Wednesday, 31 August 2016

Last Orders podcast: Theresa May, obesity and pubs

We've recorded another edition of the Spiked Last Orders podcast, this time with Rob Lyons. We took a month off in July because it's been a pleasantly quiet summer for nanny state activity and so we had little to discuss. Real news kept 'public health' press releases out of the headlines. What a wonderful time to believe that was.

But August gave us more to talk about. In the podcast we ask whether Theresa May will be an improvement on David Cameron, explain why it's none of the government's business if people are fat and cringe at the idea of MPs nationalising a pub for their own private use. You can listen to it here or subscribe to Spiked on iTunes.

Also, I wrote about the claim that vaping is as dangerous as smoking for Spectator Health yesterday.

Tuesday, 30 August 2016

A letter to the WHO

The WHO is having a consultation on what policy demands to put in the latest version of its delusional non-communicable disease action plan. I've just been reading the consultation document and was staggered to find (though I shouldn't be by now) that it is a wishlist of every juvenile anti-consumer nanny state policy you can shake a stick at.

The WHO is the FIFA of health so I very much doubt that any responses to their consultation will make them change their mind about anything but they are taking submissions (at until close of play tomorrow so I decided to send them a quick e-mail anyway.

Dear Sir/Madam,

I have read your suggestions for Appendix 3 of the WHO Global NCD Action Plan and regret to see the WHO involving itself in policy areas in which it has insufficient knowledge and little authority. Is the WHO now merely a wing of the anti-capitalist movement?

In particular, I note the emphasis on banning intellectual property and branding (plain packaging), taxing sugary drinks and banning alcohol advertising. None of these policies have been shown to effectively tackle the associated problems but all have a detrimental effect on the operation of free markets. You may have no affection for markets - indeed, it is increasingly clear from the rhetoric of Margaret Chan that you do not - but many of us do. That is why some of the measures you want to recommend are unconstitutional or otherwise illegal. Why ask countries to do things that they cannot do, should not do and do not want to do? The public expects the WHO to be more than a glorified single issue pressure group.

There is zero evidence that plain packaging had any effect on tobacco sales in Australia, unless you count the unusual rise in sales observed in the first year of the policy as a direct effect of the legislation. There is zero evidence from anywhere in the world that taxes on sugary drinks have had the slightest effect on obesity. You asked Gerard Hastings to review the evidence on alcohol advertising and he told you that it was a driver of consumption. Hastings is well known to be an emotional and fanatical opponent of capitalism in general and advertising in particular. It is hard to think of anyone less qualified to give a sober judgement to an UN agency. Needless to say, his jaundiced view of alcohol advertising is not supported by economic studies.

I notice you also suggest bans on smoking outdoors. Again, there is not the slightest evidence that secondhand smoke outdoors poses a threat to anybody. Even if there were, it would not be any business of the WHO’s to tell people how to deal with it.

Finally, there is the question of resources. The WHO’s resources are limited and contagious diseases remain rampant in most parts of the world. A dollar spent campaigning for anti-market policies such as plain packaging and alcohol advertising bans is a dollar that could be spent preventing typhoid, cholera, HIV etc. NCDs kill people but it would take a moral cretin to view a death in old age from a lifestyle-related condition to be equivalent to a child dying of a communicable disease, not least because the former has consented to the risk and is not asking for your help. Until the latter have been adequately tackled, it is immoral to expend resources on the former.

The hard-working people who pay your wages expect you to be dealing with problems such as Zika and Ebola, not beer advertisements and the price of cola. If the WHO wishes to retain the good will it has attracted over decades of tackling infectious disease, it needs to drop the juvenile political campaigning and reform itself quickly.


Christopher Snowdon

Friday, 26 August 2016

Those new drinking guidelines in full

I've created a handy slide to summarise the Chief Medical Officer's new drinking guidelines...

Admittedly it doesn't cover everything in the report - there's some guff based around a fantasy computer model that bears no resemblance to real world data in there as well - but this is the only quote you'll need next time 'public health' activists say that we need more bans, taxes and regulations because X% of the population are drinking more than a certain amount.

Thursday, 25 August 2016

Alcohol guidelines in post-truth Britain

I've got an article at Spectator Health about a couple of new studies looking at moderate alcohol consumption that come to the usual conclusion.

Bearing in mind that [Sally] Davies claimed in January that whatever health benefits she grudgingly accepted only applied to old people, let’s look at the conclusion:
Our findings are generally consistent — especially for younger women — with an accumulating body of research demonstrating positive associations between moderate alcohol use and health, even after accounting for abstainer bias.
Looks like another two studies can be added to the massive body of evidence showing the same thing.

Smart people, those old wives.

A couple of hours after the article went live the government quietly released the official new alcohol guidelines (c/o the UK Temperance Alliance) which contains such gems as...

