Tuesday, 22 May 2018

"Strong and compelling evidence" that plain packaging failed

The UK's 'public health' racket is upset that the Tobacco Manufacturers Association has spotted that smoking rates have been rising since plain packaging was introduced. Awkwardly, the figures come from an unimpeachable 'public health' source curated by their own activists. At the very least, they show that the smoking rate has been flat-lining since plain packaging became mandatory and the Tobacco Products Directive came into full effect.

ASH's response has been predictably pathetic and can be summarised as 'muh, Big Tobacco'...

Governments need to apply the rule of thumb known as the ‘scream test’, if the industry is campaigning so hard to prevent it, clearly standardised ‘plain’ packaging does work, otherwise Big Tobacco wouldn’t care.

Because most industries would just love it if the government banned them from using their own logos and trademarks to appease a bunch of ignorant fanatics, wouldn't they? How dare the Tobacco Manufacturers Association assess public policy on the basis of real world outcomes?

When it comes to the evidence that the policy has been ineffective, the report JTI commissioned from Europe Economics ignores the fact that it was always known that plain standardised packaging would have the biggest impact on discouraging young people from taking up smoking rather than in helping addicted adult smokers quit. This is a much smaller group than existing adult smokers, so any such effect will be small, particularly in the early years.

In the first year or two of implementation most young people at the age of initiation will have been exposed throughout their life to the colourfully branded packaging as it was prior to the introduction of standardised plain packs. As with the advertising ban, it is in future years when young people grow up never having seen such packaging that we expect it to have greatest impact.

This effect will be cumulative as young people grow up into adulthood in cohorts with lower smoking rates, and older smokers die off. The Europe Economics report only includes data up to January 2018 so it simply cannot capture any of this.

So the story now is that we shouldn't have expected to see any effect on the smoking rates for years. It's a long term process and it would be naive to assume that there would be an immediate impact.

Strangely, that wasn't the story in 2014 when ASH described a bog standard decline in Australia's smoking rate as 'strong and compelling evidence' for plain packaging...

Huge drop in Australian smoking rates attributed to standardised packs

New figures released by the Australian government have shown adult smoking rates have fallen by a massive 15%. Before the measure was introduced in December 2012, daily smoking prevalence stood at 15.1% and has now fallen to 12.8%.

Standardised packaging is the only new policy intervention over this time period and is therefore the most likely reason for the significant fall in smoking prevalence. The survey was conducted before the Government’s major hike in tobacco tax of 12.5% in December 2013.

Deborah Arnott, Chief Executive of health charity ASH said:

“The UK government is currently consulting on standardised packaging before deciding whether to proceed and has asked for new and emerging evidence. Well here it is and it demonstrates a massive decline in smoking prevalence in Australia following introduction of standardised packaging. This is exactly the strong and convincing evidence the tobacco industry said was needed.

This press release was characteristically dishonest. Although ASH claimed that 'Before the measure was introduced in December 2012, daily smoking prevalence stood at 15.1%', that figure actually comes from 2010, more than two years before plain packaging took effect. There is no way of nothing whether the smoking rate went up, down or stayed the same after December 2012 because the Aussies only measure national smoking prevalence every three years. What we do know, however, is that between 2013 and 2016 - the first full period under plain packaging - the smoking rate was flat.

Nevertheless, it is clear that ASH believed that plain packaging could and should be judged on the basis of what happened to the smoking rate in the early months. They expected it to have an immediate effect and they (falsely) claimed that it did.

Fortunately, the UK has much more detailed, monthly data so we can see that there has been no immediate drop in this country. On the contrary, the long-term decline has stopped and rates have started rising somewhat. Using the same criteria as ASH used a few years ago, but with much better data, we find 'strong and compelling evidence' that plain packaging not only fails but backfires.

Oh, what a tangled web we weave.

Monday, 21 May 2018

ASH's cash up for grabs

Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) has been scrounging from the unwitting British taxpayer from the moment it was created in 1971. This year - for the first time ever - the government has put its contract out to tender. This means that another organisation could step in and grab ASH's cash, which currently amounts to £140,000 a year.

It also means that we can see what ASH is supposed to be doing with its ill-gotten gains. Despite being a lobby group, it is not supposed to use the money for lobbying. Indeed, it is now strictly prohibited from using the money for lobbying or campaigning. Instead, it does things like 'help ensure that positive policy developments are encouraged' which is, of course, totally different.

Technically, ASH are given their money to support to 'support the Tobacco Control Plan for England'. For most of the last three years, there hasn't been a Tobacco Control Plan, so one wonders what they spent it on, but a new plan was finally published in July 2017, focusing on harm reduction.

The plan boasted that the smoking rate in England fell from 20.2 per cent to 15.5 per cent between 2011 and 2017 and set a target of 12 per cent by the end of 2022. The decline in smoking after 2011 was certainly sharp but it had precious little to do with ASH's neo-prohibitionist policies. Rather it was due to the rise of vaping which ASH only embraced belatedly and half-heartedly.


Moreover, the early indications suggest that the latest wave of ASH-endorsed policies, including plain packaging, banning packs of ten and the EU's anti-vaping laws, have led to the smoking rate rising again

It seems to me that the government should be funding groups that whole-heartedly support policies which will encourage people to switch from smoking to vaping rather than those that support policies which consistently backfire.

The plan also noted the opportunities presented by Brexit...

...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.

The opportunities are obvious. Repeal the Tobacco Products Directive, get rid of the stupid restrictions on e-cigarettes and legalise snus. To my knowledge, ASH have not called for any of this. A few years ago I heard Deborah Arnott, ASH's CEO, say that she supported legalising snus but that it was pointless campaigning for it because the EU would never change its mind. After Brexit, the EU's stance will soon be irrelevant and yet she has said nothing about snus. If she is not prepared to deal with the lowest of the low-hanging fruit, her organisation should not be eligible for the grant.

The grant is worth a total of £420,000 over three years. By the time it runs out in 2021, ASH will have been subsidised by the government for half a century. Perhaps it's time to give somebody else a go.

It's pretty obvious that ASH are the Department of Health's preferred supplier. The public health minister has a picture of Deborah Arnott in his Twitter profile and there are all sorts of hoops to jump through for anyone who wants to win the contract. Nevertheless, it would be nice to see ASH face a bit of competition for the first time in their lives. The deadline for applications is 15 June.

