Monday, 21 August 2017

Disingenuous puritans

It is my contention that many 'public health' campaigners do not believe their own arguments and do not care about the things they claim to care about. There are two nice illustrations of this today.

Firstly, The Times (which is strangely obsessed with gambling) gives its front cover to some whining from GambleAware about children seeing gambling advertisements. The UK gambling industry's marketing spend was £312 million last year, according to the article, and this is 62 per cent more than it was five years ago.

Kate Lampard, the chairwoman of GambleAware, warns of a 'possible public health crisis in gambling addiction' but presents no evidence that gambling advertising has a negative effect on adults or children. Gambling advertising was largely illegal until 2005 but rates of problem gambling have not risen in the years since.

Gambling advertising is already tightly regulated on television, only permitted after the 9pm watershed or during sporting events.

Not only is it illegal for children to gamble, it is generally difficult for them to do so.

Moreover, it is not obvious that the increase in gambling spend means that children have been 'exposed to [a] huge rise in gambling adverts', as the headline claims. The article notes that the biggest increase in advertising spend has been online, which may or may not be seen by children, and whilst TV advertising has risen by 43 per cent in the last five years, it tends to be spent late at night.

Finally, gambling has nothing to do with 'public health' unless you stretch the definition of 'public health' to the point of meaninglessness.

But what really piqued my interest was this line in The Times article, in which Lampard says:

'With the average age at which children start to watch post-watershed TV unsupervised being 11¾, restrictions based on a 9pm watershed may offer little protection.'

You can expect to hear this kind of argument a lot if the obesity warriors succeed in getting 'junk food' ads banned before 9pm. Unless you ban all forms of advertising everywhere, it will always be possible to claim that somebody under the age of 18 will see them from time to time.

But the watershed is not principally designed for advertising regulation. It exists to reassure parents that programmes shown before 9pm will be reasonably family-friendly. 'Unsuitable material' cannot be broadcast until after the watershed, as Ofcom explains:

Unsuitable material can include everything from sexual content to violence, graphic or distressing imagery and swearing. For example, the most offensive language must not be broadcast before the watershed on TV or, on radio, when children are particularly likely to be listening. 

If Kate Lampard is concerned about 11¾ year old children seeing gambling adverts, she must also be concerned about them seeing 'sexual content', 'violence', 'graphic or distressing imagery' and, perhaps, 'swearing'. And since she thinks it is the job of politicians, not parents, to control what minors see on television, the logical conclusion is that the watershed should be moved back to 10pm, 11pm, midnight, or whatever time children do not watch TV unsupervised.

But she is not calling for this. Instead, she wants to get rid of gambling advertisements after 9pm while keeping all the other 'unsuitable material' on air. Therefore, I don't believe her when she claims to be concerned about protecting children's fragile little minds. I think she just wants to stop adults seeing gambling adverts.

As a second example, take this from the state of Victoria in Australia where a ban on smoking in outdoor places where food is served has effectively turned into a ban on people eating in smoking areas.

Victoria’s new anti-smoking laws could actually mean food is making way for cigarettes in many of the state’s pubs, bars and restaurants, a move anti-smoking campaigners have warned against.

In so far as this legislation had a rationale, it was to 'protect' people who are dining out from smelling tiny wisps of tobacco smoke. That dubious policy goal has been achieved. It doesn't make any difference whether business owners allow smoking and ban food sales or ban smoking and allow food sales. In both cases, the smoking and the eating are separated. 

But guess what? The anti-smoking zealots still aren't happy:

Quit Victoria policy manager Kylie Lindorff said venues that chose food over smoking areas would be making a smart business decision, because more than 85 per cent of Victorians do not smoke.

“We would encourage venues to provide smoke-free outdoor dining as a priority. We believe that it’s really good for business and it’s what the majority of Victorians support,” Ms Lindorff said.

A quick Google of Kylie Lindorff reveals that she is a career nanny statist who has never had a proper job in her life, so the pubs and restaurants of Victoria could be forgiven for ignoring her business advice. But what's it to her? She wanted to separate smokers from diners, right? She was delighted when the law was passed in 2014, saying: 'Victorians can all breathe a little easier today knowing that Victoria has committed to putting public health first by creating smoke-free drinking and dining areas'.

Now she wants a total ban on smoking outdoors in the state. The only conclusion one can draw from this is that smoke-free dining was never her real concern, just as children's exposure to unsuitable material on television are not Kate Lampard's real concern. These people are insincere, opportunistic puritans.

No comments: