Thursday 27 July 2017

Another study shows that vaping helps people quit smoking

A study published in the BMJ today will have the usual anti-vaping fanatics howling at the moon. It found that vapers were much more likely to attempt to quit smoking than those who don't vape, and that they are 73 per cent more likely to succeed in quitting smoking when they do. It also finds a significant increase in smoking cessation in the USA that coincides with the rise of vaping.

Anti-vaping throwbacks will no doubt say that correlation does not equal causation, but the authors examine two possible alternative explanations for the decline in the smoking rate and find them wanting...

First, in 2009 there was an increase in federal tobacco tax. The national cigarette tax increased by 158%, resulting in an immediate reduction in cigarette uptake among US adolescents. In our study we found a small but statistically significant increase in quit attempts among US adults, from 39.9% in 2006-07 to 41.4% in 2010-11 (fig 2, top panel). However, the total cessation rate did not change: 4.5% for both surveys (fig 2, bottom panel). Thus the effect of the 2009 federal tax on quitting by adult smokers, if there was an immediate one, was no longer detectable by 2010-11. This lack of change in smoking cessation under such a dramatic tax increase accentuates the difficulty in improving quit rates at the population level. 

Second, since 2012 there have been annual, national media campaigns aimed at increasing quit rates among adult smokers. The TIPS from Former Smokers campaign used evocative television spots showing the serious health consequences of tobacco use. This campaign, running from nine to 20 weeks in any given year, reached a large segment of the smoking population. A national survey after the first round of the campaign found that 78% of smokers saw at least one media spot. By 2015, there had been four rounds of the campaign. Surveys found a statistically significant increase in quit attempts, and the cessation rate of those who made a quit attempt was estimated to be between 5.7% and 6.1%.

In the present study we found statistically significant increases in both quit attempt and cessation rates from 2010-11 to 2014-15. This period coincided with the TIPS campaign and the dramatic increase in e-cigarette use.

Could TIPS alone explain the increase? Given the reach of the first TIPS campaign, after four rounds it was expected to reach most US smokers by 2014-15. However, the majority of smokers did not appear to change their quitting behavior: smokers who did not use e-cigarettes were the majority (77%) in 2014-15. Neither their attempt rate nor the annual cessation rate was statistically different from that of all smokers in 2010-11 (fig 1). It was e-cigarette users in 2014-15 who showed a dramatically higher quit attempt rate and a higher cessation rate. 

The authors caution against attributing all of the difference in cessation rates to vaping because it is possible that those who are most committed to quitting are more likely to use e-cigarettes. However, this study is hardly the first to find a significantly higher rate of quitting among vapers and randomised controlled trials have found the same thing. Indeed, the quit rate among vapers in this study is more modest than has been found in most other studies, but it's published in the BMJ so is getting more attention.

The authors are from California so it is brave of them to publish a study that not only shows that vaping works but that the favoured policies of the tobacco control cabal don't. As a final dig in the ribs they conclude their study by saying:

We found that e-cigarette use was associated with an increased smoking cessation rate at the level of subgroup analysis and at the overall population level. It is remarkable, considering that this is the kind of data pattern that has been predicted but not observed at the population level for cessation medication, such as nicotine replacement therapy and varenicline.

They'll probably never work again.

Tuesday 25 July 2017

Minimum pricing goes to court (again)

I've written a piece for Cap-X about the bollocks above, which was released on the day that the Supreme Court took a look at minimum pricing.

In the article I mention the fact that the job of evaluating minimum pricing has been given to the Sheffield Alcohol Research Group, which has been pushing the policy for the best part of a decade (see job spec below).

It's difficult to put into words quite how scandalous this is. Even if you thought that the Sheffield Alcohol Research Group's work was of high quality (which it isn't) and that they were impartial (which they aren't), the fact is that they have made their name producing research that purports to show that minimum pricing will be a roaring success. This gives them an inevitable and massive conflict of interest when it comes to evaluating it.

If they don't show that minimum pricing works, it will be an admission that their numerous reports - for which they have been amply remunerated by taxpayers - have been garbage. This would be enough to tempt a saint to massage the figures (and the Sheffield Alcohol Research Group are not saints). They are the last people you would turn to for an independent review. The fact that they have given the job is proof that the 'public health' racket is shamelessly and incorrigibly corrupt.

I'll bet you a pig to the pork scratching that when their evaluation is published in a few years' time, it concludes that minimum pricing has saved lives and worked even better than predicted, but that the unit price needs to be increased.

Anyway, do have a read of my Cap-X piece.

