Friday 29 July 2016

Ridiculous comparisons (part two)

On Wednesday I mentioned the tendency of 'public health' folk to compare their ample budgets with a completely unrelated number. In that instance, it was Yoni Freedhof comparing the cost of a single cancer research programme to the combined marketing budgets of US food companies. What point was he making? God only knows.

I thought that was a particularly silly example, but you can always count on Stanton Glantz to up the ante...

States spend more on movies that push smoking than on programs to prevent it

The fourteen states hand out the most lavish subsidies to Hollywood film producers together spent $1.48 billion on movies proven to recruit kids to smoke from 2010 to 2016 — $150 million more than they invested over the same period to reduce smoking.

2010 to 2016, six individual states spent more to subsidize smoking movies than on programs to reduce smoking: Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Nevada and New Mexico.

New York State and Pennsylvania spent nearly as much to promote smoking as they did to reduce smoking. California, Connecticut and North Carolina spent at least two-thirds as much on films with smoking as they did on tobacco control.

Together, the fourteen states with the most active film subsidy programs spent $1.47 billion on top-grossing movies that promote smoking between 2010 and mid-2016, compared to $1.33 billion for smoking prevention.

To understand what on earth Glantz is talking about you have to understand that he is a fruitcake who thinks that any film that shows tobacco use in any context, however briefly, is 'promoting smoking'.

He therefore thinks that a dollar spent subsidising a movie is directly comparable to a dollar spent on projects that explicitly tell people not to smoke.

There's not much more to say about this. These people are just insane.

Thursday 28 July 2016

Offices are the new smoking

 The Lancet has published a meta-analysis looking at the effect of exercise on sedentary lifestyles. It's been rather sensationally reported (see above - the study doesn't actually mention working in an office), but the gist is this...

In the study, participants, mostly aged over 45, were classed by their levels of physical activity – from up to five minutes a day to more than an hour – and by the amount of time spent seated.

This was compared with death rates over up to 18 years among the adults, who came from western Europe, Australia and the US.

Among those who sat for at least eight hours daily and managed less than five minutes’ activity mortality rates were 9.9 per cent.

But those who spent just as long seated, but managed at least an hour’s exercise, saw death rates drop to 6.2 per cent.

Maybe this is solid science, maybe it's more epidemiological trash, but there was a time when this information would be passed on to the public by way of advice and we would do with it what we wanted. We could, for example, ignore it - more than 90 per cent of both groups were still alive at the study's conclusion after all.

But times have changed and so, inevitably...

“This report is showing that inactivity kills,” he said. “When we realised this about smoking we tackled it – we need to do the same about our office culture.”

The Telegraph mentions various policy options to counter the seductive marketing of Big Furniture, including this gem...

These include placing bus stops further apart to force people to walk longer to and from them

Good grief.

Wednesday 27 July 2016

Weird beliefs about advertising

A bit of dada free association at the Weighty Matters blog...

Did you hear about the "Cancer Moonshot 2020"?

In their words,
"The Cancer MoonShot 2020 Program is one of the most comprehensive cancer collaborative initiatives launched to date, seeking to accelerate the potential of combination immunotherapy as the next generation standard of care in cancer patients."
And so what's the cost of this ambitious program over the course of the next 5 years?

$1 billion.

Sound impressive?

Maybe less so when you consider that according to AdAge, in 2014 alone, the top 25 US food industry brands spent just shy of 15x that amount advertising their products.

That's a moonshot worth every 3 weeks or so!


What is the reader supposed to conclude from this comparison between two random budgets other than the author is strangely preoccupied by food advertising? What is the connection between a government-funded cancer research programme and the combined marketing budgets of the American food sector?

Perhaps Yoni Freedhof - for it is he - can explain?

If we want to see population level improvements to diet, no doubt that part of the requirement will be food industry advertising reform. Banning advertising that targets kids altogether, reforming front-of-package claims, cracking down on deceit, and more, because with a cancer moonshot of food industry advertising every three weeks, consumers don't stand a chance if we don't. 