That the net benefits from small amounts of alcohol are less than previously thought (with substantial uncertainties around the level of protection) and are significant in only a limited part of the population. That is women over the age of 55, for whom the maximum benefit is gained when drinking around 5 units a week, with some beneficial effect up to around 14 units a week

Post-truth Britain indeed.

People Against Sugar Tax

A deranged Corbynista with a double digit Twitter following has spent five minutes on Google and written an ignorant and libellous blog post about a small pressure group called People Against Sugar Tax of which I was briefly on the advisory board.

The group was created a while ago by a guy called Brook Whelan with a strict policy of not accepting donations from industry. That is made clear on the website. Nevertheless, our left-wing friend has decided that the group is 'corporate astroturf' on the basis that Brook works in 'communications' (marketing, I believe) and the unpaid board members have links with the evil Conservative party. Alex Deane even defends vaping. Vaping!

This is pretty insulting given that Brook has spent a considerable amount of his own money fighting the sugar tax and so, at the risk of feeding the trolls, I still decided to leave a comment to correct the author. The author has refused to publish it, presumably because his reader would realise he's being hood-winked. Fortunately, I know enough about the far left's difficult relationship with free speech to have anticipated this, so I saved it as the time. So, in case you've come across People Against Sugar Tax and ever wondered, here's the deal...

My name has been removed from the website for the simple reason that I'm no longer involved with the group. I notice you have nothing to say about Brook Whelan - presumably because a look at his background would ruin your little conspiracy theory - but he founded and runs the organisation with the help of some volunteers.

When he set it up, Brook asked some people who knew about campaigning (eg. Alex) and some people who knew about the evidence (eg. me) to act as advisors. A reasonable thing to do, n'est pas? We agreed to do so, unpaid, because we agreed with his aims but after a while I realised that I was unable to dedicate sufficient extra-curricular time to the project and reluctantly dropped out.

Even if I had still been involved I fail to see how it would validate your libellous claim that the group is "corporate astroturf". Brook has been clear from day one that he would not accept a penny from industry or government. Indeed, he has sunk a considerable sum of his own money into the group. You owe him an apology.

I will continue to tweet about the sugar tax because I oppose it, as millions of other PEOPLE do. I hope Alex will continue to tweet about vaping, although what that has to do with the matter, God only knows.

If you're on Twitter, give them a follow.

Wednesday, 24 August 2016

Understanding the Basic Economics of Tobacco Harm Reduction

I'm delighted to have persuaded Carl Phillips to write a paper for the IEA about tobacco harm reduction. As many readers will know, Carl's knowledge and experience in this area is second to none and he is a rarity in the world of 'public health' in that he understands economics. As he said to City AM yesterday...

“Public health people are notoriously economically illiterate. Most of the nonsense in the policy discussion, on all sides, stems from ignoring economics,” said Phillips.

In his discussion paper Understanding the Basic Economics of Tobacco Harm Reduction, Carl looks at nicotine use from the perspective of welfare economics. This is how all other product use is normally looked at, but because most of the people involved in tobacco control have peculiar views, such as the belief that a billion people smoke as a result of some sort of demonic possession rather because they enjoy it, nicotine is usually excluded from conventional cost-benefit analysis.

'Public health' paternalists think that it's their job to assess costs and benefits for other people. However, being fanatics, they don't see any benefits from nicotine consumption and so, seeing only costs, assume that the optimal level of nicotine consumption is zero.

Using rigorous economic logic, Carl refutes that and concludes:

  • Substitution of a low risk product would be welfare-enhancing for most smokers. Some smokers will still prefer smoking to any available alternative, despite the much higher risk. But there are vanishingly few smokers for whom abstinence is a better choice than switching to a low-risk alternative. Thus there is no apparent ethical justification for anti-smoking measures that push for abstinence rather than switching.
  • The availability of low-risk tobacco / nicotine products will inevitably increase total consumption as compared to a world where cigarettes are the only option. This is the inevitable and rational effect of lowering the costs of a consumption choice. It is properly counted as an additional benefit, though it is widely derided as a cost. Public supporters of low-risk products who condition their support on those products not attracting any new users are either being naïve or cynically imposing conditions they know cannot be met.
  • For any remotely defensible goal, including minimising population health risk, the optimal level of excise tax on low-risk products is zero (assuming that is the lower bound; a subsidy would be better still). This is sometimes presented as if it were immediately evident from the comparative risk, but that is not actually a valid claim. However, simple economic analysis shows that it is the case.

You can download if for free here. Please do.

You can also read Carl's article for the City AM here.

Monday, 22 August 2016

That Canadian minimum pricing claim

From the Journal (Ireland), a pleasing rarity - a journalist who knows how to assess evidence. It all started with a clueless/lying politician...

"Minimum unit pricing has been proven to work, in British Columbia in Canada, for example. When they introduced it, they found, when they did the research that there were less deaths from…drinking, and there were less hospital admissions."

This is one of the most audacious lies I've ever come across in 'public health' and that is not a claim I make lightly. It started life in a ludicrous study from that old crank Tim Stockwell and has been repeated ad nauseum ever since.