Monday 24 July 2017

The 'mystery' of shrinking chocolate bars

The FT looks at the 'mystery' of shrinking chocolate bars...

After high-profile cases with the likes of newly gappy Toblerones, the UK stats office says that over 2,500 products were cut in size between January 2012 and June 2017, far outweighing the number of items that were boosted. The trend is most pronounced in sugary treats, where changing pack sizes have contributed 1.22 percentage points to their rate of inflation since 2012, the ONS says.

Manufacturers tend to blame price increases on higher costs for raw materials, but the ONS points out that sugar prices are around the lowest since records began in 1991, while cocoa prices have also tanked.

The FT also notes that the ONS discounts Brexit as the reason because:

'Our analysis doesn’t show a noticeable change following the referendum that would point towards a Brexit effect. Furthermore, others had been observing these shrinking pack sizes long before the EU referendum, and several manufacturers have denied that this is a major factor.'

Remarkably, both the ONS and the FT treat this as a genuine mystery rather than something that can be easily explained by the government sugar reduction scheme. There is plenty of evidence available in Public Health England documents such as Sugar reduction and wider reformulation: stakeholder engagement, Sugar reduction and wider reformulation meetings: November 2016, and Sugar reduction: Achieving the 20% that can explain why confectionery is shrinking.

As I said a couple of months ago:

The bottom line is that most people prefer the taste of sugar to that of artificial sweeteners, and many of the products in the firing line are inherently sweet. Products such as chocolate, confectionery and jam are not going to be magically reformulated with sweeteners. There is a dawning realisation at Public Health England that reducing portion sizes or having a calorie cap (which amount to much the same thing) are the only viable options.

While the achievement of the 20% reduction by 2020 is the overall focus of the programme, smaller gradual reductions can provide a useful contribution to reducing sugar and calorie consumption, and ultimately towards achieving the overall goal. This applies particularly in those products where sugar reduction per 100g can be more difficult, for example, in chocolate confectionery. Where this is the case, businesses are expected to employ additional mechanisms, such as reducing portion size, to achieve the total 20% reduction.

Here is what Public Health England are telling manufacturers:

Mystery solved.

Saturday 22 July 2017

Only following orders

You've probably read about the five year old lemonade criminal of Tower Hamlets. She was selling lemonade outside her house on a sunny day, as children do, when four 'enforcement officers' charged her with trading without a licence and issued a £150 fine.

Tower Hamlets council have since cancelled the fine and apologised to the family, saying:

"We are very sorry that this has happened. We expect our enforcement officers to show common sense and to use their powers sensibly. This clearly did not happen."

The incident has been almost universally recognised as an extreme example of jobsworths mindlessly applying the letter of the law when they could use their discretion.

But there's always one...

You may call me a monster – but I'm glad that girl's lemonade stall got shut down

This article comes from the keyboard of one Duncan Hothersall who is the editor of Labour Hame (sic). Mr Hothersall seems to be a real person and his article does not appear to be a spoof. His argument is, in essence, that rulez is rulez and if you don't like them you should move to Somalia.

There are half a million cases of food poisoning each year in the UK, and one of the reasons we have stringent controls on who can sell food and drink, especially in unsealed containers, is to try to cut those figures down. And street stalls in general are regulated because we have a system of taxation, rights and responsibilities in this country which underpins our functioning society. Regulation is a social and economic good.

How many cases of food poisoning are caused by juvenile lemonade vendors - or sugary drinks in general - Mr Hothersall omits to mention. How much VAT is lost to the treasury as a result of five year old entrepreneurs is also left to our imagination, but we can safely assume that these numbers are very small indeed.

Nevertheless, it is not disputed that this infant was breaking the law. The question is whether the law is right and whether it was appropriately applied in this instance. The sweeping claim that 'regulation is a social and economic good' implies that a regulation must be good because it is a regulation. Presumably, then, Hothersall can think of no law that should be amended, repealed or applied with discretion.   

It’s also pretty unfair to criticise the hard-working public servants who acted in this case for doing the job they are no doubt underpaid to do. For the council to say “we expect our enforcement officers to show common sense” as they cancelled the fine is all very well, but I’m willing to bet they are given precious little leeway in their training when it comes to who gets fined and who doesn’t.

On what basis are we to assume that the enforcers are 'hard-working' and 'underpaid'? They may be, but we have no way of knowing. We do not even know who they are. What is an 'enforcement officer' anyway? As Josie Appleton says in her fantastic book Officious, the law used to be enforced by the police and we knew who they were. Today, we have an army of wardens, support officers, compliance officers and co-ordinators with varying degrees of authority (or none) whose only unifying feature is a high-vis jacket.

