Monday, 6 March 2017

More incompetence in Tobacco Control

There's an article in the anti-smoking magazine Tobacco Control this month claiming that there is a correlation between tobacco control policies - as measured in the Tobacco Control Scale (TCS) - and smoking rates.

This is nonsense from the get-go. Both myself and Clive Bates have mapped smoking rates and TCS scores in the past and found no statistically significant correlation. My graph below shows scores from the 2013 TCS against OCED smoking prevalence data from the same year. 

The Tobacco Control article uses the earlier 2010 TCS and smoking prevalence data from 2012. Don't ask me why they use old figures, I have given up trying to find any logic in the 'public health' racket. Perhaps the newer figures were totally immune to statistical jiggery-pokery.

Whatever tricks the authors used to reach their conclusion are of little importance. They are demonstrably wrong and their study is worthless, but it reminds me to mention something about the Tobacco Control Scale that I only noticed when I was compiling the Nanny State Index.

Tobacco taxes and pricing are the single biggest component of TCS scores. Since some countries are richer than others, the important thing to look at is affordability. The people behind the TCS recognise this and so they weight the price of cigarettes to adjust for the purchasing power of the people in each country:

The price of the Weighted Average Price (WAP) for cigarettes in July 2013, taking into account Purchasing Power Standards (PPS). The country with a WAP of €8.50 a pack and an EU average Purchasing Power Standard receives 30 points.

All good so far. The Nanny State Index does the same thing with alcohol and tobacco duty. A €1 tax on a pack of cigarettes is clearly going to have more effect on consumption in a poor country like Bulgaria than in a rich country like Luxembourg, so you have to account for GDP to reflect this.

Unfortunately, the TCS is designed by economically illiterate 'public health' morons who proceed to adjust for GDP in a way that could not be more wrong:

Gross Domestic Product per capita can be expressed in PPS (Purchasing Power Standard). PPS per capita has been used to take account of the real purchasing power in different countries. In the EU the GDP per capita expressed in PPP varies from 47 in Bulgaria to 75 in Greece, 120 in Belgium and 267 in Luxembourg. The EU average = 100. The country with a weighted average price of €8.50 a pack, based on the EU average PPP (100), receives 30 points. Belgium, for instance, would receive 30 points if the price of a pack was 8.5 x 1.20 = €10.20. In Bulgaria, if the price of a pack would be 8.5 x 0.47 = €4,00.

Do you see what they've done there? They've made a €8.50 pack of cigarettes seem more affordable in Bulgaria than in Belgium.

The correct way to calculate affordability is to divide the price by the PPS and multiply by 100. If you do that, the price of an €8.50 pack of cigarettes adjusted for affordability is €18.09 in Bulgaria and €7.08 in Belgium. That's more like it.

Instead, they've divided the PPS by 100 and multiplied it by the price, thereby making products inherently more affordable in poor countries than in rich countries. And they outline the same dumb methodology for their estimates of how much each country spends on public information campaigns.
I don't know how much this affects the correlation between TCS scores and smoking rates, or even if the scores they use even reflect the methodology they outline, but it's yet another small example of 'public health' experts being hopelessly inept.

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