The statement that alcohol-related deaths dropped by 32 per cent in British Colombia between 2002 and 2009 seems like a normative claim. It's not. There was never any drop in deaths and so Stockwell created a model that pretended there were. This is what 'public health' people do. They create a land of fantasy for themselves where their ridiculous policies work.

I have written about this farce of a study before, but the Journal has the most comprehensive take yet. Do read the whole thing, but here's a taster...

The first thing to note is that the number of alcohol-related deaths and hospital admissions generally went up in British Columbia during the period of 2002 to 2009.

As you can see, there were only two occasions when the number of deaths was lower than the year before, and the number of hospital admissions rose every year.

...It is doubly wrong to say that this happened “when they introduced [MUP]“. As we’ve explained, this study relates to increases in already-existing minimum prices.

...Remember that the study uses complex statistical models to estimate an association between a 1% increase in minimum prices, and a percent change in the number of deaths.

It’s not saying that prices actually went up by 1%, and these were the actual, observed ensuing increases and decreases in deaths.

If that’s a bit confusing, welcome to the world of statistical models.

It certainly is a bit confusing when 'public health' campaigners make up historical facts to suit their agenda, but it is hardly the first time. Models have their place in making predictions but using a model instead of using readily available data about a past event is, well, cheating.

Read it all here. There is also a pretty good overview of the sugar tax evidence from the same people here.

The silly, silly sugar levy

I've been looking carefully at the details of the proposed UK sugar levy and have written up my conclusions in a short IEA briefing paper. It is a truly perverse and counterproductive idea which will cost the government more than it yields and will have little effect in incentivising reformulation because the reformulation has already taken place.

Here's the executive summary...

In March 2016, George Osborne announced a ‘sugar levy’ on soft drink companies to start in April 2018. Under this policy, companies will be taxed on sales of medium and high sugar drinks (excluding fruit juice and milk-based drinks).

As an anti-obesity policy, the sugar levy seems arbitrary. Consumption of both sugar and sugary drinks has been falling for years while obesity has been rising. Soft drinks make only a small contribution to average calorie intake. Comparisons between European countries show no correlation between sugary drink consumption and obesity.

There is unambiguous evidence that ‘sin taxes’ of this sort take a greater share of income from the poor than from the rich. Since low income groups tend to buy larger quantities of SSBs, the impact of the sugar levy will be particularly regressive.

The Office for Budget Responsibility says the levy will increase inflation by a quarter of a per cent in 2018-19 thereby adding £1 billion to accrued interest payments on index-linked gilts. The inflationary effect will raise the cost of index-linked salaries, pensions and benefits by many millions of pounds. The levy will also require additional funding for enforcement and administration. For the first few years, at least, the sugar levy will be loss-making.

Hopes of extensive reformulation to reduce sugar content in the soft drink market are highly unrealistic. There is no more sugar to be removed from diet drinks and companies will not change the recipe of their popular original brands. Instead, the levy gives companies the perverse incentive to raise sugar levels up to the threshold of each tax bracket.

It is bizarre to introduce a tax when you know that it will incur billions of pounds of additional costs, and the stated objective of getting soft drinks companies to reduce the amount of sugar in their products is a pipe-dream.

50 per cent of the carbonated drinks market is already made up of low calorie brands. Regular Coke and Pepsi make up a further 24 per cent of the market - and they are not going to be altered. That leaves only a quarter of the existing market that could plausibly be reformulated but it includes such brands such as Irn-Bru and Dr Pepper which are unlikely to change (both have diet versions that sell modestly) as well as brands such as Lilt and Oasis which have already been reformulated to bring them below the lower-tier 5g/100ml sugar limit. For the latter category, the levy provides no incentive to reduce sugar levels further. On the contrary, since consumers tend to prefer the taste of sugar to the taste of artificial sweeteners, the levy gives manufacturers a perverse incentive to raise sugar levels in reduced-sugar drinks up to the limit of whichever tax bracket they are in.

I think the sugar tax is a bad idea on principle but it also happens to be a terrible idea in practice.

I've written more about this for Spectator Health.

Friday, 19 August 2016


The fall out from the obesity strategy continues with Action on Sugar now telling the government that they should listen to big business.

This is because the CEO of Sainsbury's has written a letter to The Times asking the government to bring in legal restrictions on the use of salt, sugar and fat 'across the whole food and drink industry'. It's a staggering thing to request and is a classic example of industry trying to use regulation to get an advantage at the expense of the public. Or maybe he knows it won't happen and is counting on some good publicity. Either way, I hope his business tanks and he gets thrown out on his ear.

Elsewhere, I've written an article for the Express about the cry babies of the nanny state industry and their ridiculous demands. In it, I say...

A glance at the policies rejected by the Government demonstrates sound judgment from the Prime Minister. The health lobby wanted a ban on “junk food” advertising before the watershed. Alas, “junk food” is a campaigning term with no scientific definition.

The nearest equivalent is food that is high in fat, salt or sugar (HFSS) but this covers a much broader range of products than people realise. It includes chocolate, crisps and burgers of course but it also includes orange juice, cheese, bacon, nuts and milk.

Call me a free market fundamentalist if you must but I don’t think these products are such a threat that they can only appear on television after dark.

Illustrating this point is an excellent video courtesy of Guido showing dozens of reasons why Jamie Oliver's adverts for, er, Sainsbury's would be banned if the zealots got their way. Highly recommended.

They know not what they do, the irresponsible fools.

Thursday, 18 August 2016

There's no pleasing some people

As predicted yesterday, the 'public health' racket are engaging in a massive fit of faux-outrage today as a result of the government not capitulating to all of their ridiculous demands. At least I hope it's faux-outrage. It certainly should be. The anti-sugar nuts have achieved more than they could possibly have dreamed of a year ago, as I say in my new post for Spectator Health. Do have a read of it.

The least surprising tweet of day came from Sarah Wollaston who is making the usual claims about big business dictating government policy (see also minimum pricing and plain packaging). If she has an allegation to make, perhaps she should make it explicit rather than use weasel words? It obviously hasn't occurred to her that Theresa May, unlike Wollaston, may actually be a conservative.

The government has given the fanatics their sugar tax and their 20 per cent sugar reduction pledge. They are still throwing their toys out of the pram and they always will. The lesson for the government is clear. These people moan whatever you do, so don't do anything for them in the future.

Wednesday, 17 August 2016

The lunatics in charge of the asylum

The fanatics are running the show in Scotland, as The Drum reports...

Scottish government officials will meet with the Advertising Association (AA) and Portman Group to outline their plans for reforms to alcohol advertising. But the real question likely to be on the minds of those representing advertisers is why a committee advising the government on those reforms is made up almost entirely of temperance campaigners.

You may recall something similar happening with the committee put together by the Chief Medical Officer to discuss the risible new drinking guidelines.

It is the Scottish government's first official encounter with the ad industry on the matter since it quietly formed an international group of experts (see below) at the turn of the year to advise it on tougher advertising measures. The move happened despite concerns over the group's constituents from at least one of the major alcohol producers. The fear being that the panel, which consists of health and marketing experts such as Gerard Hastings, professor of social marketing at Stirling University and Karine Gallopel-Morvan, professor of social marketing at the School of Public Health, is one-sided and could help push through tougher measures in the next phase of the Scottish government’s framework, according to a source close to the matter.

Regular readers will know that Hastings is a highly emotional, far left-wing fruitcake whose hatred of advertising is only matched by his incomprehension of it. Check out the presentation he gave to a government-funded temperance conference last year. Click on the link. Look at it. This is a guy who should be shouting from the sidelines at a Corbyn rally, not getting invited to policy meetings. And yet - almost unbelievably - this who the World Health Organisation went to when they wanted a review of the evidence on food advertising and he is the go-to man for 'public health' lobbyists when it comes to alcohol advertising. Perhaps this is not so surprising as he can be relied upon to demand a ban regardless of what is being advertised.

It doesn't stop there. Other alleged experts on the Scottish government's panel include...

Colin Shevills, director of 100% state-funded anti-alcohol pressure group Balance.

Sally Casswell, Kiwi 'public health' fanatic, wibbles about corporate power, denormalisation, people vs. profits etc.; wants 'comprehensive' alcohol advertising ban, natch.

Katherine Brown, director of the neo-temperance Institute of Alcohol Studies (formerly known as the UK Temperance Alliance)

Eric Carlin, director of the state-funded 'public health' sock puppet SHAAP

Peter Rice, chairman of SHAAP

Suzanne Costello, chief executive of Alcohol Action Ireland - a sock puppet pressure group set up by the Irish government specifically to lobby for its Public Health (Alcohol) Bill.

Mary Cuthbert, board member of Alcohol Focus Scotland - a campaigning 'charity' that is almost entirely funded by the taxpayer.

Mac Armstrong, chair of Alcohol Focus Scotland.

Mike Daube, formerly of ASH (UK), now a jackboot of all trades in Australia; denies that moderate drinking is good for you; got an operatic production banned because it was set in a tobacco factory.

Niamh Fitzgerald, one of Hastings' colleagues at the University of Stirling, UK Centre for Tobacco and Alcohol Studies.

Amandine Garde, lawyer, big fan of using EU law to regulate people's lifestyles.

Mariann Skar, secretary general at EU-funded teetotal group Eurocare.

Looking at the full list, I can't see anybody who is likely to demand anything other than an extensive ban on alcohol marketing. Not one of them works in the private sector, let alone in advertising or media.

Health secretary Shona Robison said: “The establishment of this group was a recommendation made by the Universities of Stirling and Sheffield in their independent report which found that the UK government’s alcohol policies are weaker than those implemented by the devolved nations."