No, apparently he can't explain. He might as well be comparing the cost of the Apollo 11 space programme with the price of fish in Tanzania. The two variables have absolutely no relationship to each other.

Why pick out the Cancer Moonshot project? Why not use the USA's $77 billion public health budget as the comparison? Is it because that number is too big to make whatever point Freedhoff is trying to make? Hell, why not take the $3.7 trillion that the federal government spends each year and compare it to the $1.4 billion ad spend of McDonalds? Anything can be made to look small if you put it next to something big.

You see these idiotic comparisons in 'public health' propaganda all the time, although they are usually more coherent than this one. Typically they compare the advertising spend of whatever industry they're going after and compare it to whatever 'public health' budget is supposed to be tackling the associated health issue. Take this from a health select committee, for example...

Better education and information are the main planks of the Government's alcohol strategy. Unfortunately, the evidence is that they are not very effective. Moreover, the low level of Government spending on alcohol information and education campaigns, which amounts to £17.6m in 2009/10 makes it even more unlikely they will have much effect. In contrast, the drinks industry is estimated to spend £600-800m per annum on promoting alcohol.

Note the false dichotomy, as if the drinks industry advertising budget is designed to counter the claims made in government education campaigns. As if a pound spent in a classroom was equal to a pound spent in a commercial. As if alcohol advertising was intended - or was even allowed by law - to encourage people to drink excessively or to tell people that excessive drinking is not bad for your health. As if, as if, as if.

The truth is more mundane. As ample empirical research has shown, much advertising is defensive; it seeks to keep customers loyal to the brand. Most of the rest of it aims to get consumers of other companies' brands to switch. Then there is the small chunk of advertising that announces the appearance of new products.

A lot of advertising therefore cancels itself out, but companies cannot afford to stop advertising because that would give the advantage to their competitors. It's game theory and economists' classical objection to advertising was that it was a waste of resources for this reason, but there is evidence that advertising creates economies of scale and provides other benefits which arguably outweigh that problem.

See Advertising in a Free Society for the details, but my point here is that you can't treat the government's health education budget and an industry's advertising budget as if they were two sides of the same coin, and then pretend that one side is David and the other side is Goliath. And you obviously can't make bizarre comparisons like the one above and pretend that it means anything at all.

Tuesday 26 July 2016

It's not just Prince George who lives off public money

This charmer from the third sector has decided to have a pop at a three year old boy...

Charity Boss' Prince George Comments Probed

A senior British Council employee is being investigated after allegedly criticising Prince George for living "on public money".

Angela Gibbins, head of global estates at the charity - of which the Queen is a patron - was reported to have commented on a Facebook picture of the three-year-old Prince captioned: "Prince George already looks like a f****** d***head".

Ms Gibbins is alleged to have posted: "White privilege. That cheeky grin is the innate knowledge he's royal, rich, advantaged and will never know *any* difficulties or hardships in life."

Bloody sponging toddlers! Why don't they go and get a job, eh?

For what it's worth, I think the royal family should be living off their estates rather than being given taxpayers' money, but that's not the question. The question is where does this class warrior and her charity get their money? You won't be surprised to hear that they get most of from me and you.

Click to enlarge. The usual suspects are here dishing out millions and millions of pounds. Most of it comes from the Foreign Office but the Department for Education, Welsh Government, European Commission, Scottish government, BIS and even the US state department are all listed. Still, at least they managed to get £2,000 from individual donors which is more than some sockpuppet charities reel in. 

I'm sure the British Council does good work etc. but you also won't be surprised to hear that the staff at this organisation are very well remunerated. 363 of them are on more than £60,000, of whom 58 are on six figure salaries. Being a 'senior employee', we can assume that Angela Gibbins is one of them.

And you'll be totally unsurprised to hear that Ms Gibbins is self-described socialist. 

When challenged for her apparent comments, reported in The Sun, Ms Gibbins is said to have replied to other users: "I'm sound in my socialist, atheist and republican opinions.

"I don't believe the royal family have any place in a modern democracy, least of all when they live on public money. That's privilege and it needs to end."