Friday, 18 May 2018

Open season on gambling

I ended my piece for Spiked yesterday by saying:

Is this the slippery slope I see before me? .. Yesterday, FOBTs were a uniquely evil gambling product that allowed people to spend £100 in 20 seconds. Today, it has been noticed that you can bet 10 times that amount in half the time on your mobile phone. At 7am this morning, the government had bravely decided to rid Britain of the greatest cause of problem gambling the country had ever seen. By 10am, expectations were being managed and we were hearing the same slogans that always follow nanny-state announcements. They are the same slogans we heard two weeks ago when minimum pricing was introduced in Scotland and the same slogans we heard a month earlier when the sugar tax began: ‘No silver bullet… You’ve got to start somewhere… This is a good first step…’. And so it begins.

Sure enough, today's Guardian editorial is drooling over the prospect of clamping down on gamblers and the gambling industry...

Britain should follow Australia’s lead in banning gambling adverts around live sporting events, but even that is not enough while firms can plaster their names across football shirts and grounds.

.. It is possible that Thursday’s decision on FOBTs could prod the sector into curbing its excesses, recognising that a failure to regulate itself will bring fresh pressure and, ultimately, further action by the government. It seems more likely that – as for its customers – the lure of a big payout may overcome rational judgment. The government is right to make it clear that “responsible gambling” is a matter for the industry, not just individuals. If the firms will not shape up, they must be forced to do so.

Meanwhile, the Times is celebrating a 'victory for morality over money' and eyeing up the internet...

Regulation is not always seen as unwelcome meddling and this should be a lesson for a government often too timid to intervene in the market when the social good or competition requires it.

Yet there is a fundamental flaw in looking at betting machine stakes in isolation: almost every person now has the potential for a FOBT in their pocket with the proliferation of smartphone casino apps. Many of these allow significantly more than £100 a spin. Whether ministers have the will to take on this fight as well remains to be seen.

Tracey Crouch, the minister who fought hardest to rid Britain of FOBTs, has signalled that she is keen to make yesterday's announcement the start of a wider battle against gambling, starting with the lottery...

UNDER 18s will be banned from playing National Lottery games under a radical gambling shake-up unveiled by ministers yesterday.

The Culture Minister Tracey Crouch said she will “gather evidence” on the effect they have on younger teens currently allowed to play.

.. It has been criticised in the past for “luring” kids into gambling with scratchcards based on games such as Monopoly.

It looks open season on gambling. It seems to me that the bookies' rivals in the gambling sector have made a mistake by backing the anti-FOBT campaign. The campaign has created the illusion of a problem gambling epidemic despite rates of problem gambling being essentially static for twenty years. There is no reason to think that the rate of problem gambling will decline in the next few years and when it doesn't, the government will look for other targets.

There are plenty of them. If FOBTs are fair game, so are lots of other gambling activities. Anti-FOBT campaigners claim that problem gambling is more prevalent among gamblers who play the machines than those who engage in any other form of gambling but, like much of what they say, this is not true. To quote the most recent evidence from NatCen:

The highest rates of problem gambling were among those who had participated in spread betting (20.1%), betting via a betting exchange (16.2%), playing poker in pubs or clubs (15.9%), betting offline on events other than sports or horse or dog racing (15.5%) and playing machines in bookmakers (11.5%).

These statistics don't tell you anything about what 'causes' problem gambling. Problem gamblers tend to play lots of different games and the more niche the game, the more likely you are to find problem gamblers playing it. And, for all their notoriety, FOBTs are fairly niche. Fewer than five per cent of the population play them in any given year.

Nevertheless, if the government thinks that it can address problem gambling by stamping out the activities in which problem gamblers are over-represented, it's got four targets to aim for. And if it wants to tackle people who are 'at risk of problem gambling' - a fictitious new category that has been invented to inflate the scale of the problem - online gambling is at the top of the list.


This suits Derek Webb, the founder of the Campaign for Fairer Gambling, who last year promised to go after online once he'd finished with the bookies. British casinos, arcades and pubs have little to fear from a campaign against internet gaming and may feel that they are already so tightly regulated that there is little more the government could throw at them.

That may be true in the short term. Online seems the obvious next target, but further advertising restrictions would affect the whole industry and the hoo-ha about FOBTs seems to have made the government wary of allowing higher stake limits on other gambling machines. A general climate of hysteria about gambling helps nobody except those who have a moral revulsion against gambling - of whom there seem to be many.

Thursday, 17 May 2018

FOBTs stopped

You may have noticed that the government announced that it is going to make regulate fixed-odds betting terminals into the dust today. I put out a comment on behalf of the IEA, saying...

“Today’s announcement shows that you can get anything banned in this country if you whine for long enough. Make no mistake, reducing the stake to £2 amounts to a ban. The machines will be taken out of bookmakers and players will move online where are no limits on stakes or prizes. Hundreds of bookmakers will close, thousands of jobs will be lost and the horse-racing industry will lose millions of pounds in subsidies. Taxpayers will then have to fork out £400 million to fill the gap in the treasury’s balance sheet.

“For what? To deal with a moral panic over something that accounts for just 14 per cent of Britain’s gambling expenditure. There has never been any evidence to support this campaign. The government is weak and cowardly to have given into it.”

And I've written a piece for Spiked about it so do have a read.




Bloomberg's war on shoppers


After a tax on sugar-sweetened beverages was introduced in Britain last month, campaigners wasted no time in calling for it to be extended to milkshakes, coffee and all food products that contain added sugar. The World Health Organisation recommends that sugary drinks be taxed at twenty per cent, claiming that this ‘can lead to a reduction in consumption of around 20%, thus preventing obesity and diabetes’ although there is no evidence that obesity rates have been affected by such taxes to date. WHO also recommends higher taxes on alcohol as one of its ‘best buys’ and supports ‘taxation of target foods’, by which it means food that is high in sugar, salt and fat. It claims that ‘food taxation’ has shown ‘promising results’ in countries such as Hungary.

WHO is working closely with the businessman Michael Bloomberg who has spent millions of dollars campaigning for soda taxes in several US states. Since being made a WHO Ambassador for Noncommunicable Diseases in 2016 - a title he briefly shared with Robert Mugabe  - the American billionaire has lobbied for taxes on food and drink to be adopted globally in an attempt to reduce obesity rates. He recently founded the Task Force on Fiscal Policy for Health to promote higher taxes on products that can be unhealthy if consumed in excess. Earlier this year, the Lancet journal devoted an entire issue to this campaign with an editorial by Larry Summers, co-chair of Bloomberg’s Task Force, who promised that his organisation would ‘engage the public, finance ministries, and others’ in making the case for higher taxes on a number of fast-moving consumer goods.

