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.


Anonymous said...

Having seen a lady, very dear to my partner, rotting away in an old people's home, year by year, gradually having her dignity and her will to live eroded away day by day, can we confront these health zealots directly and throw them into the sea. Health advice MIGHT prolong life, possibly, although there is so much evidence to suggest that it is the general quality of living extends longevity, rather than specific faddish steps. However, there is nothing that these bastard snake oil salesmen can do to prolong quality of life, so you might live longer, but boy do you suffer in the process of getting to the Queen's telegram.

70 to 80 tops will do for me, its a hard decision to take, but I am making sure that I get the most out of my life out of the way to get there. There will be no regrets, but I will be sad that I filled my life so full of good things that I couldn't quite squeeze everything in. The Zealots have no concept of quality and fulness of life. They are inhuman.

Anonymous said...

There's been an awful lot of screaming from the health fraternity about vaping recently.