Whether you regard these people as underpaid depends on what value you think they bring to society, but there can be no assumption that they are all hard-working. Clearly they were not sleeping on the job in this instance, but if it took four of them to close down a child's lemonade stand we might question whether they were working at maximum efficiency.

For Hothersall, however, we do not need to know anything about the individuals. They work in the public sector and therefore must be hard-working and underpaid. It is unthinkable that anyone who works for the council could be paid too much.

“But these are decent folk being persecuted by a nanny state,” I hear you cry. And I stand impervious, I’m afraid. Because I’ve heard that line a lot recently and it’s beginning to grate.

I have not heard anybody claim that this is an example of the nanny state. The nanny state is about protecting adults from themselves. This case is not about that. There was no paternalistic intent in either the law or the application of the law. If it requires a label, it is the busybody state. 

If Mr Hothersall has been hearing a lot of complaints about the nanny state recently, it is because there is a sense that the state has become ever more intrusive. The complaint is not wrong just because it is 'beginning to grate' on him. A more enquiring mind might ask whether his fellow citizens have a point, but instead he changes the subject...

It’s the same argument used against speed cameras and parking fines. 

No, it isn't. These are not nanny state issues either and the complaint that Hothersall identifies (which is essentially 'bloody nanny state') is not actually an argument. If it were, he would have to find a counter-argument and that would be too much effort. Much easier to create a false equivalence between a motorist who moans about being fined and a five year old being punished for selling lemonade.

How often have you heard those caught out proclaim themselves as “law-abiding citizens” and bemoan the infringement of their freedom? 

Laws do infringe on freedom and they are intended to do so. The question is whether the infringement is justified by the wider benefits to others. A motorist might legitimately complain that a speed limit of, say, 20mph is unreasonable and is therefore an unnecessary infringement on freedom.

Just as Hothersall believes that the salaries of council workers can never be too high, he may also believe that speed limits can never be too low. Who knows what he thinks? It is possible that he gives these questions no thought at all since, despite writing for a political website, he seems to think that the nature of laws is not a matter for public comment. Regulation is good per se and every law in the land is perfect.

I have news for you: if you break the speed limit, or park illegally, or indeed break health and safety or trading regulations, you are not a law-abiding citizen. You’re actually the one who’s in the wrong.

If you break the law, you are not a law-abiding citizen by definition. That is undeniable. But whether you are in the wrong depends on whether the law is right. What if the law is an ass? What if agents of the state do not 'use their powers sensibly', as Tower Hamlets council put it?

Even if Hothersall cannot think of any laws he would like to change in Britain today, surely he can think of historical examples of good people breaking bad laws? Surely he can think of instances in which the letter of the law, rather than the spirit of the law, has been applied, thereby causing harm?

Most people - including the council - think that that is what happened in this case. Hothersall's insistence that we unquestioningly follow orders when the consequences are so farcically at odds with the intentions of the lawmakers and deviate so far from public opinion is slightly sinister.

A culture of entitlement, and a belief that rules are for other people but not us, is a disease gripping middle Britain.  

A culture of entitlement, he says. This is a five year old girl he's talking about. As they say on Merseyside, Mr Hothersall, give your head a wobble.

Friday 21 July 2017

The case against The Case Against Sugar

Nobody does a forensic fact-checking like Seth Yoder at the Science of Nutrition blog. If you're interested in the low carb/high fat fad, his extensive reviews of Gary Taubes' Good Calories, Bad Calories and Nina Teicholz's The Big Fat Surprise are must-reads (you can also read my briefer review of the latter here).

Now he has gone through Taubes' latest book, The Case Against Sugar. As with the others, this has generally been well received by non-science reviewers and criticised by those who are familiar with nutritional science.

Do have a read of it.

Thursday 20 July 2017

Snusgate: the movie

You may recall the scandal around the former EU health commissioner John Dalli who was sacked after being accused of being involved in an attempt to solicit a bribe from the snus company Swedish Match and subsequently exposed for some strange shenanigans in the Bahamas. Dalli was vigorously defended by 'public health' groups at the time and Private Eye made the ill-judged decision to take his side on a couple of occasions.

Dalli's defence is that he is the victim of an inexplicable conspiracy conjured up by José Manuel Barroso, the European Commission, OLAF, the tobacco industry and numerous others. The gist of the plot is that Barroso didn't want Dalli to regulate cigarettes and so conspired to replace him with a more pro-tobacco commissioner who would water down the Tobacco Products Directive (nb. Dalli's replacement is not remotely pro-tobacco and the TPD was not watered down).