It is well established that excise taxes and sales taxes are financially regressive - they take a greater share of income from the poor than from the rich. In Britain, for example, people in the poorest decile spend 34 per cent of their disposable income on indirect taxes, including 2.9 per cent on tobacco duty and 2.0 per cent on alcohol duty. For those in the richest decile, the equivalent figures are just 14 per cent, 0.1 per cent and 0.9 per cent.

For Bloomberg, the regressive nature of sin taxes is a feature, not a bug. In a recent event at the International Monetary Fund, he said:

‘Some people say taxes are regressive but in this case - yes, they are. That’s the good thing about them. Because the problem is in people that don’t have a lot of money, so higher taxes should have a bigger impact on their behaviour and how they deal with themselves.'

But sin taxes are a reliable source of revenue precisely because they do not make people ‘deal with themselves’. For the most part, they simply raise the cost of living. Ostensibly, they are intended to reduce consumption of demerit goods and indirectly improve health, but they come with obvious costs. All of the products being targeted are price inelastic. Those who wish to achieve their optimal level of consumption (as judged by themselves) will be forced to pay significantly more.

Given WHO’s repeated recommendations for new and/or increased taxes on food, non-alcoholic beverages and alcohol, I have calculated the impact on the price of a typical basket of goods purchased by a typical household if WHO Bloomberg succeed in raising the price of ‘unhealthy’ food and drink by their preferred rate of twenty per cent. A breakdown of the figures is available in this briefing paper, but the annual totals are as follows:

United Kingdom: £458
United States: $612
Italy: €547
Ireland: €607

This is based on a typical household (two adults, two children) that chooses to buy the same basket of goods post-tax as it did pre-tax. In practice, the price effect would lead to lower consumption and therefore less expenditure on the targeted items. However, as the goods in question are generally price inelastic, a twenty per cent price rise would lead to sales falling by less than twenty per cent. Moreover, any reduction in spending on the targeted products would not necessarily be money ‘saved’ as consumers would usually buy other products as substitutes.

Nevertheless, it is clear that the kind of taxes on food and drink proposed by WHO and Michael Bloomberg would lead to a significant increase in the cost of living for consumers everywhere. Poorest households would be hit hardest and although my estimates focused on rich countries, the impact would be even more severe in developing countries.

Overall, the range of food and drink taxes proposed by WHO and Bloomberg could cost consumers in the United Kingdom £12.4 billion per annum in additional tax. In the United States, the cost could be $72 billion. In Ireland and Italy the cost could be €1 billion and €13.5 billion respectively. Even to a man of Bloomberg's means, those are big numbers.


Cross-posted from the IEA Blog.

Wednesday, 16 May 2018

Sin taxes are regressive and don't work - Mike Bloomberg

Mike Bloomberg is on a mission this year to tax us out of life's simple pleasures. He has his billionaire fingers in a lot of pies. In addition to his pressure group Vital Strategies, he has recently set up the Task Force on Fiscal Policy for Health with the likes of Nicola Sturgeon and Margaret Chan on the board and has founded something called STOP (Stop Tobacco Organizations and Products) with a further $20 million. His finger prints were all over last month's special edition of the Lancet which was devoted to sin taxes and he continues to spend a king's ransom lobbying for soda taxes in the USA and elsewhere.  

He also has his own media empire, of course, which comes in handy. This article by 'the editors' of Bloomberg News expresses views that are uncannily similar to those of its proprietor.

Governments everywhere should tax sugar tax to persuade people to cut back. (Bloomberg Philanthropies has supported efforts around the world to pass sugar-sweetened beverage taxes.)

Though it’s too early to be sure that the taxes will save lives, they’re likely to, because they clearly steer people — especially lower-income people — away from added sugar. Critics argue that soda taxes are regressive; in fact, they’re paid largely by wealthier consumers and they mainly benefit the poor, who are more price-sensitive and suffer disproportionately from obesity and diabetes.

The link under 'benefit' is in the original article and it goes to an editorial in the aforementioned Lancet issue which argues that sin taxes are not really, actually, honestly regressive written by Larry Summers of Bloomberg's Task Force on Fiscal Policy for Health. What a small world. And that is only one of several Bloomberg News articles that takes this line.

There will be more to come because Bloomberg's Task Force will soon be releasing a list of recommendations with the title 'Saving Lives, Spending Less'. A line from the above article gives us a clue as to what might be in it...

The evidence so far confirms that they [soda taxes] change behavior, which suggests they should be applied as well to added sugar in foods.

This flurry of activity is designed to feed into the World Health Organisation's strategy on 'non-communicable diseases' with a view to getting governments to sign up to sin taxes on booze, tobacco, soft drinks and food at the UN High Level Meeting on Non-Communicable Diseases in New York in September.

The 'public health' lobby's focus on non-communicable diseases gives them carte blanche to regulate our lifestyles without end, as I wrote in 2012 when the WHO got politicians to sign up to its ludicrous target:

If 194 countries really have signed this quasi-treaty, you can expect to hear much more about our ‘legal obligations’ to control eating, drinking, smoking and - the mind boggles - ‘physical activity’ for many years to come. You may recall last year’s charming article from Jonathan Waxman in The Times titled ‘To avoid cancer, let the State dictate your diet’, which was itself based on the claim that lifestyles cause 40 per cent of cancer. That is only the start and it is, of course, why the puritans, bureaucrats, nannies and headbangers of public health are so keen on the idea of ‘non-communicable diseases’, because it gives them what every trigger-happy army general wants: a war without end.

There is something uniquely odious about one of the world's richest men campaigning for regressive taxation. Last month he was interviewed by Christine Lagarde at an International Monetary Fund event and forgot to take the new party line about sin taxes not being regressive. 

"Some people say taxes are regressive, but in this case - yes, they are. That’s the good thing about them. Because the problem is in people that don’t have a lot of money, so higher taxes should have a bigger impact on their behaviour and how they deal with themselves.” 

It's so gobsmacking to hear a billionaire openly admit that his thinks that sin taxes are good because they are regressive that it's easy to miss the smug paternalism at the end of the sentence when he talks about how people on low incomes don't know 'how to deal with themselves'.

Later in the interview he talks about the joys of bullying smokers. He claims that tobacco taxes are the best way to stop children - who are not allowed to buy tobacco - from smoking, but when it comes to adults...