Oh, for God's sake! Obviously these people are going to recommend their mates and exclude their opponents. This is Mickey Mouse policy-making of lowest order. It would be better - at least, it would be more honest - for the SNP to abandon the pretense of consultation rather than waste money on this kangaroo court.

Any changes to alcohol advertising that stem from the panel would be a fillip to the SNP, which has taken a hard-line anti-alcohol stance since it came into power in 2007.  

No kidding. It's all about boosting the SNP's prestige, just as the taxpayer-funded jamboree last October was all about Sturgeon-worship, but don't these people feel any shame about running their country like a banana republic?

Friday, 12 August 2016

WHO bans whole countries from its jamboree

The WHO's latest clandestine tobacco control meeting is due to take place in New Delhi in November. Readers may recall that the last shindig (in Moscow) saw a blanket ban on everybody from Interpol to the media - not to mention industry and the public - attending a conference that is paid for by the taxpayer and aims to change government policy.

According to the Huffington Post, the WHO's paranoid obsession with secrecy and censorship will plumb new depths in India as they intend to ban whole nations from attending...

In a document obtained from the FCTC, the organizers ask for support to “ensure the exclusion of representatives and officials from...fully or partially state-owned tobacco industries, including state tobacco monopolies.” Specifically, the FCTC hopes to ban certain “appointed and elected officials from executive, legislative and judicial branches” from the meeting.

This effort to exclude delegates with associations with tobacco production is so broad that it will almost certainly prohibit finance ministers, economic development secretaries, public health officials, and even presidents and prime ministers representing countries that operate state-owned tobacco growing or manufacturing operations, or engage in marketing and trade efforts.

This could mean that nations which account for more than a third of the global population will not be represented...

As a result, countries including China, Cuba, Egypt, Bulgaria, Thailand and even India, the convention’s host country, may have a hard time having delegates approved to attend the event and vote on issues that impact their citizens.

Utter insanity. In politics, it is usually the way that large, official agencies take a sober and restrained view of things while extremism breeds at the margins. The opposite is true in 'public health' where the WHO attracts the most fanatical and least accountable zealots and it is left to domestic organisations to take the edge off the madness.

So, for example, while governments try to mitigate the impact of anti-smoking policies on the black market, the people in the WHO bunker imagine they can eradicate the illicit tobacco trade.

And while governments seek to make health policy without excessive industry involvement, the WHO not only bans industry employees from observing proceedings which directly affect them, but bans everyone but a select handful of true believers from being in the room.

As I said back in 2012...

This is madness. Is there any organisation these maniacs do not suspect are 'front groups' for Big Backy? The real issue here is not allowing the industry—or Interpol—to engage, it is that no opposing views are allowed whatsoever. I don't imagine that the industry necessarily represents the views of its customers, but they represent them better than the people who hate the customers, hate the industry and hate the product. Ideally, I'd like to see the tobacco control "community" invite smokers to their conferences and ask them how they feel about higher taxes and outdoor smoking bans, but they never do. I can't think why.

The result of excluding everybody except fellow fanatics is that you end up with retarded and delusional policies which only make sense at two in the morning when they are being discussed by monomaniacs in the hotel bar.

Now, this corrupt agency wants to extend their prohibition to true believers who happen to come from countries where the state is involved in tobacco production. They have completely lost the plot. Can we stop giving them our money now, please?

Monday, 8 August 2016

The calorie conundrum

Three years ago, a study found that people in Britain drink considerably more than they say they do. It became an international news story even though it is common knowledge amongst researchers that drinkers greatly under-report their intake.

Today, a report found that people in Britain eat considerably more than they say they do. This, too, has received an enormous amount of news coverage despite the fact that anybody who has spent more than five minutes with the data knows that under-reporting is endemic in this area too.

In the case of alcohol, we don't need surveys to tell us how much we're drinking because we've got the tax receipts. All we have to do is estimate how much has been spilled or abandoned and we can work out average intake with relative ease.

Food is more difficult. We have surveys showing what people say they eat and we have surveys showing what people say they bought, but people cannot be trusted to recall what they have eaten and a lot of food is thrown away. If we took the Living Costs and Food Survey at face value, the average Briton eats only 2,192 calories a day. This is implausible when 25 per cent of us are obese. (The government recommends men and women eat 2,000 and 2,500 calories a day respectively).

All sources are agreed on one point, however: we are eating fewer calories as a fat nation than we did as a slim nation. World War Two rations were designed to give civilians 3,000 calories a day. In the late 1940s, scientists found that people lost weight if they got less than 2,900 calories a day. A survival diet seventy years ago would be an obesogenic diet today.

It is safe to assume that calorie consumption rose when rationing ended although statistics are thin on the ground until the Living Costs and Food Survey started up in 1974. In its first year, this survey reported that 2,534 calories per day were consumed in the home (it did not look at eating out). By 2012, with eating out now included, this had fallen to 2,192 calories.