On Monday night, BBC4 showed a documentary about Dalli which is well worth watching. The title and blurb for the programme (see above) are rather misleading. The 'mystery' involved smokeless tobacco, not cigarettes, and Dalli was not accused of being 'in the pocket of "big tobacco"', he was accused of trying to get in the pocket of a small tobacco company (and was reported to the authorities by the company).

I was expecting a pro-Dalli whitewash and the first 20 minutes seemed to confirm my fears. (Spoiler alert.) At first, the two Danish journalists are taken in by Dalli's protestations of innocence and are keen to blow the cover on a Big Tobacco conspiracy. But as they dig a little deeper and get to know more about the man, things take a turn.

Dalli shows them e-mails from a mystery correspondent named Maria who claims to have a dossier proving that Barroso took a bribe from the tobacco industry and put it in a Norwegian bank account. But this evidence never surfaces and we find that Maria does not exist.

They then go to Bahamas and find out about a con artist friend of Dalli's known as 'Ladybird'. They meet some American victims of a scam who point the finger at Dalli. When the journalists mention these new accusers to Dalli, he claims that they are also part of Barroso's conspiracy against him. Other accusers are said to have been 'brainwashed'.

By the end of the documentary, the journalists have concluded that 'Maria' is Dalli himself and that the man is, at the very least, half-mad. It's hard to disagree.

You can watch it on the iPlayer for another 27 days.

Wednesday 19 July 2017

200,000 hypothetical children

When the plain packaging idiocy was first mooted in 2008, we were told:

More than 200,000 under-16s start smoking each year

In 2010, this statistic was officially endorsed (but not referenced) in the government's Tobacco Control Strategy:

Each year in England, an estimated 200,000 children and young people start smoking

And it was repeated many times, for example in this article about plain packaging in 2011:

Research has shown around 200,000 children and young people in England start smoking each year

In 2013, with the government still failing to commit to the idea, the BMA signed a letter to Jeremy Hunt demanding that the government introduce plain packaging, saying...

With over 200,000 children starting to smoke every year, there is no good reason for the UK to wait any longer.

The government eventually buckled to the fanatics and passed the legislation in 2015. Campaigners celebrated, saying:

“We are simply delighted that the House of Commons has spoken out to protect the 200,000 children taking up smoking every year in this country"

Every pack of tobacco is now in plain packaging and those 200,000 children are now 'protected' from seeing an irresistible logo, so I was interested to see the British Medical Association's statement responding to the new Tobacco Control Plan for England yesterday:

'While we are glad to see developing policy such as plain cigarette packaging and increased taxation on tobacco, it is still worrying that more than 200,000 children and young people take up smoking...'

So that's nine years of display bans, vending machine bans, tax rises and finally - the jewel in the crown - plain packaging, and the same number of children are taking up smoking as they did before? Is this a junk statistic or an admission of failure?

Tuesday 18 July 2017

The Tobacco Plan: too much stick, not enough carrot

The government has published its new Tobacco Control Plan for England. This will come as a relief to Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) who have been waiting 18 months for a justification for their taxpayer subsidy.

The government has set an entirely arbitrary target of reducing smoking prevalence to 12 per cent by 2022. It has no way of doing this. Britain is still a nominally free country and people can choose to smoke if they want to, albeit within the constraints of extortionate taxes and a draconian smoking ban.

The government pats itself on the back, saying:

Since the previous Tobacco Control Plan, smoking prevalence has substantially reduced; from 20.2% of adults smoking at the start of the plan [to 15.5%], the lowest level since records began.

This is certainly a remarkable decline, but the Tobacco Control Plan had nothing to do with it. The lion's share of anti-smoking activity took place between 2007 and 2010 and yet the smoking rate refused to budge until 2013 when e-cigarettes took off.

Insofar as the state can take the credit for the post-2012 decline it is - as I said last year - because they left the free market for vaping alone. That has since changed thanks to the EU and, in a roundabout way, the government admits that it was vaping wot done it in their new plan.

In 2016 it was estimated that 2 million consumers in England had used these products [e-cigarettes] and completely stopped smoking and a further 470,00056 were using them as an aid to stop smoking.

Since there were around 9 million smokers in England in 2012, this means that the vast majority of those have given up in the years since have done so by switching to e-cigarettes.

The government must know that it has zero chance of achieving its new goal without reduced harm products, and it strikes a reasonable tone when discussing them.

