that Chantler ignored the 0.3 per cent increase in cigarette sales since plain packaging came in - along with other empirical evidence - the decision to overlook the only real world figures on smoking prevalence seems rather strange, to say the least.

Monday 14 April 2014

So now e-cigarettes are tobacco products AND medicines?!

Via Jo Lincoln
From the Financial Times...

Electronic cigarette users are set to be banished to the pavement alongside their tobacco-smoking cousins – and face similar hefty prices – if the World Health Organisation pushes ahead with plans to regulate e-cigarettes in the same way as normal tobacco.

Leaked documents seen by the Financial Times revealed that parts of the WHO are keen to classify the battery-powered devices as tobacco under the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, a WHO treaty that obliges governments to curtail smoking rates across the globe.

The forces ranged against e-cigarette users are endless and become less accountable at every turn. We have already been faced by the MHRA, the Department of Health and the European Commission. Now comes the World Health Organisation, an unelected body with strong financial links to the pharmaceutical industry which holds its meetings on tobacco in notorious secrecy.

Why, you may ask, has the Department of Health been conniving to have e-cigarettes regulated as medical products while the WHO is conniving to regulate them as tobacco products? Aren't medicines at the opposite end of the spectrum to tobacco products?

Of course they are. It makes no sense at all until you consider that the WHO's Framework Convention on Tobacco Control can only be applied to tobacco whereas the MHRA only regulates medicines. Necessity is the mother of invention, hence the eager rush to pretend that e-cigarettes are something they not.

The WHO's excuse for classifying e-cigs as tobacco products is that the nicotine in them comes from tobacco. But the nicotine in patches and gum also comes from tobacco. And whilst it is possible to artificially synthesise nicotine without using tobacco, it is much more expensive and the resulting fluid would be exactly the same. It is a risible justification.

The fact remains that e-cigarettes are neither tobacco products nor medicines. They are consumer products and should be regulated as such. They have nothing to do with the MHRA or the WHO. They have nothing to do with the corrupt 'tobacco control' lobby that has objected to them from the start because never featured in the prohibitionist blueprint.

Quite how the British government is going to square e-cigarettes being both medicines and tobacco products is a question for another day. On the plus side, very few of the signatories of the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control have implemented all of the WHO's recommendations. It can be ignored with apparent impunity. On the down side, the UK is one of those countries.

As difficult as it was for vapers to make the EU see some sense on this issue, the hardest task is yet to come. The WHO is completely outside the democratic process and answers only to itself. There is a long road ahead.

For further reading head to City AM and Dick Puddlecote.

Stop press: Business complies with regulation

From Stan Glantz's heavily moderated blog...

Important empirical evidence that tobacco companies are successfully flaunting [sic] the ban on promoting light and mild cigarettes

Greg Connolly and Hillel Alpert recently [actually March 2013 - CJS] published an important paper in Tobacco Control, "Has the tobacco industry evaded the FDA's ban on ‘Light’ cigarette descriptors?," that presents empirical evidence that the ciagrette [sic] companies have effectively nullified the ban on selling cigarettes with the misleading descriptors "light" and "mild" that are in both the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act and Judge Gladys Kessler's RICO decision.

The great professor means 'flouting', not 'flaunting' - a mistake that any idiot could make. The 'study' he refers to made the mundane and obvious observation that the companies have done as they are told and removed terms such as 'light' and 'mild' from their packs.

Results Manufacturers substituted “Gold” for “Light” and “Silver” for “Ultra-light” in the names of Marlboro sub-brands, and “Blue”, “Gold”, and “Silver” for banned descriptors in sub-brand names. 

Since 'gold' and 'silver' and 'red' and 'blue' do not convey any message of reduced risk, they are 100 per cent compliant with the law. These are intrinsically different products and smokers can tell the difference between them. Quite reasonably, therefore, they have a preference for one over the other.

Following the ban, 92% of smokers reported they could easily identify their usual brands, and 68% correctly named the package colour associated with their usual brand [only 68%?! - CJS], while sales for “Lights” cigarettes remained unchanged.

The horror! Was the point of this regulation to make it difficult for smokers to 'easily identify their usual brand'? Was the intention to make smokers of light cigarettes switch to stronger cigarettes?

No, the point was to stop cigarette companies implying that one brand is less hazardous than another. Of course people can still remember what Marlboro Gold used to be called. Short of brainwashing the entire population, that was entirely predictable. The industry is guilty of nothing more than complying with a law that was written by its enemies. Get over it, Stan and stop flouting flaunting your ignorance.

Friday 11 April 2014

The missing plain packs data

When the Chantler report on plain packaging was published last week, one piece of evidence was conspicuous by its absence. At first I assumed that the empirical research on teen smoking rates from the University of Zurich had been published too late to be included, but I was wrong. It transpires that Chantler's team not only had access to the study, but had spoken personally to its authors, Dr Ashok Kaul and Dr Michael Wolf.

Chantler had every reason to be interested in this research. It is the only study to date that addresses the question upon which all else hinges - does plain packaging help reduce the smoking rate amongst minors?

Kaul and Wolf had access to monthly smoking figures amongst 14-17 year olds that went all the way from 2001 to the end of December 2013, thirteen months after plain packaging was introduced in Australia. The data come from a large survey that has been used by anti-smoking researchers in the past and both authors are experienced professional statisticians. They concluded that there is no evidence from the data that plain packaging had any effect on smoking prevalence amongst this crucial age group. There was no increase in the gradual long term decline of smoking in this age group...

And when the long term decline was accounted for, plain packaging was shown to have had no discernible impact whatsoever...

This is very significant information, so why was it ignored by Chantler? It cannot be because it hasn't yet been peer-reviewed because Chantler looked at plenty of evidence that hasn't been peer-reviewed. It cannot be because it was commissioned by Philip Morris because Chantler looked at plenty of industry-funded research. In any case, if Chantler had any doubts about the research he could have looked at the raw data himself.

And we know that Chantler was aware of the research. We know this because Kaul and Wolf have now put online a 27 page transcription of the meeting he had with Chantler's team (the man himself didn't attend). It leaves no doubt that the study was carefully and patiently explained to Department of Health officials when they met the authors in London on 20 March.

At this meeting, Dr Kaul described that the methodology they used allowed maximum leeway for finding some effect from plain packaging. Alas, there was none...

"Even if you are not talking about statistical significance, I mean, sort of hoping for an effect, even a small one, you would at least expect something, a little, tiny effect, 12 months after in comparison to 12 months before but we don't find that, we find the contrary."

At the end of an extensive conversation, DoH official Christoper Cox thanked the pair for travelling to London and said of the presentation: "that is incredibly helpful and thoroughly interesting". So why was there not a trace of it in the final report? Why was the only empirical, real world evidence about underage smoking rates after plain packaging excluded?

Readers can draw their own conclusion.

(You can read the transcript here (PDF))

Thursday 10 April 2014

Tamiflu - a con from day one

So, it turns out that Tamiflu does virtually nothing to prevent or alleviate swine flu. This is another kick in the teeth for taxpayers around the world, but especially in Britain where the hysterical scare tactics of Liam Donaldson et al. led to a colossal waste of money. Having spent £500 million on Tamiflu, only a fraction was ever used and large quantities had to be thrown away because the inept NHS didn't know how to store it. The New Zealand government recently threw away nearly 1.5 million doses of the stuff. Only 55,000 were ever used.

The fact that Tamiflu doesn't really work is just another chapter in the swine flu farce, but the real point is that it should never have been stockpiled in the first place, whether efficacious or not. It's easy to be wise with hindsight, but it was clear very early on that swine flu was not particularly contagious and was very unlikely to be lethal. This could be concluded within days of it emerging in Mexico City - one of the world's most crowded cities - and it was crystal clear by the time the flu season descended on the Southern Hemisphere.

It's difficult now to recall quite how hysterical the government, advised by Chief Medical Officer Liam Donaldson, became in 2008-09. As I wrote in 2010...
Donaldson described swine flu as the "biggest challenge [to the NHS] in a generation" and predicted that a third of the UK population would come down with the virus in the winter. In an act of near-insanity, the British government ordered 110 million doses of the swine flu vaccine Tamiflu, the Department of Health ordered 32 million face masks and the Home Office made plans to dig mass graves.

In the event—despite the coldest winter for 30 years—there were fewer deaths than in the average flu season. The final death toll was 450—0.7% of the 65,000 predicted in Donaldson's worst-case scenario. Of these 450 deaths, only 70 could be solely attributed to swine flu.

Like all disciples of the precautionary principle, Donaldson could attribute the low death toll to his own policies. But there were even fewer deaths in Poland, whose government did not buy a single dose of Tamiflu.

In truth, it was obvious within a week of the initial outbreak that swine flu was not going to be a major killer. If it was going to slay millions, it would have done so in crowded and poverty-stricken Mexico City, where the scare began. Clearly, this was a fairly contagious but not very potent disease. Swine flu single-handedly brought the phrase "chronic underlying health problems" into the popular lexicon, as they seemed to be a prerequisite for any swine flu-related death. The chance of dying from the disease once you contracted it was 0.0001%.

As Paul Flynn - with whom I disagree about nearly everything, but who has followed this story doggedly and admirably - notes...

The Swedish Institute for Communicable Disease Control found that 5.4 million swine flu jabs saved 6 lives in Sweden.

60% of the Swedish population was vaccinated in 2009.

The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) found Sweden had a death rate of 0.31 fatalities per 100,000 people after the pandemic.

In Germany, where only eight percent of the population was vaccinated, the fatality figures were the same.

In Poland, the death rate was only 0.47 per 100,000. They spent next to nothing on vaccines. UK spent £1.2 billion. Our equivalent death rate was double, 0.74.

There are questions that need answering, not only about how Tamiflu was presented as being more efficacious than it is but about how the swine flu scare was harnessed to sell it in vast quantities to gullible governments. Big Pharma and the WHO are both culpable. The latter changed the definition of a pandemic in May 2009 in a way that was very convenient for manufacturers of Tamiflu and the whole organisation is rife with people who have serious competing interests.

Donaldson himself has since got himself a job at the WHO as well as a job at a lobbying company that represents pharmaceutical companies. Perhaps, as Longrider says, "we, the taxpayers, should be knocking on Donaldson’s door demanding our money back?"

Wednesday 9 April 2014

Politics and plain packs

I've got an article up at Spiked about what the battle for plain packs says about modern politics.

It is, of course, the opposition’s job to oppose, but the changing tide of party-political opinion on issues of so-called ‘public health’ is risibly and shamelessly opportunistic. Labour rejected plain packaging under Gordon Brown. It now fervently supports it. It rejected minimum pricing for alcohol when it was in government and was largely indifferent when Cameron supported it. Now that the Conservatives have turned against it, however, Labour is firmly in favour - except in Scotland, where the Scottish National Party (SNP) strongly supports it and Labour is against it. The Tories, meanwhile, were happy to bury plain packaging after it was rejected in the public consultation, but they eagerly revived it after Labour scored a few points by dreaming up the Lynton Crosby conspiracy theory. ‘This will nail Labour’s ridiculous smears’, said a Whitehall source at the time. ‘Now the pressure will be on Labour to get behind this amendment to enable the introduction of standardised packaging.’ How principled! How noble!

Go have a shufti.

Monday 7 April 2014

The Tobacco Control Scorecard: indisputable evidence of failure

Last week, the new Tobacco Control Scorecard (TCS) was published. You can download it here.

The TCS is the anti-smoking cabal's way of finding out whether governments have been naughty or nice. Anti-tobacco extremism scores highly while tolerance, sanity and the slightest deviation from tobakko kontrol orthodoxy places you on the naughty step.

The authors treat the whole thing with hilarious earnestness. You need to read the whole thing to get the flavour of it, but here is a sample...

Were this an exam with 51% needed to pass then 24 countries, almost 71% of the field, failed the exam – very disappointing. Their end-of-term report would undoubtedly say: “Must do better.” They urgently need to improve their tobacco control score in the next few years.

31. Czech Republic (27 ▼4). Tobacco control policy in the Czech Republic is set by the Ministry of Agriculture. There is a strong tobacco industry presence. For example all three Czech President have openly defended tobacco industry interests. The Czech Republic is one of the four countries who voted against the Tobacco Products Directive.

20. Slovenia (17 ▼3). No new initiatives, despite a positive attitude during the Tobacco Products Directive negotiations.

19. Romania (16 ▼3). Romania is one of the four countries who voted against the Tobacco Products Directive.

15. Italy (12 ▼3). No progress to report since 2005, disappointingly.

13. Netherlands (13 –). After a difficult time for tobacco control in the Netherlands, the current government is now supporting and implementing stronger tobacco control policy again, such as the reintroduction of smoke free bars in July 2014.

10. Ukraine (new) Ukraine recently introduced comprehensive smoke free legislation, advertising bans and pictorial health warnings. However, Ukraine also made a complaint against Australia's plain packaging law in the World Trade Organization.

As you may have noticed, a lot of this has got nothing to do with whether these countries are reducing their smoking rate but whether they toed the 'public health' line on the Tobacco Products Directive.

Ever since the Tobacco Control Scorecard began, the UK and Ireland have taken the top spots and this year was no different. Both countries get a pat on the head for proposing plain packaging and Ireland is thanked for helping to force through the EU Directive.

2. Ireland (2 –). Ireland introduced pictorial health warnings and might be the first country in Europe to adopt plain packaging legislation. The Irish Presidency was instrumental in forging a political agreement on the Tobacco Products Directive in June 2013.