The exact numbers found in these surveys are misleading due to under-reporting, but the trend is clear. The Institute for Fiscal Studies have written about these data before, as have I for the Institute of Economic Affairs. Not everybody is convinced, however. The Behavioural Insights Team - commonly known as the Nudge Unit and now privatised - has today released a report claiming that 'calorie consumption has not significantly decreased over time'.

Their argument is that under-reporting is endemic and has got worse in recent decades. They suggest several reasons why people today might be more inclined to forget or lie about what they have eaten, such as the tendency of obese people to under-report more than slim people and the general awareness of obesity as a health issue. These are worthwhile considerations and I agree that they have played a part, but researchers are well aware of them (they are mentioned in both the IFS and IEA reports). In my view, it is very unlikely that they can explain all of the self-reported decline in calorie consumption, let alone that they have masked a rise in calorie consumption. The self-reported decline is just too steep.

With the exception of the mavericks at Public Health Collaboration, nobody seriously believes people are consuming 400 fewer calories than they did in 1974. The question is whether we are eating more calories than they did back then. The Nudge report accepts that we are not. Instead it says that, after correcting for under-reporting, 'the decline since 1974 is a lot smaller than previously stated - around 200kcal per day compared to around 400kcal.'

This is a significant admission. Given that obesity rates were very low in the 1970s, it leads to the obvious conclusion that a decline in physical activity, not an increase in food intake, has driven the rise in obesity. But this is the opposite of the Nudge Unit's thesis and so they spend several pages trying to debunk the notion that people are less physically active than they used to be.

This is the weakest part of the report because they resort to a tactic used by our old friend Aseem Malhotra and use leisure time exercise as a proxy for physical activity. Surveys show an increase in the number of people who follow the Chief Medical Officer's recommendation of exercising for 30 minutes five times a week. The data-set only goes back to 1997 and the Nudgers acknowledge that it contains the same kind of self-reported figures that they have just criticised, but that is only part of the problem. There is no contradiction between a third of the population taking part in regular leisure time exercise and a quarter of the population being obese. They are not the same people.

Moreover, people only exercise in their spare time when they are not getting enough physical activity in their daily lives. People did not need to go to the gym 70 years ago because they had naturally active lifestyles. Sure enough, there are figures tucked away in the appendix of the Behavioural Insights Team's report showing that men expend 100 fewer calories at work today than they did in the early 1980s. Combine that with the rise in car ownership, the decline of walking and the rise of labour-saving devices and it is easy to see why physical activity has declined by 24 per cent since the 1960s, as Public Health England says it has.

Despite torturing the data, the Nudge Unit team fails to extract a confession. After throwing everything they can at the statistics, the best they can manage is the claim that calorie consumption has not fallen as much in the last forty years as a naive interpretation of food surveys might suggest. But we are already knew that, just as we know that people drink a lot more than they say they do. The fact remains that calorie consumption has fallen over the long term and so has physically activity. If, as the Nudge Unit admits, we are eating fewer calories than we did in the 1970s, a decline in physical activity is the only possible culprit.

The authors of the report seem to believe that there are competing views on how to tackle obesity with one side claiming that it is futile to reduce calorie consumption because it has failed to reduce obesity in the recent past. I'm not sure that is true. It is certainly not my position. Reducing calorie consumption is as valid an approach as increasing physical activity. Indeed, reducing calorie consumption might be a more realistic option for many people. Whether the government has the ability or mandate to reduce calorie consumption is another issue, but regardless of where you stand on that question we should not rewrite history. The notion that obesity started rising after 1980 because the nation was consuming more and more calories remains a myth.

Saturday, 6 August 2016

The utter contempt of the political class

This is both hilarious and appalling.

First, the hilarious bit...

Six-year drinking ban for MPs when they move out in 2020

MPs are to move out of the Palace of Westminster for the first time since the building was bombed by the Nazis, The Times has learnt.

In an attempt to prevent the 19th-century Gothic building from disintegrating beyond repair, MPs will be relocated to the Department of Health offices in Whitehall while a multibillion-pound refurbishment begins in 2020.

...The decision is likely to cause dismay among many MPs because their new temporary home, Richmond House, is held under an Islamic bond scheme and forbids the sale of alcohol.

Oh, my aching sides! After years of taxing drinkers to the hilt and closing thousands of pubs with their illiberal and idiotic legislation, politicians are finally getting a taste of their own (preventive) medicine.

Bye, bye taxpayer-subsidised alcohol! Hello, Islamic teetotalism! Sarah Wollaston must be rubbing her hands in glee.

Don't worry, MPs. It's for your own good. After all, there's 'no safe level of alcohol', is there?

Once I'd stopped belly-laughing, I read the rest of the article and this is where it gets appalling. It seems that the idea of drinking in normal pubs and paying normal prices is too much for the servants of the people to bear.

MPs did consider nationalising the Red Lion pub, which sits between parliament and Richmond House. Cordoning off the watering hole from the public would have allowed politicians banned from buying alcohol to drink in private next door to their offices.