PHE recommends that e-cigarette use is not covered by smokefree legislation and should not routinely be included in the requirements of an organisation’s smokefree policy.

Local authorities, football clubs, pub companies and Welsh politicians, please take note.

In addition there has been the development and very recent introduction of novel tobacco products that claim to reduce the harm of smoking. We welcome innovation that will reduce the harms caused by smoking and will evaluate whether products such as novel tobacco products have a role to play in reducing the risk of harm to smokers.

Good stuff. And best of all...

Over the course of this Tobacco Control Plan, the government will review where the UK’s exit from the EU offers us opportunities to re-appraise current regulation to ensure this continues to protect the nation’s health. We will look to identify where we can sensibly deregulate without harming public health or where EU regulations limit our ability to deal with tobacco.

In particular, the government will assess recent legislation such as the Tobacco Products Directive, including as it applies to e-cigarettes, and consider where the UK’s exit provides opportunity to alter the legislative provisions to provide for improved health outcomes within the UK context.

Excellent. The Tobacco Products Directive only came into force eight weeks ago and we are already talking about repealing this dreadful and counter-productive legislation. Because we can.

That's all the Tobacco Control Plan needs to say. It should have been one side of A4 saying that the government is going to encourage a competitive, innovative and low-cost market in reduced harm products for smokers who want to quit. And if you don't want to quit, that's your choice as a sentient adult human being.

Alas, the state can't bring itself to get out of the way and instead throws some bones to the vile prohibitionists at ASH. It lays out its intention to ban smoking inside and outside of all hospitals, mental institutions and prisons. It also intends to tackle the £2.4 billion black market in tobacco while 'maintaining high duty rates to meet the twin objectives of promoting public health objectives and raising revenue'.

At least they're honest about raising revenue, but the consequences of these policies are not hard to predict because we have seen them before. Raising the price of tobacco will incentivise both the sale and purchase of illicit tobacco. It's not rocket science.

Moreover, we know that people ignore bans on smoking outside hospitals. As a consequence there is (a) more secondhand smoke hanging around the entrance, and (b) NHS resources are wasted in a futile attempt to police something that is neither harmful not illegal. If Public Health England were not so pig-headed on this issue, they would rebuild smoking shelters away from the main entrance.

Banning smoking in prisons has caused riots in other countries and is already starting to cause riots here. ASH should be held personally responsibly for the damage done by this violence. It is entirely predictable and totally avoidable.

Banning smoking in and around mental hospitals (in which people are effectively incarcerated) causes emotional distress to the patients and will deter smokers from admitting themselves voluntarily.

Are any of these paternalistic bans going to reduce the smoking rate to 12 per cent? Clearly not. The number of people affected is too small and most of them will start smoking again the moment they are free to do so. It is pointless harassment that will cause all sorts of unpleasant externalities that taxpayers will have to foot the bill for.

The policy of pointing at things and banning them has been tested to destruction. The only people who benefit from it are professional prohibitionists who get government grants to lobby against freedom. They have done enough damage. Depart and let us have done with you. In the name of God, go!

"Who speaks for smokers in our government?"

The Guardian has been running a lot of stories about tobacco in the last few days. I'm not sure what the occasion is. Perhaps there is an announcement on the way? [UPDATE: It seems there was!]

I say that they've been writing about tobacco. In fact, they've only been writing about the tobacco industry. For the last twenty years, this has been the only part of the story that really interests journalists. This suits the anti-smoking lobby because it allows them to present their war on people as a war on corporations.

We saw last week that the 'public health' racket would rather not hear from ordinary people, but as a reminder that it is the rights of people that are primarily being infringed by the wowsers, here's a reality check from VapingPoint Liz...

Saturday 15 July 2017

The National Death Service

The NHS is great unless you want to stay alive, according to a new report. I've written about it for the Speccie.

The Commonwealth Fund is a US think tank that campaigns for reform to the American healthcare system. In particular, it wants the US to adopt the kind of universal healthcare coverage that is taken for granted in Britain and Europe.

Every few years, it puts the healthcare systems of eleven rich countries into a league table and the USA always come bottom. Fans of the NHS (may peace be upon it) like these reports because the UK always come at or near the top. The latest Commonwealth Fund study was published today and Britain came top again. In your face, Australia! Suck it up, Sweden!

Of the five criteria included, Britain does well on four of them. It is only the fifth criterion – health outcomes – that lets us down. When it comes to avoidable mortality, the NHS (may peace be upon it) is not so hot and its inability to heal the sick is, as the Guardian admits,’a significant weakness’.