"If you want to get older people to stop smoking, taxes have relatively little impact. It is the fact that you can't smoke in most places, so we have laws in most cities in America - you can't smoke in the workplace and you can't smoke in the restaurant and you can't smoke in the theatre. And pretty soon, if I can't smoke anywhere, I stop smoking."

That looks like a frank admission that smoking bans are not really about 'protecting' people from the secondhand smoke, but are paternalistic devices to pressure adult consumers into quitting. Who'd have guessed?

He then says...

"But adults will stop feeding their family before they stop feeding their addiction. They will find the money to buy cigarettes at almost any price."   

This is an argument for higher tobacco taxes?!  Perhaps he's hoping that if smokers stop feeding their families, obesity rates will decline even if smoking rates don't.

In conclusion, sin taxes on price inelastic products are regressive and are not effective at getting consumers to change their behaviour. You probably already knew that, but it's good to hear it from the horse's mouth.

Tuesday, 15 May 2018

Australia: world leader in tobacco control

I wrote yesterday about the early indications that plain packaging has not only failed in Britain but has been counter-productive. Meanwhile in Australia, the home of plain packaging, the government is desperately trying to contain the booming black market in tobacco that its policies have created.

Last week it created a new Tobacco Taskforce to deal with an illicit trade that is officially estimated to supply 864 tonnes of Aussie smokers each year. 

In a single operation in Queensland, 31 tonnes was seized, which would have netted $29 million in duty. In Victoria, $48 million has been foregone on the tobacco seized, which weighed in at a nation-leading 53 tonnes. Seizures in NSW so far this year have accounted for 14 tonnes or $13 million in foregone revenue.

The previous financial year, the ATO seized 117 tonnes at an estimated total value in terms of duty of $90 million.

Estimates from the Department of Home Affairs and the ATO say this is merely a fraction of the total revenue foregone each year, which is as high as $600 million.

Everything going well in the world leader of tobacco control, then!

It's a large and growing problem and the government has had no choice but to pull its head out of sand because it is losing a fortune in tobacco duty. It has increased the maximum prison sentence for tobacco smuggling to ten years and has passed a law requiring people who import tobacco to have a licence. That should do it!

It has even banned cash payments of more than $10,000 dollars which, as Reason reports, will have an adverse impact on many legal traders.

There is, of course, an obvious and workable solution but no Aussie politician will mention it for fear of being accused of threatening Australia's imaginary smoke-free future...

Australia's black market for tobacco is easily and obviously tied to its massive tax rate. Cigarettes cost $30 a pack there! Yet the government claims that once it cracks down and gets all those missing billions in revenue, it'll be able to lower taxes. They just need to spend an additional $318 million first to create a brand new task force to go after the black market.

That won't work. The government needs to deal with the root cause of its black market: itself. The state has forced prices of tobacco so high that people are resorting to illicit means to get their hands on the stuff. Violating the privacy of all Australian citizens—demanding that they engage in financial transactions the way you want them to—will not do anything to fix this problem.

It has been five and a half years since plain packaging was introduced and four and half years since the government started ramping up taxes by 14 per cent per annum. The result has been exactly what anybody with any brains expected. Look at the red line below. That's the price of tobacco (via Sydney Morning Herald).


Only the most blinkered or dishonest anti-smoking zealot would deny that a problem exists. If you go to the laughable smear-wiki Tobacco Tactics, for example, you will find a page dedicated to claiming that the illicit trade has not risen since plain packs began in Australia. And it is worth remembering that the 'public health' spivs did not merely deny that the black market would grow in 2012, they denied it was growing for years afterwards. Here's a study by the prolific plain packs campaigner Melanie Wakefield from 2014, for example:

One year after implementation, this study found no evidence of the major unintended consequences concerning loss of smoker patrons from small retail outlets, flooding of the market by cheap Asian brands and use of illicit tobacco predicted by opponents of plain packaging in Australia.

And here's another of her studies from 2015:

While unable to quantify the total extent of use of illicit manufactured cigarettes, in this large national survey we found no evidence in Australia of increased use of two categories of manufactured cigarettes likely to be contraband, no increase in purchase from informal sellers and no increased use of unbranded illicit ‘chop-chop’ tobacco.


Haha! I was always against plain packaging but it was worth it coming into force just to see the cranks and liars exposed.

Monday, 14 May 2018

Plain packaging failing in the UK

It's time for the 'public health' lobby to wheel out the 'no silver bullet' excuses and hope that everybody's forgotten what a game changer plain packaging was supposed to be...

The Tobacco Manufacturers’ Association (TMA) today reveals data and exclusive new polling which shows how plain packaging is failing in the UK on the first anniversary after its controversial introduction.

The Smoking Toolkit Study has found that on a three month rolling average, from December 2017 to March 2018, smoking rates in England were higher than for the same time last year before plain packaging was fully introduced.



In case you are disinclined to believe the tobacco industry's trade association, you can see the source data here. It does indeed show smoking rates falling steadily until early 2017. Thereafter they stop falling and start rising.

This is not quite what we were led to expect, is it? By the end of the first quarter of 2017, plain packaging was ubiquitous if not quite universal. By May 20th, every pack sold had to be 'plain' by law. Moreover, May 20th 2017 was also the date that the EU Tobacco Products Directive came into full force.

We have therefore spent the last year with two supposedly crucial, evidence-based anti-smoking laws in place. The result? Higher smoking rates. Trebles all round!

It's still early days. We have yet to see what impact plain packaging has had on the illicit trade but, as the TMA note, counterfeit plain packs have been seized all over the country. The official figures on legal tobacco sales will be published before the end of the month, but provisional figures suggest that they have been pretty flat, with a rise in roll-you-own tobacco.

Given the rise in tobacco sales when plain packaging was first introduced in Australia, politicians need to start asking what is going on. Do smokers actually like the new packs or is it - as I warned several years ago - that the elimination of branding leads to consumers switching to cheaper cigarettes?

Whatever the reason, it's high time for 'public health' policies to be audited. The problem with plain packaging is not just that it doesn't work, nor that it has negative side effects. The problem is that it does the opposite of what anti-smoking campaigners claim to want. They spent years campaigning for this policy. They spent large amounts of taxpayers' money in the process. They cannot be allowed to move onto their next set of demands as if nothing has happened.

As with the sugar tax and minimum pricing, the people who forced this stupidity onto us should be forced to own the consequences.

Insider spills the beans on fixed-odds betting terminals campaign

A remarkable article appeared in the Telegraph last week by Adrian Parkinson who, until recently, was one of the leading figures in Derek Webb's campaign against fixed odds betting terminals (FOBTs).

Adrian Parkinson on the left in happier (?) times
Using Webb's fortune, Stop The FOBTs AKA the Campaign for Fairer Gambling have used a combination of big spending and intimidation to get their point across. Their point isn't very strong. FOBTs account for just 14 per cent of gambling spend in Britain, there has been no rise in problem gambling since they emerged in the early 2000s, and the claim that FOBTs are the 'crack cocaine of gambling' has never been supported by evidence.

If the public wrongly believes that both problem gambling and the number of bookmakers has been rising, it is a testament to the success of Webb's campaign. Anybody who challenges them on the facts, including academics who specialise in gambling research, is shouted down and slandered. Parkinson shouted as loud as anyone. He was part of the campaign almost from its inception, but has now turned whistleblower. It is is a strange experience to see him making the same factual points that he used to attack others for making.

The wheels on the FOBT bandwagon are greased in hyperbole, spin, misconstrued evidence and, worst of all, commercial jealousy. Some of which I am responsible for. It was easy to beat the bookmakers up over FOBTs – gambling is never popular with public opinion and always provides the kind of lines a journalist loves. I created some of those lines. That was all fine when trying to wake bookies up, but the Government has fallen for the spin and hyperbole – hook, line and sinker.

At the eleventh hour, Parky now acknowledges that the bookies have brought in various forms of self-regulation and harm reduction which outclass many of their competitors in the sector.
Since I turned whistleblower in 2012 that lax regulatory environment has ended. The Government has rightly imposed a string of measures to provide better player protection, the most important being the limited introduction of card-based play. The ability to track and monitor player activity on gaming machines is not something to be resisted.

.. The bookmakers have woken up to this and they are the ones now driving this use of technology. Unlike their competitors in the casino and adult gaming sectors, who recruited me to work for them, the bookmakers now offer a wide range of responsible gambling measures that offer more control to players and more insight into behaviour. Staff have now been extensively trained in how to manage FOBTs and to intervene when needed. None of this is enough, but bookmakers are now the drivers of responsible gambling initiatives.

I quit the Stop the FOBTs campaign for several reasons, some of them personal, but if I had stayed I would be expected to support the proposed £2 stake limit. Now. I can’t, because the call for £2 is not based on any evidence to support the argument that it will reduce pathological problem gambling. It won’t. The £2 figure is one based on removing casino roulette from betting shops, much to the satisfaction of the other sectors – those I used to work for.

Reducing the stake has always been a red herring. As opponents of FOBTs now admit, a £2 stake will make the machines 'unplayable'. The campaign isn't called Stop The FOBTs for nothing. And if FOBTs are removed from the high street, punters will move online, thousands of jobs will be lost and horse-racing will lose millions of pounds.

Problem gambling is a serious issue, but FOBTs are not the sole cause of it. The vast majority of customers gamble safely and responsibly – not just on roulette but on the vast array of games available on FOBTs – many already capped at £2 and under. Pathological problem gamblers will simply be pushed either online or to casinos and arcades – the Government is shifting the problem rather than allowing bookmakers to deal with it head on.

For those determined to put the final boot in – step back from the campaign and media generated hype and think hard about the impact of this decision. I have.

Better late than never.

Sunday, 13 May 2018

RIP Tessa Jowell, freedom fighter

Tessa Jowell (1947-2018)

It's hard to believe now but there was a time when it seemed as if the nanny state was being rolled back. In 2005, the Licensing Act came into force and the Gambling Act was passed. This was the high watermark of Labour liberalism. Within a year, it had gone into reverse and every year since has been worse than the one before. But for one brief moment, it seemed as if the government believed in personal freedom and Tessa Jowell, who died yesterday, was at the centre of it.

Despite an incredible amount of fear-mongering at the time, the Licensing Act has proved to be a great success. And the Gambling Act, though botched and watered down, at least dragged Britain's gambling laws into the 20th century, if not the 21st. This was a time when the Minister for Culture, Media and Sport was still known, unironically, as the 'minister for fun'.


Reading her interviews from the time is an education. The past, even the recent past, truly is a foreign country. Here she is talking about the Licensing Act in 2005:

"The vast majority of people should be treated like the adults they are," said Culture Secretary Tessa Jowell.

"It is ridiculous that the government should deny the entire population the right to a drink after 11pm. We will give adults the freedom they deserve and yobs the tough treatment they deserve."

And here she is talking about the plan to allow large so-called 'super-casinos' to regenerate places like Blackpool (which was ultimately cancelled by Gordon Brown):

"There's a whiff of snobbery in some of the opposition to new casinos: people who think they should remain the preserve of the rich; others that find them gaudy and in poor taste; others that don't want the big investment that will come from the United States.

"They are entitled to those views, but they are not entitled to force them on others. Just because I don't choose to go to a casino for a night out doesn't mean that other people should not be able to," she said.

It's hard to imagine any frontbench politician making this basic case for free choice today. And while there may be some who think it, none of them seem to act on it.

Never forget that liberalisation of drinking and gambling was opposed by most Labour backbenchers, virtually every Conservative and the bulk of the media (that old puritan Nick Cohen was particularly vocal, see here, here and here).

I particularly enjoyed this exchange between Tessa and Theresa May on the subject of '24 hour drinking' which May wrongly predicted would lead to 'more binge drinking and disorder':

Ms Jowell makes a direct attack on Mrs May for suggesting other nations, such France and Germany, are "more biologically civilised". She suggests that Mrs May and her supporters should "vow never to consume alcohol in a public place after 11pm for as long as they live". Mrs May would not say yesterday whether she would do so...

Ms Jowell admits that a minority of drinkers are unable to show a responsible attitude towards alcohol but argues that the current laws are "restrictive and undemocratic", that it "always has been" possible to drink for 24 hours a day and that the British public is "adult enough to decide" for itself.

The obituaries today have focused on Jowell's involvement with Sure Start - which the Labour party has a weird obsession with despite the lack of evidence that it does much good - and the London Olympics, which were a jingoistic nightmare to any right-thinking person.

With the Tories and Labour now united in support of big government paternalism, New Labour's brief flirtation with freedom, and Jowell's role in it, has been written out of history. So have a drink in Tessa's memory today and remember the good times. It's what she would have wanted.




Two interviews, 100% sound views

I did a couple of interviews recently with Conservative organisations. You might be interested, who knows?