It is thought that nationalising the pub would have cut the price of a pint by £1 to match the rate in the Palace of Westminster grounds.

The Red Lion is fine little pub with which I am very familiar. Fortunately, its owners have refused to sell, but the fact that MPs could even consider using taxpayers' money to nationalise a popular boozer so that they can avoid their own extortionate alcohol duty and keep the rest of us out tells you everything you need to know about the political class.  

Do they actually want us to hang them from the lamp-posts?

Thursday, 4 August 2016

The nanny state gravy train


Excellent work from the Taxpayers' Alliance here. They've used Freedom of Information to find out how much 'public health' apparatchiks are being paid in so-called austerity Britain.

The answer is, of course, a great deal. Public Health England alone has 199 people on more than £100,000 a year...

Key findings:
  • There were at least 325 individuals employed in public health who received remuneration of over £100,000 in 2014-15
  • 43 of which had total remuneration over £150,000
  • There were at least 105 public health employees in local government with total remuneration of over £100,000 in 2014-15
    • 27 had total remuneration of over £150,000
    • Two Local Authority Directors of Public Health had total remuneration of over £200,000 in Cornwall (£207,302) and Oxfordshire (£202,349)
  • There were 16 regional NHS public health employees with remuneration of over £100,000
  • Seven of which received more than than £150,000
  • Public Health England employed 199 people with remuneration of over £100,000 in 2014-15
    • Seven employees had remuneration of over £150,000
      • Chief Executive: Duncan Selbie - £200,000 
      • Director, LondonYvonne Doyle - £182,500
      • Director, North of England: Paul Johnstone - £182,500
      • Director of Health and Wellbeing: Kevin Fenton - £177,500
      • Director, Midlands and East of England: Rashmi Shukla - £167,500
      • Chief Knowledge Officer: John Newton - £167,500
      • Director for Health Protection and Medical Director: Paul Cosford - £157,500
  • Public Health England employed 41 further part-time staff whose pro rata remuneration was over £100,000
  • Public Health Wales had at least five employees receiving remuneration of over £100,000 and two employees receiving over £150,000

The Sun's coverage of this includes a quote from me...

Christopher Snowdon, head of lifestyle economics at the Institute of Economic Affairs, added: “As bad as it is to be bullied and harassed by these joyless puritans, it is worse when you see how many of them are getting filthy rich from it.

“It is bewildering that this gravy train keeps rolling at a time of supposed austerity. Most of these jobs could be axed without having any effect on people’s health whatsoever.”

It would be churlish to deny that Public Health England do some useful work on infectious diseases (ie. real public health), but they spend an inordinate amount of time giving inane health advice (eg. telling people to turn their heating on in winter) and demanding action on sugar, drinking, smoking et cetera.

There is a case for there being a central hub of intelligence on contagious diseases but it could be done with far fewer staff and with far fewer fat cats at the top of the management ladder.

There is, in my view, no case at all for having a 'public health director' in every local authority being paid up to £200,000 a year to agitate for idiotic voluntary bans on smoking and voluntary sugar taxes. (I am quite sure these people have been behind 'voluntary bans' on smoking and vaping in several local councils. They certainly have in my neck of the woods.) They then encourage further profligacy by spending hundreds of thousands of pounds on idiotic schemes that only make sense if you are deep down the 'public health' rabbit hole - see Simon Cooke's experience of attending a council meeting about obesity for a taster.

It's Jobs For The Boys on the nanny state gravy train and the truth is that the TPA's report only shows the tip of the iceberg. There are countless people working for fake charities, quangos and universities who are using vast sums of our money to interfere in our lives. They are - if I may be blunt - parasites, and it needs to stop.

Download the full report.

Wednesday, 3 August 2016

The pure air of Birmingham city centre


Another 'voluntary ban' on its way subject to a Mickey Mouse public consultation...

A hospital plans to make the streets around it a smoke-free zone - asking people not to light up in nearby roads.

The Birmingham Children's Hospital site has been smoke-free since 2005, but the trust now hopes to deter smoking on Steelhouse Lane and Whittall Street. 

Given that this hospital has exiled smokers out of every part of its grounds - and given that hospital trusts don't own public highways - they can expect a pretty curt response from any smoker they try to 'deter'.

People would be asked to "adhere voluntarily" the trust said, adding fixed penalty notices were not being considered.

How very liberal of them. Or maybe they're not being considered because hospital trusts have absolutely no authority to hand out fixed penalty notices, least of all on public roads?

It said it was in a bid to address concerns from children and visitors that smoking in public spaces around the site, particularly close to the main entrance, was making the environment "unhealthy".

That's what it's all about, is it? It's not just another stage in the NHS's vendetta against smokers? It's all about keeping the air clean on main roads in Birmingham's famously fragrant city centre?

OK then, let's see how healthy the 'environment' around this hospital is at the moment...