Thursday 13 July 2017

Slandering vapers

New Zealand is in the process of repealing its ban on e-cigarettes. In the past year, Finland, Hungary, Sweden, Belgium and Denmark have all legalised the sale of vaping devices and fluids. Every EU country now allows the sale of these products.

Once New Zealand has legalised e-cigarettes, Australia will be the only developed, western nation to have maintained its prohibition. The tide has turned and Australia looks increasingly like a backwater.

Judging by the words of the Australian Medical Association, that's the way they like it. Here's their president speaking yesterday - that's yesterday, please note, not in 2009:

"We must not allow e-cigarettes to become a socially acceptable alternative to smoking," he said. "E-cigarettes essentially mimic or normalise the act of smoking."

This antediluvian scaremongering is not taken seriously by those who have looked at the evidence. The Royal College of Physicians, for example, concluded that: 'There is no evidence that either NRT or e-cigarette use has resulted in renormalisation of smoking.'

The Australian government has recently conducted a public consultation on whether to legalise vape juice that contains nicotine and the prohibitionists are not going down without a fight.

Incredibly, anyone who takes issue with the AMA's claims on Twitter is sent a link to this article from The Age, effectively accusing them of being paid shills for the tobacco and/or e-cigarette industry.

Pretty mature, eh?

So what is this article that is so compelling that it can be tweeted without comment to end any discussion? It was published yesterday and nicely illustrates the retarded mood of the 'public health' lobby down under. It has the fingerprints of the anti-vaping sociologist Simon Chapman all over it.

Exposed: big tobacco's behind-the-scenes 'astroturf' campaign to change vaping laws

Tobacco giant Philip Morris is running an under-the-radar campaign to convince federal politicians to legalise e-cigarettes containing nicotine, with anti-smoking campaigners accusing the company of using the same "astroturf" tactics it used in its fight against plain packaging.

The multinational has been using its offshoot smokers' rights lobby group - dubbed "I Deserve To Be Heard" - to contact Australian smokers and vapers and urge them to make submissions to a parliamentary probe into the use and marketing of e-cigarettes.

If this campaign is going on, it is certainly 'behind the scenes'. Philip Morris's I Deserve to be Heard website hasn't been updated since August 2015 and seems to have been mothballed. It doesn't mention e-cigarettes anywhere.

According to the article, the people who signed up to its mailing list have been sent an e-mail encouraging them to 'make their voices heard' because Australia's vaping laws are 'ridiculous'. This sets the scene for an article which portrays any vaper who has responded to the consultation as a shill for the tobacco.

In fact, lots of groups have been encouraging vapers to respond...

The company's campaign - along with a coordinated push from Australia's online vaping community - has seen the inquiry inundated with submissions from people who say vaping has helped them quit smoking and dramatically improved their health.

The online vaping community has certainly been responding to the consultation. The article mentions Vaper Cafe Australia where there are several threads about it, such as this one which has 230 replies. These are people who 'say vaping has helped them quit smoking and dramatically improved their health' because that's what happened. Why wouldn't they respond to a consultation about vaping?

While health groups in Australia and across the globe continue to warn about the potential risks of nicotine vaping, 107 of the 108 submissions so far loaded on the inquiry's website are strongly pro-vaping - and the vast majority follow a similar "personal story" template.

And why not? As one poster at Vaper Cafe Australia says:

Remember, the most powerful personal submission you can make will be YOUR STORY. If we can inundate this inquiry with successful quit stories it will send a strong message.

This is not 'astroturfing'. It is good advice to ordinary e-cigarette users who have been given a rare opportunity to speak truth to power.

World renowned tobacco control expert [sic] Simon Chapman, an emeritus professor at the University of Sydney, said Philip Morris and other interest groups were "astroturfing" - trying to create the illusion of a big grass-roots pro-vaping movement that does not really exist.

This is a characteristically dishonest comment from Chapman. For the vapers who have responded to be 'astroturfing', they would have to (a) not be real vapers, and (b) be paid. There is absolutely no evidence that this is the case.

On the contrary, there quite obviously is a 'big grass-roots pro-vaping movement'. They are legion. They have vape fests, conferences and numerous online forums, Facebook pages, Twitter accounts etc.You can contact them, meet them, speak to them face to face. They have responded to this consultation, giving their names. There are thousands of vaping activists all over the world, not to mention millions of ordinary vapers. They are real and they are - quite rightly - pissed off.