I'm sure her rabid views and prejudices are par for the course in the state-funded part of the 'third sector', but please Ms Gibbins, have a bit of self-awareness.

Monday 25 July 2016

From Turkey Twizzlers to Chicken Nuggets

Turkey Twizzlers are fondly remembered by a generation who have never forgiven Jamie Oliver for getting them banned in schools. That was a decade ago and Oliver's contempt for frozen processed meat products has now been softened by his one true love: money.

As the founder of a self-styled “food revolution”, Jamie Oliver has made a career of encouraging families to cook “fresh, real food”.

But now the celebrity chef faces the prospect of losing his reputation as a champion of healthy home-cooking, after signing a multi-million pound deal for frozen, ready-meals with one of the world’s biggest chicken producers.

Oliver is to put his name to a range of pre-prepared poultry products made by Sadia, a division of the Brazilian food giant BRF Brazil.

Sadia make delicious products such Kid's Club Chicken Nuggets which are very much aimed at children...

Nothing wrong with that, of course, unless you happen to be a mockney mouth-breathing self-publicist who spent years getting this stuff out of school canteens, in which case you could look like a greedy hypocrite.

While Oliver said the deal, worth £11.5 million, gave him an opportunity to make “lasting change on a large scale” in the country, critics suggested he was betraying his principles.

Elisabetta Recine, coordinator of the Observatory of Food Security and Nutrition Policies and a professor at the School of Nutrition at the University of Brasília, said the chef’s decision to work with Sadia was “regrettable”.

“He’s a public figure who has built his image on local produce, home-cooking and fresh food,” she said.

“Sadia is a chain linked to intensive production. He has betrayed the narrative that he has built. “Jamie Oliver won’t make Sadia better but Sadia will make Jamie Oliver worse.”

I'm not sure he could get any worse, but at least a few people are starting to him as he is.

PS. Oliver's big thing these days is the mad war on sugar. Sugar is such a basic part of the diet that no chef could take part in this crusade without being a hypocrite. For the record, his recipe for pork belly and watermelon salad in yesterday's Sunday Times has more sugar in it than a can of Dr Pepper. If the Sunday Times used the labelling system that Oliver has demanded for fizzy drinks, it would show seven teaspoons.

Friday 22 July 2016

The study that isn't

Hop over to Spectator Health to see what I have to say about this bullshit (above).

Also, I've written about poverty and inequality under the Cameron/Clegg government at the IEA blog.

Aseem Malhotra's fitness video

Consistent with my predictions about his career trajectory, purveyor of low quality nutritional advice, Aseem Malhotra, has made a diet video.

It's yours to own for just $19.99. That's about $19.98 more than I am prepared to pay but there is a trailer to watch for free in which Malhotra writes down ingredients in a Mediterranean restaurant and calls it the Mediterranean diet. He also takes part in some amusing physical activities.

Thursday 21 July 2016

Vitamin D tablets for all

After years of being told to avoid sunlight and red meat, we are now being told to take pills to prevent a disease that can be avoided by getting some sun and eating red meat.

Everyone should consider taking vitamin D supplements in autumn and winter, public health advice in England and Wales says.

This is to avoid rickets, a disease that was pretty much wiped out by good nutrition in post-war Britain but which has recently made a comeback. Five years ago, a doctor in sunny Southampton commented on the rise in new cases...

At Southampton General Hospital, we have recently uncovered evidence to suggest a resurgence of vitamin D deficiency amongst children.

Our study has shown that this is not confined to the lower classes or ethnic minorities, with those from the leafy suburbs and coastal towns just as likely to be affected.

... Parents need to be aware that always covering up in the sun and not allowing their children to get a moderate amount of sunshine can lead to problems too.

Rickets remains rare, however, and is largely confined to children who are kept out of the sun or who have fad diets. People who cover themselves up for religious reasons or because they have obsessively protective parents can be at risk, but given the very small number of people who have a vitamin D deficiency, you would think that targeting at-risk groups with advice to get in the sun and eat some eggs, fish and beef would be the way forward. Those people who are not prepared to make these lifestyle changes - vegans, burqa-wearing women etc. - could be advised to take vitamin D pills.