If you like the written word, here's me with Ben Kelly at Conservatives For Liberty.

David Cameron was the absolute worst for this stuff. If you look at his record, he makes Gordon Brown look like Ayn Rand. After opposing the tobacco display ban in opposition, his party introduced it almost as soon as it took office. He introduced plain packaging at a time when no other government apart from Australia was showing much interest in it. He introduced the sugar tax. He set up Public Health England, which was only ever going to be a giant nanny state lobby group. He wanted to introduce minimum pricing and was only stopped because of Cabinet opposition.

It’s a shameful record. Whether it’s because he is a patrician Tory or because he thought that detoxifying the Tory brand meant caving in to the trendy authoritarianism of the ‘public health’ racket, I don’t know. I am slightly – but only slightly – encouraged that the current wave of lifestyle regulation is the legacy of the Cameron era and Theresa May has not added anything else to the pile. I don’t think May has any interest in nanny state politics but I fear she is too weak to stand up against a well-organised campaign.

Read it all here.

And if you prefer moving images, here's me in St James' Park on Wednesday talking to some students from King's College London Conservative Association who have started a website called 1828.


You can follow 1828 on Twitter here.

Friday, 11 May 2018

Wiping out diabetes in three years?

From the front page of the Daily Express today...

Diabetes WAR: Sugar tax on foot [sic] top [sic] WIPE OUT diabetes as top doctors develop radical plan

A COALITION of international health experts have proposed a tax on sugary foods to reverse Britain’s obesity and Type 2 diabetes epidemics.

Who are these health experts? Step forward Aseem Malhotra, Robert Lustig and Grant Schofield. The first two names may be familiar to you. Malhotra currently bills himself as an honorary consultant cardiologist so I assume that he has stopped practising and is now a full time diet entrepreneur. You can read what I thought of his first book here. His next book is due out in 2019 and promises to be an 'insight into medical corruption' so that should be fun.

Lustig has also written a couple of books and, unlike Malhotra, has some relevant qualifications, but his views about fructose and diabetes are on the fringes of scientific thinking. His main claim is that sugar consumption directly causes diabetes. This is not endorsed by mainstream scientists, nor by diabetes charities, who believe that obesity increases diabetes risks but that sugar cannot do so in the absence of obesity.

Grant Schofield is a new name to me, but I was not surprised to find that he has written a series of books about the wonders of saturated fat. Like Malhotra and Lustig, he is on the Low Carb, High Fat (LCHF) gravy train or, as he puts it, the Low Carb, Healthy Fat movement.

Their 'no-holds-barred report' is actually a commentary in the obscure Journal of Insulin Resistance. This journal seems to have been created specifically to promote the LCHF diet and has only produced three issues since starting up in 2015.

The authors argue for tobacco-style regulation of sugary products, including sin taxes and an advertising ban. The journal isn't listed on PubMed so I can't read the article, but you can see the main points here. (UPDATE: As Jonathan points out in the comments, you can access the full version for free here.) It's much as you would expect, with Malhotra managing to include a dig at the British Dietetic Association with whom he has been feuding ever since they described his book as one of the year's worst celeb diets.

There is also the argumentum ad tobacco industry, a popular fallacy among people who want to act without evidence. The premise of this idiotic idea is that the tobacco industry cast doubt on the evidence that smoking kills in the 1950s, therefore: (a) anybody who questions health claims is like the tobacco industry and (b) any health claim that is contested must be true. Malhotra expands on this stupid theme in an editorial in the Express.

To complete this confederacy of dunces, anti-smoking zealot Simon Chapman pops up in the Express to offer his support. He and Malhotra recently became chums in Australia.


Simon Chapman, of the Sydney School of Public Health, said: “If you want to control malaria, it’s essential you control mosquitos. If you want to control obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease, you must control the mosquito’s equivalent - the food industry.”

This is a line that Chapman has been using for decades about the tobacco industry. All he had to do was replace 'lung cancer' with 'obesity' and 'tobacco' with 'food' and hope that nobody remembers his repeated assurances that there is no slippery slope, such as when he said this in 2012...

Look, if the slope is slippery, it's the most unslippery slippery dip I've ever seen in my life. We started banning tobacco advertising in 1976 and there has been no other commodity where there has been anything like a serious move to do what we've done with tobacco. And that's because there are great big differences between tobacco and all other commodities.

So, you know, the comparisons with hamburgers and chocolate bars and alcohol and such with like that, they're just really don't stack up.

And if you think that there's no chance of the government acting on the policy recommendations of attention-seeking cranks, don't forget that Malhotra's sugar tax campaign was ultimately successful (albeit after he had 'parted ways' with Action on Sugar) and Sadiq Khan has just capitulated to Jamie Oliver by banning HFSS food advertising on London transport.

Wednesday, 9 May 2018

A shameless racket

Every public health minister goes native within a few weeks of taking up the job and Steve Brine has been no exception. His Twitter profile picture shows him with ASH's chief prohibitionist Deborah Arnott grinning over his shoulder. It is apt.


Yesterday, he announced that he would be commissioning a review into minimum pricing. The Scottish government has already commissioned its own evaluation, with the usual suspects from Sheffield and Stirling lined up to cash in on their previous efforts lobbying for the policy.

"The previous consultation in 2013 found that the evidence, as it stood at the time, wasn't entirely conclusive," Mr Brine replied.

Read more at: https://www.blackpoolgazette.co.uk/news/business/public-health-england-to-review-evidence-on-minimum-unit-pricing-for-alcohol-1-9154912
"The previous consultation in 2013 found that the evidence, as it stood at the time, wasn't entirely conclusive," Mr Brine replied.

Of course it wasn't bloody conclusive. The evidence has never amounted to anything more than some worthless numerology.

But the Scottish government thought the evidence for minimum pricing was compelling in 2013 - or at least they pretended to - and they weren't alone. As I noted at the time, Public Health England's very first act when it opened its doors in March of that year was to call for minimum pricing...

The new national agency in charge of public health in England has backed proposals to establish a minimum price on a unit of alcohol to try to curb the harmful effects of drinking.

Public Health England, which is set to take on national responsibility for tackling public health challenges from 1 April, said that the available evidence supported the introduction of a minimum price per unit of alcohol and urged the government to use this evidence as its guide, as ministers weigh up whether to implement the measure.

So who's been given the job of evaluating this policy for Steve Brine? I dare say you've already guessed.