"They've been actively recruiting people to put in submissions," Professor Chapmen [sic] told Fairfax Media. "These are exactly the same tactics they used for plain packaging. They have dusted off the same software, the same template and just changed the content."

Encouraging stakeholders to respond to a consultation that directly affects them is not a 'tactic'. Unless the consultation is a sham, getting people to respond is exactly what the government wants.

It's pretty obvious what Chapman's real problem is here. He doesn't want the public to respond to consultations because there are more ordinary vapers than there are professional wowsers. The views of e-cigarette users with real stories to tell threaten to crowd out the views of cranks like Chapman with fake stories to tell. You can see how this would be distressing for him.

I don't know how many people are on the I Deserve to be Heard mailing list. Probably not many, although I'll bet Chapman is one of them, hence this pathetic news story. The website is for adult smokers (you have to declare that you're 18 to access it) and focuses on issues that negatively affect consumers of tobacco in Australia.

It is reasonable to assume that anyone who bothered to visit the website when it was set up a few years ago was more committed to smoking than the average punter. Those who signed up to its mailing list would have been keener still. If some of these hardcore smokers have subsequently started vaping and quit smoking - despite Australia's ridiculous prohibition - it kinda suggests that vaping works, wouldn't you say?

Chapman's message to smokers and vapers alike is simple: You don't deserve to be heard and if you try to make yourself heard, you will be slandered, belittled and dehumanised by professional prohibitionists who have friends in the media.

Now that is what you call a 'tactic' - and it is losing its power. Australia cannot insulate itself from the rest of the developed world forever. The glaring success of vaping in getting large numbers of smokers off cigarettes cannot be ignored indefinitely. Whatever Australia chooses to do with e-cigarettes will not stop vaping being a success in other countries. Chanting the words 'big tobacco' over and over again will not change that. Describing vapers as 'astroturfers' and 'trolls' will not disguise the fact that e-cigarettes have the support of many respected doctors and medical organisations. The magic words are losing their power. The trick is getting old. The spell is wearing off.

Tuesday 11 July 2017

Shopping basket cases

The latest gormless idea from 'public health' appeared in the newspapers over the weekend.

The plan is to take the red, amber and green ‘traffic-lights’ system commonly used on food packaging one step further and grade the full contents of a basket or trolley for calories, sugar, fat, saturated fat and salt, then print the results on the receipt. 

By the time it had reached the Guardian, this ruse had been expanded to include financial incentives and subsidies...

“What would be really interesting is if the retailers link it to algorithms set up for loyalty cards for those who want it,” says Taylor. “So, if a till receipt shows lots of reds, you might get vouchers to buy more veg"

'Buy junk food, get free veg' is an incentive to buy junk food, of course, but the workability of the plan doesn't seem have crossed the minds of the something-must-be-done crowd.

I gave a quote to the Mail on Sunday, most of which was published. In full, I said...
This is a hectoring and highly bureaucratic proposal which has the potential to alarm people unnecessarily. The amount of fat and sugar in a shopping trolley is largely irrelevant unless we know how the ingredients are combined and how big the portions are. The idea is almost certainly unworkable in practice, but even in theory it would be crude, inaccurate and unhelpful.

It is worrying how little thought has gone into this proposal (which was devised by someone in the advertising industry). I was initially opposed to traffic light labelling and I still think it is imperfect, but it can be useful in comparing direct substitutes at a glance, eg. two different brands of frozen lasagne. 

But it would be useless with whole shopping baskets. The practical problems are insurmountable. For example, how would the purchase of a couple of bottles of cooking oil, which is extremely dense in calories and fats, affect the healthfulness of the basket? How do you decide if a shopping basket is high in calories? By weight? By price? And how does the computer know how many people will be eating the food? It doesn't, of course. It can't.

It's a ridiculous idea, and it is telling how few people in 'public health' have stood up to describe it as such.

Sunday 9 July 2017

Book reviews: The Angry Chef and The Pioppi Diet

Two very different books were published on June 29th. One is a solid debunking of nutritional fads and junk science. The other is a nutritional fad based on junk science. I have reviewed them both for Spectator Health. Do have a read...

The Angry Chef by Anthony Warner

The Pioppi Diet by Aseem Malhotra and Donal O'Neill

Wednesday 5 July 2017

Prohibition news: Bhutan edition

Unless you count the so-called Islamic State, only one country in the world has a ban on tobacco sales. Starting in January 2011, Bhutan experimented with prohibition and started throwing people in jail for possession.

The ban was passed in 2004, but was not toughened up until later. At the time, the Lancet cheered on the self-styled happiest nation in the world, saying: 'That is what we call progress' and predicted that 'the tobacco-free age is just around the corner.'