1. United Kingdom (1 –). The United Kingdom remains number one and is doing well on five of the World Bank tobacco control policies, although spending on tobacco control has been reduced since 2010. The UK adopted legislation to ban tobacco displays at the point of sale and is considering the introduction of plain packaging legislation.

Rule, Brittania!

But whither Sweden? Where is the European country that has by far the lowest smoking rate? Alas, it still isn't a true believer. Sweden continues to allow bits of advertising, rejects graphic warnings, opposes plain packaging and - above all - allows the sale of snus (hence the low smoking rate. As none other than Simon Chapman admitted in 2007: "Sweden has attained the lowest prevalence of smoking among any nation, largely because of the major shift that has occurred from smoking to snus use in men"). And so it falls out of the top ten for the first time...

11. Sweden (9 ▼2). No significant progress to report since 2005. Surprisingly, given its distinguished tobacco control history, Sweden is often not in support of strong tobacco control measures at European and international level, such as plain packaging.

What more proof can be needed to show tobacco control's delusional state of mind than a league table that puts the country with the lowest smoking rate in mid-table, the country with the second highest smoking rate (Ireland) in second place and the country that hasn't seen a fall in its smoking rate since 2007 at the top of the pile?

If we graph the tobacco control scores against smoking rates (figures from the OECD), the anti-smoking lobby's idea of best practice is exposed as the fantasy it has always been.

You get the same result if you use the Eurobaromoter smoking figures. There is simply no correlation between adherence to the neo-prohibitionists' (cough) 'evidence-based policy' and lower smoking rates. None whatsoever.

When inputs so consistently fail to produce the expected outputs, you would expect a change of mindset, if not mass sackings. A movement that was genuinely interested in reducing smoking rates, rather than irritating the tobacco industry and hassling smokers, would look at the countries which have the lowest prevalence levels and emulate them. Instead, they construct a ludicrous league table to cover their blushes.

I've said it before and I'll say it again: tobacco control is not a results-driven business. We urgently need an independent audit of the anti-smoker racket so politicians can see what they've got for the money - our money - they've been spending all these years.


In response to questions in the comments, I should clarify that the scores are based on what policies are in force. Countries do not actually get scored down for not supporting the TPD or for not having done anything recently.

The criteria are: price of cigarettes (30 points), extent of smoking ban (22 points), spending on tobacco control (15 points), extent of advertising ban (13 points), size of health warnings (7 points), use of graphic warnings (3 points), and extent of cessation services (including whether government gives away NRT for free - 10 points).

Friday 4 April 2014

Nick Triggle versus the BBC charter

From Section 10 of the BBC's guidelines...


We must treat matters of politics and public policy with due accuracy and impartiality in news and other output.


We must not express an opinion on current affairs or matters of public policy other than broadcasting or the provision of online services.


We must not campaign, or allow ourselves to be used to campaign.

Now go read Nick Triggle's article about plain packaging and see how it measures up.

You can read more about this partisan hack here, here and here.

Thursday 3 April 2014

Plain packs edging closer

As expected, the 'public health' review of plain packaging - conducted by Sir Cyril Chantler - concluded that the policy was worth a punt. Chantler concluded that, if combined with other measures, plain packaging is "very likely to lead to a modest but important reduction over time on the uptake and prevalence of smoking". In the press conference, he mentioned that there will be no relevant smoking prevalence figures published in Australia until October 2015 at the earliest. In other words, there won't be any real world evidence for some time - and it is this that the government said it was looking for.

Anyone who expects to find anything new in the report will be disappointed. It merely summarises the numerous hypothetical studies and surveys that have been created by tobacco control activists in recent years. It also relies heavily on the review by the anti-capitalist fanatic Gerard Hastings, a man who fundamentally misunderstands why people buy things in the first place ('corporate power' etc.).

In other words, the new report summarises all the previous studies which the government decided in 2013 did not provide enough evidence to proceed. Chantler comes to the opposite conclusion because he is uncritical of the tobacco control junk science and because he dismisses other evidence out of hand. For example, he ignores the KPMG report because (as he explained in the press conference today) it uses the empty pack method for estimating the proportion of illicit cigarettes in the market. In fact, collecting empty packs is a far better way of measuring the black market than asking people to own up to buying contraband (which is what the government does these days).

On the question of whether plain packaging would lead to people buying cheaper brands and therefore possibly smoking more, Chantler completely misses the point. He notes that cigarette prices have risen since plain packaging and that manufacturers have added to heavy tax rises. He seems not to understand that the issue is about people trading down within the category. For this, there is plenty of evidence, as Reuters mentioned today...