"I am commissioning Public Health England to undertake a review of the evidence for minimum pricing in England."

It's not the corruption. I'm used to the corruption. It's how shameless it all is. There is so little attempt to disguise the fact that they are rigging the system and laughing all the way to the bank as they do it.

Not only did PHE support minimum pricing from the very beginning, it reiterated its support in a risible, error-strewn, cherry-picking 'evidence review' in 2016, a piece of work so shoddy that PHE had to retract the press release for it. Based on junk science from Tim Stockwell and junk statistics from Sheffield, PHE concluded:

In summary, empirical evidence and modelling studies have shown that setting a minimum price for alcohol can reduce alcohol-related harm while saving health-care costs.

So of course Public Health England is going to say that minimum pricing is a great idea. They have always said it is a great idea. You might as well get Nicola Sturgeon to evaluate it.

Public Health England is a glorified pressure group and we know for a fact that it is hand in glove with the temperance lobby. Last year I witnessed Rosanna O'Connor, PHE's Director of Alcohol, Drugs & Tobacco, giving evidence to one of Sarah Wollaston's rinky-dink select committees. The anti-drink campaigner Nick Sheron was literally whispering the answers into her ears as she did it. It was pitiful to watch. 

And now these clowns have been commissioned to evaluate minimum pricing in England, just like the Sheffield clowns have been commissioned to evaluate it in Scotland and the anti-sugar clowns have been commissioned to evaluate the sugar tax. This is corruption on the scale of a banana republic and they don't care who knows it. They are laughing in the electorate's face.


Tuesday, 8 May 2018

Nanny State Index: nicotine supplement

This week saw the publication of a supplement to the Nanny State Index which shows how 30 European countries compare on tobacco harm reduction. It looks at the taxation and regulation of e-cigarettes, snus and heat-not-burn tobacco.

You can download the Nicotine Supplement here. The UK does well thanks to its relatively liberal approach to vaping. Ireland, the Czech Republic, Germany and the Netherlands also look good for the same reason.

There is significant variation in the regulation and taxation of e-cigarettes and vaping across Europe. In some respects, trends are going in a positive direction. Until 2016, several countries banned the sale of nicotine e-cigarette fluid, but all EU countries now allow the sale of e-cigarettes and vaping fluids as consumer products.

However, all EU countries are now obliged to enforce the Tobacco Products Directive which limits the range of products that can be sold and prohibits most e-cigarette advertising. And although prohibition is losing its appeal, indoor vaping bans and taxation are on the rise. When the first edition of the Nanny State Index was published in 2016, Italy and Portugal were the only EU countries with an excise tax on e-cigarette fluids. By 2017, a further six countries had introduced a tax. As this report shows, the number of countries that have vaping taxes has now risen to twelve. In 2016, nine countries prohibited vaping wherever smoking was banned. That number has also risen to twelve.

The best performing country is Sweden but that looks set to change. Regulation of e-cigarettes has been quirky in Sweden for a few years. They were effectively banned when they were regulated as medical products, but the supreme court later ruled that they are not medical products and a period of total laissez-faire followed when they were not regulated at all. The Swedes missed the deadline for implementing the Tobacco Products Directive but have now done so. There has been no gold-plating of the EU regulations and this, combined with its exemption from the EU ban on snus, gives Sweden a good score. Not for long, though, as it seems that a tax on vape juice and a ban on indoor vaping are on the cards.

At the other end of the league table, Finland is the worst country (as it is in the Nanny State Index as a whole), with Hungary not far behind.

The next worst are Switzerland and Norway which have been included in the NSI for the first time. Both counties will be much higher up the league table next year as the Swiss courts have just repealed the ban on e-cigarettes and Norway is in the process of legalising e-cigarettes.

Norway and Sweden are the only countries of the 30 included in the Index where snus is legal. Not coincidentally, they also have the lowest smoking rates. The country with the next lowest smoking rate is the UK where vaping is especially popular. Again, this is not a coincidence.

The Index also includes the regulation of heated tobacco products such as iQOS and Glo. Regulation of these products is in its infancy and the products have not even been brought to market in all 30 countries, but there are already wide disparities in the way they are taxed. A couple of countries have even banned them.

Click to enlarge the table below to see how each country fares.

As the Swiss court case last month showed, this is a fast moving regulatory environment so if you spot any mistakes in the Index, let me know in the comments.

Sunday, 6 May 2018

It begins

Amazon Pantry seems like a good shout for drinkers who are living in the Scottish nanny state...

On the day the new legislation came into force north of the Border, we were able to purchase two boxes of drink for considerably less than it would now cost in Scotland. Our order from online shopping giant Amazon was dispatched from Doncaster in South Yorkshire, therefore avoiding the minimum price of 50p per unit of alcohol.

Other England-based booze delivery companies are available, of course.

Meanwhile on the Anglo-Scottish border...




Vive la résistance!

Friday, 4 May 2018

Censoring Twitter in the name of health

This video about tobacco companies using Twitter is laugh-out-loud funny.


The punchline is when the journalist feels obliged to end the item by reminding us that smoking is, like, really bad. In Australia, as in Britain, even news stories have to double as health information films. This only serves to highlight the total dominance of the anti-smoking lobby in the media.

The idea that a few corporate Twitter accounts are a threat to the 'public health' hegemony is laughable and yet that is what is being claimed in the video. The news story is based on a study in Tobacco Control by some of Simon Chapman's mini-mes at Sydney University. The mere fact that a fatuous piece of research in a risible journal is being covered by the television news further underlines the victory of the fanatics.

The 'study' analyses 3,301 tweets from the big four tobacco companies' Twitter accounts and found - shock, horror! - that some of them implicitly or explicitly opposed policies that were aimed at driving them out of business.

BAT, Imperial and JTI most frequently tweeted about topics that either outright opposed or critiqued tobacco control policies or aimed to reduce the effectiveness or legitimacy of the measures (36.3%, 35.1% and 34.0%, respectively). Such tweets were coded as policy opposition. PMI tweeted less frequently on this area, with just 9.6% of their total tweets directly resisting or opposing tobacco control measures. One topic mentioned frequently across all accounts was illicit and counterfeit tobacco, which represented 12.6% of all tweets.

Here are a couple of the tweets that the authors quote to illustrate this...





The first tweet is a link to a corporate statement responding to the Chantler review of plain packs. The second links to an article in which the drinks industry responds to calls for plain packaging for alcohol. The third (correctly) quotes the Australian government's official statistics on youth smoking prevalence.