But this is the world of 'public health' where the whole population has to be alarmed and medicated in equal measure. You can't be too careful, can you?

Well, yes you can. Vitamin D pills cost money, and encouraging 65 million people to take one every day for at least six months of the year is a gigantic waste of it.     

Monday 18 July 2016

Greenpeace and the bus of truth

From the BBC...

Vote Leave's EU referendum bus has been hired by Greenpeace, which plans to rebrand it a "vehicle for truth".

The environmental group has parked the double-decker at Westminster.

It will cover the bus, which featured the controversial claim leaving the EU could boost the NHS by £350m a week, with questions for the government.

This bus has taken on a mythical status amongst the sore losers of the Remain campaign. Undoubtedly the £350 million a week figure was extremely misleading and should never have been used, but it is extremely doubtful whether using the correct figure (of £250 million or £188 million, depending on how you look at it) would have made any Leave voters switch to Remain. Indeed, one of the problems Remain voters had when debunking the £350 million figure was that voters tended to think that whatever the real figure was, it was a hell of a lot of money.

But that's not why I'm writing this post. I mention this story only to point out the flagrant hypocrisy of Greenpeace, of all groups, claiming to be on the side of truth. It has only been a few weeks since 110 Nobel prize winners signed a letter condemning Greenpeace's persistent and blatant misrepresentation of scientific data in their crusade against GM food...

The United Nations Food & Agriculture Program has noted that global production of food, feed and fiber will need approximately to double by 2050 to meet the demands of a growing global population. Organizations opposed to modern plant breeding, with Greenpeace at their lead, have repeatedly denied these facts and opposed biotechnological innovations in agriculture. They have misrepresented their risks, benefits, and impacts, and supported the criminal destruction of approved field trials and research projects.

As the scientists pointed out, Greenpeace's campaign of lies has led to death and disease in developing countries and will continue to do so for as long as governments take them seriously.

WE CALL UPON GREENPEACE to cease and desist in its campaign against Golden Rice specifically, and crops and foods improved through biotechnology in general;

WE CALL UPON GOVERNMENTS OF THE WORLD to reject Greenpeace's campaign against Golden Rice specifically, and crops and foods improved through biotechnology in general; and to do everything in their power to oppose Greenpeace's actions and accelerate the access of farmers to all the tools of modern biology, especially seeds improved through biotechnology. Opposition based on emotion and dogma contradicted by data must be stopped.

How many poor people in the world must die before we consider this a "crime against humanity"?

The EU has been particularly craven in capitulating to these fanatics, so it is little wonder Greenpeace are such fans of it. 'Vehicle of truth'? Don't make me laugh.

Friday 15 July 2016

Theresa May and the nanny state

The Morning Advertiser asked me to write a comment piece about Theresa May's attitude to pubs. You can read it here.

The headline is...

"On nanny state issues, she is surprisingly sound" - IEA's Snowdon on Theresa May

This will probably come back to haunt me, so let me get my excuses in early.

Given Theresa May's woeful record on civil liberties I would have expected her to support every nanny state policy in the book. The fact that she was opposed to minimum pricing and voted against banning smoking in cars is therefore surprising.

I am not predicting a golden age of lifestyle freedom ahead. On the contrary, I expect the downward spiral to continue. It is just a question of how steeply and how fast.

Having said that, The Times reported today that the 'childhood' obesity strategy won't contain the worst anti-market policies beloved of the public health racket, so perhaps we can cling to some hope.

Tuesday 12 July 2016

Public Health England and vaping bans

The UK government may have a relatively enlightened view of e-cigarettes, but many businesses have banned vaping of their own accord. You would think that pubs had suffered enough from the smoking ban to not want to voluntarily alienate another group of customers and yet some of the PubCos have opted for a vaping ban all the same (although staff often turn a blind eye).

It has to be said that a handful of vapers ruin it for everyone by cloud chasing with high powered devices in confined spaces. It would be a shame if indoor vaping bans become the norm thanks to a few idiots making a nuisance of themselves, but most of the time vaping annoys no one because it is barely noticeable, and it is ridiculous that outdoor sporting venues such as the Oval and Silverstone have banned e-cigarette use.