Bhutan was already considered one of the blue-eyed eyes boys of 'public health' in 2003 and had already received the a WHO commendation as Tobacco Control reported...

Under the vibrant leadership and guidance of the Minister of Health and Education these campaigns paved the way for a coordinated and multi-sectoral initiative for tobacco control activities in the country. His Excellency’s initiatives in the area of tobacco control have already been recognised by WHO.
We have seen before that congratulations from the WHO on anti-smoking activity can be a curse and so it was in Bhutan. Full prohibition was introduced in 2011 and - who would have guessed?! - it didn't work out so well. A study published that year found...

'... a thriving black market and significant and increasing tobacco smuggling… 23.7% of students had used any tobacco products (not limited to cigarettes) in the last 30 days… tobacco use for adults has not ended or is even close to ending… cigarette prohibition is instrumental in encouraging smuggling and black markets… The results of this study provide an important lesson learned for health practitioners and advocates considering or advocating, albeit gradual, but total cigarette ban as a public policy.'

Another survey published last year noted that...

Despite a comprehensive ban on cultivation, manufacture, distribution, and sale of tobacco products since 2004, two nationwide surveys conducted in 2012 and 2013 reported high tobacco use in Bhutan.

There was talk of repealing the ban but that doesn't seem to have happened. Instead, this has happened...

Bhutan has the highest share (24.6 percent) of smokers in Southeast Asia, reports Kuensel, citing a report by the World Health Organization on the mental health of adolescents in the region.

Despite the country’s complete ban on tobacco sales, tobacco use remains high among 13 to 17-year-olds, who constitute 9.4 percent of the population.

At 29.3 percent, Bhutan also has the highest share of adolescents using other tobacco products, followed by Timor-Leste (27.1 percent) and Thailand (14 percent).

Not bad for a country that had a one per cent smoking rate in 2003. Another big 'public health' win!

Legalise vaping in Australia

It is currently illegal to sell nicotine-containing e-cigarette fluid in Australia. This is clearly illiberal and is also bad for the health of consumers who would prefer to switch.

The Australian government has finally got round to holding a public consultation on getting rid of this silly law (which predates the emergence of vaping).

If you are an Australian citizen, you can use this website to respond to the consultation. Please do - and keep it clean! It closes on Thursday so make haste.

PS. If you are outside Australia and wish to respond, use this link.

Tuesday 4 July 2017

Final thoughts on the smoking ban

As several bloggers have noted, the smoking ban anniversary passed relatively quietly. Aside from a fake statistic from Public Health England, no fresh junk science was released. The BBC put as positive a spin on it as they could and ASH announced that the smoking rate had fallen in the last ten years, implying that this was due to the smoking ban. It was not, of course. There was no decline after the smoking ban and the drop in smoking prevalence since 2012 is mostly attributable to vaping.

Judging by the media coverage over the weekend, there seems to be two agreed facts. First, that the smoking ban has been bad for pubs. Second, that the real purpose of the ban was to force smokers to quit.

Although coercing smokers into quitting was not the stated intention in 2007, it suits ASH for people to think it was, because their agenda is now overtly paternalistic. They put out a thin document for the anniversary with a few policy proposals, such as banning people from smoking in their own cars when no one else is in them, which obviously cannot be justified on the basis of secondhand smoke.

Dick Puddlecote has written about the ASH report. Rob Lyons' has produced an excellent report for FOREST and Brendan O'Neill hits the nail on the head in this article.

I also wrote about the ban on Friday for Spectator Health...

Whatever scientific fig leaves were used to justify the ban, it is not difficult to discern the true motives of its advocates and supporters. Anti-smoking campaigners wanted it because it made life more difficult for smokers, and a significant number of nonsmokers were happy with it because they did not like the smell of tobacco smoke. You, dear reader, may be in the latter camp. If you’re thinking of writing an angry comment below the line, don’t bother. I’ve heard it all before. I know you think that smoking is a filthy habit. I know you like the fact that your clothes no longer ‘smell like an ashtray’ when you come back from the pub.

All I’m saying is that we didn’t need to make it a criminal offence to smoke in every single publicly accessible building in the country just because some people want to wear the same clothes two days running.

In a liberal society, you can’t go around banning things just because you don’t like them. But if we’re honest with ourselves, that is what we did with smoking ten years ago. It normalised coercive paternalism and validated the tyranny of the majority. This, I would argue, is the smoking ban’s most pernicious legacy.

Read the rest here.