Do these tweets oppose plain packaging? Yes. Is it reasonable for an industry to make such arguments? Yes. Is it the kind of thing you expect to see if you decide to follow a tobacco company on Twitter? Presumably, yes.

Incidentally, these tweets received 3 retweets, 0 retweets and 5 retweets respectively, and none of the accounts had more than 11,000 followers at the time.

The authors then complain that tobacco companies do the kind of boring corporate messaging about sustainability and diversity that stops normal people following such accounts in the first place.

All four TTCs [transnational tobacco companies] tweeted about social and environmental issues such as child labour and human rights, environmental sustainability and racial and gender diversity and inclusion.

Among the tweets quote from this exciting category are these...



Even the blandest of tweets upset these sensitive researchers who say...

BAT, Imperial, PMI and JTI are using their respective corporate Twitter accounts to oppose and critique tobacco control policies, to promote an image of being socially responsible corporations and position themselves as favourable workplaces.

So what?

The lack of regulation on social media has opened an opportunity for TTCs [transnational tobacco companies] to also use Twitter to highlight information that is potentially false or misleading


If we're going to start banning people from saying things that are 'potentially false or misleading' on Twitter, we're going to have a lot of work on our hands, starting with the institutionally dishonest 'public health' racket.

For example, false tweets such as, ‘Myth 5: Tobacco Control said #plain-packs would stop young ppl from taking up smoking. Govt stats show this isn't true’, were published by Imperial, despite evidence that plain packaging reduces the appeal of cigarette packs to adolescents.

As this is the only specific example the authors give of a 'false or misleading' tweet, I assume they also think it is the strongest. So let's examine it - it's one of the ones I've embedded above.

The claim of the anti-smoking lobby is that plain packaging would reduce youth smoking rates. The evidence amounts to some glorified focus groups in which young people were asked if they thought an attractive pack was more attractive than an ugly pack. The result was much as you might expect.

The real question is whether this stated preference translates to fewer young people smoking. The Imperial tweet cites statistics from the Australian government showing a rise in youth smoking from 2.5% in 2010 to 3.7% in 2013 (plain packaging was introduced in December 2012). It also cites a number of peer-reviewed studies which found that packaging is not an important factor in the decision of young people to smoke.

By any reasonable standard, these are relevant facts and they are not refuted by the results of a focus group. The evidence does not decisively answer the question of whether plain packaging deters teenagers from taking up smoking, but since the anti-smoking lobby cited a fall in adult smoking prevalence between 2010 and 2013 as proof that plain packaging works, it is fair for Imperial to cite the data on underage users from the same survey to claim that it failed.

Neither point of view should be censored. And make no mistake, it is censorship that the study's authors want. 

...for the first time, the public is able to easily respond directly to TTCs within a public domain and engage with their content. The regulation of tobacco industry use of social media is urgently needed.

This is a straightforward argument about free speech and the anti-smoking lobby is on the fascist side of it. The idea that people should be forbidden from disagreeing with scientific claims and policy proposals is abhorrent. It would be bad enough in a serious area of science. In the Mickey Mouse world of 'public health science' it is obscene.

If tobacco companies are to be banned from disagreeing with anti-smoking campaigners because those same campaigners consider their arguments to be 'misleading', what is to stop them banning anybody from disagreeing with them? Why should a private citizen be allowed to use Twitter to make claims that 'public health' lobbyists regard as 'false' or 'misleading'?

The reality is that these people want to silence the opposition in policy debates because their own arguments and evidence are often so fragile that they cannot withstand the slightest scrutiny. They even want to stop tobacco companies mentioning their corporate responsibility and charity work to their followers because such tweets 'have the potential to shift public sentiment on TTCs'.

Well, tough. If these companies libel somebody or incite someone to violence, they can be sued like anyone else. They're obviously not going to do that and they are not promoting their brands on social media, so the censorious nutcases at Tobacco Control will have to live with a few thousand people on Twitter being told that Philip Morris gives money to charity and that BAT is a nice place to work.

Thursday, 3 May 2018

Weigh to go!


There's a story in The Times today about proposals to measure and weigh every child in every UK school once a year and force the teachers to make the 'obese' kids lose weight. I am all in favour of this, as I explain at Spectator Health. Do have a read.

Wednesday, 2 May 2018

Australia's tobacco black market grows again

As reported in The Australian, the illicit trade Down Under is big and getting bigger, despite it being a remote island continent.

The nation’s 2.4 million smokers are turning to illegal and even ­unhealthier cigarettes to avoid crushing increases in tobacco tax, costing the federal government almost $2 billion in lost revenue.

Between 2016 and 2017, tobacco consumption fell 6.1 per cent but the share supplied in the black market climbed to a record 15 per cent from 14 per cent a year earlier, according to a KPMG study.

The analysis found the presence of cigarettes manufactured legally in other countries and smuggled into Australia, as ­opposed to illegal loose-leaf tobacco, had jumped by a third and the number of tobacco seizures at ports exceeded 120, with a total weight of 264 tonnes, for the first time in a decade.

As you can see from the graph below, the share of black market tobacco was falling somewhat after 2010 but the introduction of plain packaging in December 2012 and punitive annual tax hikes from December 2013 have led to a surge. It now stands at an all time high.


I have written before about the spate of seizures in which vast quantities of cigarettes have been found coming into the country illegally and tonnes of tobacco been grown illegally on farms.

In the last month alone, $5.2 million of tobacco has been found growing in Wyuna, 17 tonnes have been seized in Victoria and there was a seizure worth more than $60 million near Bundaberg.

These news stories are so commonplace that no one in Australia seriously denies that there is a problem and only the most blinkered anti-smoking zealot could fail to see that it is entirely due to government policy. A pack of cigarettes now costs $35 (£19). At that price, buying on the black market is not just a financial necessity for many smokers, it is almost a moral duty. People who smoke are treated appalling by the Australian government. They have every right to starve the beast of money.

And tobacco duty is only going to rise...

Australia's excise on cigarettes is expected to raise 15.6 billion Australian dollars by 2021, up from 11.2 billion Australian dollars in 2017-18 as further increases come into effect.

I wouldn't be too sure of that. If the peak of the Laffer Curve has not already been passed, it cannot be far off. 

Still, it explains Australia's ongoing prohibition of e-cigarettes. What would happen to the government finances if people stopped smoking?  

Minimum pricing on Sky News

I was on Sky News yesterday talking about minimum pricing. Here's a bit of what I said...