Revealed: Birmingham's worst air pollution hotspots

Birmingham’s pollution hotspots have been revealed as campaigners call for a crackdown on emissions in the city.

Data obtained by Birmingham Friends of the Earth had disclosed the city’s five most polluted areas where the air is most filled with toxic nitrogen dioxide gas.

They are outside the Brasshouse, in Broad Street, outside Birmingham Children’s Hospital, outside O’Neills also in Broad Street, Kings Heath High Street and underneath Spaghetti Junction.

We wouldn't want smokers compromising this delicate eco-system, would we?

The plans are subject to a six-week public consultation.

Why not make a submission?

Drinking in airports

Tariq Ahmad, the (unelected) aviation minister, has decided to take a look at the availability of alcohol in airports. ITV News says there will be a 'crackdown'. Being a Muslim, Ahmad is - I assume - a teetotaller who believes that it is wrong to drink alcohol. That doesn't sound very promising, but he says "I don't think we want to kill merriment altogether" so that's alright then. He only wants to kill it a bit.

On Twitter last week, I expressed the view that per capita alcohol-related disturbances are probably lower in airports than they are in most other public spaces, despite the 24 hour availability.

This was no more than an educated guess. Airports are areas of high security where people can't get away with too much silliness. Even drunks respond to incentives.

At the Guardian today, Sally Adams-Merry of Bath University provides some rough and ready numbers to provide illumination.

A figure doing the rounds in the media states that 442 individuals have been arrested on suspicion of being drunk on a plane or airport between March 2014 and March 2016. This figure was obtained by the Press Association through Freedom of Information requests to the Police . Whilst this sounds high, it needs to be considered in the context of the number of passengers traveling through airports each year and the number of arrests on flights that are not alcohol-related. Unfortunately, obtaining a figure for non-alcohol related arrest proved difficult. However, in terms of all travellers, the UK Aviation Industry reports that more than 251 million individuals passed though UK airports in 2015. If we take this as a typical year, then the 442 passengers arrested on suspicion of being drunk represents approximately 0.00018% of all air travellers.

Alas, she doesn't give us the figures for the general public, but 0.00018% certainly doesn't sound like an epidemic and Sally speaks up for the 99.99982% of us who don't get our collars felt in airports for being pissed up.

An airport-wide ban could see moderate drinkers penalised for the behaviour of a handful of individuals.

Indeed it could. In fact it definitely would. And the same is true of tax hikes, minimum pricing and other 'public health' policies directed at the whole population, but when this is pointed out to the 'public health' racket, we are told that it is an "industry argument". See, for example, this article from Sally's colleagues at Bath University...

The focus on a small number of alcohol misusers provides the AI [alcohol industry] with a frame that has the potential to invalidate the current focus of health policy; the AI argues that population-level approaches, such as taxation or restrictions on advertising, penalizes moderate drinkers because of a ‘few people’ who consume alcohol in an irresponsible way and that these approaches do not tackle alcohol misuse effectively. This supports AI claims that ‘existing regulation is satisfactory’

Does the Guardian realise it is being used as a vehicle for evil industry arguments or does the threat to a nice glass of Sancerre before jetting off to Goa make them valid on this occasion?


As a couple of people of Twitter have pointed out, the maths in the Guardian is wrong (shocking, I know). The 442 arrests were over two years so the annual percentage of arrests is 0.000088%. 

Tuesday, 2 August 2016

New Zealand to legalise e-cigarettes?

From the New Zealand Herald...

The sale of e-cigarettes in New Zealand will become legal under a Government proposal.

Associate Health Minister Peseta Sam Lotu-liga has released a consultation document that includes the proposed change to the product's legal status.

Nicotine patches and gum can be bought, but nicotine e-cigarette liquid must be bought from overseas.

Other countries, like the UK, allow the e-cigarettes or vaporisers to be sold in supermarkets and dairies.

"Currently the sale and supply of e-cigarettes containing nicotine is prohibited in New Zealand. However people are buying them online and importing directly for personal use," Lotu-Iiga said.

"The proposal is to make the sale and supply of all e-cigarettes lawful in New Zealand with appropriate controls."

This is nothing more than common sense. It is absurd that nicotine is legal in tobacco products but illegal in vastly less dangerous e-cigarettes. The proposals are far from perfect but they are certainly an improvement...

"The proposal is to make the sale and supply of all e-cigarettes lawful in New Zealand with appropriate controls."

Those controls would include an R18 limit, and a ban on e-cigarette advertisements.

The products would not be allowed to be used in smoke-free areas...

There's no reason to ban their use indoors and nor is there reason to ban advertising, but at least New Zealand is moving towards the twenty-first century, which is more than can be said for Australia where the warped views of fanatical throwbacks like Simon Chapman (below) still hold sway.

I'm sure the Kiwis will welcome this opportunity to make Australia look like the anti-science, anti-freedom backwater that Aussie 'public health' people want it to be.