Public Health England has produced a little publication that could come in handy if your employer is considering a vaping policy. It is filled with the usual unpleasant anti-smoker rhetoric, but it could serve a purpose for vapers. Any port in a storm.

The key passages are this...

E-cigarette use is not covered by smokefree legislation and should not routinely be included in the requirements of an organisation’s smokefree policy

And this...

E-cigarettes are used almost exclusively by smokers and ex-smokers and are now the most popular stop smoking aid in England. To support smokers to stop smoking and stay smokefree, a more enabling approach may be appropriate in relation to vaping to make it an easier choice than smoking. In particular, vapers should not be required to use the same space as smokers, as this could undermine their ability to quit smoking and stay smokefree, particularly among those most heavily addicted.

You can download it here.

Monday 11 July 2016

Things May not be so bad

With Andrea Leadsom pulling out of the Tory leadership contest, it looks like Theresa May will be our new prime minister. Not everybody is happy about this. Many Brexiters think that the country needs a leader who campaigned to leave the EU. They could be right, but we don't care about any of that on this blog. Let's look at where Leadsom and May stand on the issues that really matter.

The Rt. Hon. Theresa May MP

• Voted against smoking ban in public places (2006)

• Absent on tobacco displays vote (2009)

• Absent for David Nuttall’s Private Members Bill on exempting pubs and private members clubs from smoking ban, where food is not served. (2010)

• Voted against smoking ban in cars (2014)

• Absent on plain packaging in (2015)

Andrea Leadsom MP

• Voted against David Nuttall’s Private Members Bill on exempting pubs and private members clubs from smoking ban, where food is not served. (2010)

• Voted in favour of smoking ban in cars containing 18 year olds and under (2014)

• Voted in favour of plain packaging (2015)

Advantage May, I think you'll agree. Moreover, Theresa May was one of the cabinet ministers who put pressure on David Cameron to drop minimum pricing for alcohol back in 2013. I'm unable to find any comment from May on the sugar tax but I did find this from Leadsom...

I'm not claiming that May is some sort of libertarian. Clearly, she isn't. Nor am I saying she will necessarily be a good prime minister. Time will tell. I'm just saying that things could, perhaps, be worse.


As the Morning Advertiser points out, May is unsound on the Licensing Act. 

Thursday 7 July 2016

Peak Laffer

I wrote a post last year about HMRC figures which suggested that tobacco taxation had hit the peak of the Laffer Curve and revenues were falling despite ever-increasing taxes. Looking at the latest data today has confirmed it.

As shown in the graph below, tobacco duty revenues fell in 2015 for the third year in a row. It looks like 2012 was the year when the government milked the cash cow to its limit. The government got £430 million less from smokers in 2015 than it got in 2012.

Anti-smoking campaigners will say 'great, that shows that cigarette consumption is falling', but (legal) cigarette consumption has been falling for many years (see below). What's different this time is that the government can no longer make up for declining consumption with higher taxes, although God knows it's trying.

The jig is up.

Wednesday 6 July 2016

Last Orders: Episide 4

The new Spiked Last Orders podcast is out. This month's guest is Dr Michael Fitzpatrick (author of The Tyranny of Health) and we discuss the WHO, Syria, young people being exploited by 'public health' and the redefinition of obesity.

It's more fun than it sounds. Subscribe to the Spiked on your podcast or listen here.

Tuesday 5 July 2016

The sad decline of Cancer Research

Cancer Research UK want more restrictions on food advertising and have produced a disgracefully dishonest infographic in their campaign to get them.

I can't imagine anybody looking at this image and concluding anything other than that 'junk food' advertising makes children five times more likely to be obese. In fact, if you look at the study cited (Simmonds et al. 2016) you'll see that it doesn't mention advertising at all. All it says is that obese children are five times more likely than non-obese children to become obese adults.

Isn't it telling that the further Cancer Research UK get from scientific research and the closer they get to the 'public health' lobby, the more they lose their integrity?