The Retail World supermarket sales data also showed that while sales volumes of "mainstream" and "premium" cigarettes fell by 8-9 percent, "value" brand sales rose 12.9 percent

On the issue of counterfeiting he, again, misses the point. "In my view," he writes, "the argument that standardised packaging makes it materially easier or cheaper for criminals to produce counterfeit packaging is not supported by the evidence I have seen." This is highly debatable; there are clearly economic savings to be had by only having to counterfeit one pack design. Nevertheless, this is not the main issue. The experience in Australia has not so much been that plain packs have been counterfeited (though there have been seizures of such products), but that counterfeiters have been producing completely fake, branded brands such as 'Manchester'. Chantler doesn't mention this at all. Instead he uses a very selective, edited quote from a tobacco executive to imply that counterfeiting has actually declined (p. 34).

Chantler does not mention that the Australian government's own figures show that seizures of smuggled tobacco have been rising, nor that tobacco plants are being grown on an industrial (agricultural?) scale, nor that legal sales are rising as well.

To be fair, the illicit trade was not his main remit, but this only underlines the need for reviews into all the other aspects of this issue - smuggling, intellectual property, trade agreements and so on. All the pros and cons must be weighed before a decision can be made. As I said a couple of weeks ago, we cannot make policy based on a hunch about possible "modest" health effects while ignoring the other aspects. If we did, there would be no end to government interference and the public health racket would run wild. Which is what has been happening.

Wednesday 2 April 2014

Banning e-cigarettes in 'public' places

I have been watching with increasing dismay the number of American towns and cities that have been banning the use of e-cigarettes in 'public places' (which is anti-smoker speak for privately owned businesses). Greg Conley has been patiently documenting the sewer of outright lies, vested interests and willful ignorance in which the prohibitionists wallow. We are used to seeing the 'public health' racket spit in the face of liberty, but in its crusade to stamp out e-cigarettes it is now shamelessly anti-health as well.

Today, this cancer spread to Wales...

Wales could be the first part of the UK to ban the use of electronic cigarettes in enclosed public places.

Ministers say they are responding to concern that the devices - which can contain nicotine - normalise smoking and undermine the smoking ban.

Let's consider this justification for a moment. In non-totalitarian countries, to make something a crime, you generally need a victim. We need not go over the shaky claims about secondhand smoke again, suffice to say that the smoking ban was based on a belief that smoking in enclosed spaces creates externalities which are potentially hazardous to health. There is therefore - if we disregard property rights and freedom of association - a victim, at least in theory.

Who is the victim from indoor vaping? No one. The Welsh government does not claim that there is the remotest health risk from e-cigarette vapour and all the evidence indicates that no risk exists. Campaigners therefore rely on the claim that vaping 'normalises' smoking and 'undermines the smoking ban'.

These are peculiar claims. Vaping cannot 'normalise' smoking because it is not smoking. It can only normalise vaping which is, in public health terms, the enemy of smoking. Nor can it 'undermine the smoking ban' because, assuming that those who campaigned for the smoking ban were sincere, the smoking ban was only intended to 'protect' bar workers from secondhand smoke. Since e-cigarettes do not create secondhand smoke, their use cannot undermine or subvert this effort.

Nevertheless, these are the justifications given. Perhaps the campaigners think that banning vaping in pubs will 'send out the right message'. But actions have consequences. They do not intend only to send out a message, but to establish a new crime and therefore create new criminals. If vaping is banned in pubs and clubs in Wales, as they hope, it will undoubtedly lead to people being punished for failing to obey. Proprietors will be fined, arrested and possibly imprisoned for allowing people to vape on their premises. Vapers will, at the least, be fined.

But why? Is it illegal to 'normalise' smoking? Is it illegal to 'undermine the smoking ban'? If this law is enacted, the answer to both questions will effectively be yes because, without a victim, these are the grounds upon which the state will criminalise vapers. Although they are harming no one, vapers will be prosecuted for offending the sensibilities of the public health lobby. Their crime will be to implicitly disagree with the direction in which the state wishes society to move. The government will have decided that smoking and anything that looks like smoking is not 'normal' and must therefore be illegal in public places. Vapers do not 'send out the right message' and so they must be punished by law.

This is the product of a fascist mindset (I'm afraid there is no other word for it). Persecuting innocent people to shore up the public health fantasy that smoking has been denormalised is beyond the pale in a free society. Even if e-cigarettes did undermine the smoking ban and normalised smoking - which, to repeat, they patently don't - it would not justify treating vapers as collateral damage. The fact that politicians are even contemplating creating this victimless crime demonstrates the extent to which 'public health' ideology has corrupted their understanding of what the law is intended to do.