Thursday 31 May 2018

Food Control

I've written for Spectator Health about the latest set of demands from the movement that should call itself Food Control...

The committee says that it was ‘impressed by the progress that has been made in Amsterdam using a whole systems approach.’ Amsterdam is the new poster boy for ‘public health’ campaigners because its child obesity rate fell between 2012 and 2015, possibly as a result of a concerted anti-obesity campaign. The campaign didn’t involve any of the tax-and-ban policies being proposed today – it focused on education and physical activity – but Wollaston’s committee turned a blind eye to this as it fumbled towards its preordained conclusion.

‘We want to see a whole systems approach’, says Wollaston in her press release today. The Local Government Association, which wants to ‘make obesity everybody’s business’, also puts the whole systems approach at the heart of its anti-obesity plans. But what is it? Since nobody has managed to define the whole systems approach without resorting to meaningless jargon, allow me to offer my own definition:
Whole Systems Approach (n): taking a bunch of policies that do not work and piling them on top of another bunch of policies that do not work in the hope that some weird alchemy turns them into more than the sum of their useless parts.

I also argue that 'public health', as currently practised, has nothing in common with science or medicine.

One of the conceits of the modern ‘public health’ movement is that it is a branch of medicine. The practitioners of ‘preventive medicine’ may have swapped the scalpel for the placard, so the story goes, but their methods are comparable. They publish in peer-reviewed journals. They have PhDs. They are ‘evidence-based’. The only difference is that while a doctor might save thousands of lives in a career, a good ‘public health’ lobbyist could save millions.

Such is the conceit, but there are two major differences between medicine and ‘public health’. The first is consent. A doctor generally requires the consent of the patient. ‘Public health’ campaigners do not seek consent from the public and often act against their express wishes.

The second is efficacy. A new drug or medical procedure requires overwhelming evidence that it works before it can be rolled out to the general population. It also requires strong evidence that it will not cause serious negative side effects. Things are rather different in ‘public health’ where policy is essentially whimsical.

Do read the whole thing.

Tuesday 29 May 2018

Five ways to stay healthy

A study was published in Circulation last month that deserves a quick mention. It looked at the number of years of life a fifty year old can expect to gain by adopting 'five low-risk lifestyle-related factors'. The answer was an impressive 14 years for men and 12.2 years for women.

So what are the five factors that extend life? They were...

1. Not smoking
2. A healthy diet
3. At least 30 minutes of daily physical activity
4. A body mass index between 18.5 and 24.9
5. Moderate alcohol consumption

Yes, moderate alcohol consumption - defined as 5-15 grams a day for women and 5-30 grams a day for men. This amounts to a weekly dose of 4-13 units a week for women and 5-26 units a week for men.

The researchers found that...

Each individual component of a healthy lifestyle showed a significant association with risk of total mortality, cancer mortality, and CVD mortality (Table 2). A combination of 5 low-risk lifestyle factors was associated with an HR of 0.26 (95% CI, 0.22–0.31) for all- cause mortality, 0.35 (95% CI, 0.27–0.45) for cancer mortality, and 0.18 (95% CI, 0.12–0.26) for CVD mortality compared with participants with zero low-risk factors.

Table 2 shows the reduction in risk from overall mortality, cancer and cardiovascular disease. Click to enlarge.

As you might expect, there is a strong association between mortality and physical inactivity and healthy eating, with a clear dose-response effect. Cigarette smoking more than doubles the risk of mortality from cancer and CVD, and from mortality in general.

Obesity is associated with a 25 per cent increased mortality risk, with heart disease being the major driver. For all the talk of obesity causing a growing number of cancers (13 is the latest tally), the increased risk is not very great among obese people (12%), let alone overweight people (5%), although it becomes more substantial for the severely obese (24%).

In fact, the increased mortality risk for people who are obese (but not severely obese) is slightly lower than the risks associated with being teetotal (27%). As many other studies have shown, the reduction in overall mortality risk among moderate drinkers is largely due to the reduction in heart disease risk.

And for all the talk of alcohol as a cause of cancer - such as this last week - this study found no increase in cancer risk for people consuming less than 26 units a week. The UK's current low risk guidelines, which were the product of a blatantly corrupt process, are set at just 14 units.

None of this is new. Evidence has been published for decades showing that moderate drinking is good for health and that the risks from consuming alcohol only apply to heavy drinkers.

Further evidence continues to be published on a regular basis. Last year saw a large study published in the British Medical Journal showing that teetotallers are at significantly increased risk of angina, heart attack and various other diseases (see my commentary on it here). There was also this study showing much the same thing (see Eric Crampton's commentary here). And let's not forget this study from last month which did its best to challenge the J-Curve, but which actually supported it.

As this junk science from January showed, there is a concerted effort by the temperance lobby to confuse the public about the evidence on moderate drinking. Tim Stockwell, in particular, seems intent on flooding the search engines with 'merchant of doubt' material to disorientate anyone who wants to look up the facts for themselves.

There's a strong chance that they will succeed because the truth has never been a barrier to these people. They want to make people believe that there is 'no safe level' of drinking and they generally get what they want.

Friday 25 May 2018

In praise of non-communicable diseases

The WHO has been holding yet another conference this week. Apparently there's an epidemic going on. No, not that outbreak of Ebola in Africa, but an epidemic of 'non-communicable diseases' (NCDs) and WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus says he is going to put a stop to it.

Tedros hasn't outlined what people will die of when non-communicable diseases are wiped out, but then it's never going to happen. The campaign against NCDs will be endless, thereby giving the 'public health' lobby endless opportunities to regulate people's lifestyles.

I have written about this for Spectator Health. Do have a read.


In the article, I show a few tweets from the conference in which western do-gooders fret about first world problems in third world countries. The tweet below was sent too late for me to include it, but it deserves a mention. Affluent people 'succumbing' to McDonalds in Africa. The horror!

Thursday 24 May 2018

E-cigarettes to be re-classified as tobacco?

In March, a question was asked of the European Commission which suggested that the World Customs Organisation (WCO) was looking to reclassify e-cigarettes as tobacco products:

In November 2016 the Member States unanimously decided to classify e-liquids as Chemical Products in the Harmonised System of tariff nomenclature (HS).

The World Customs Organisation Review Sub-Committee (WCO RSC) has recently started to discuss potential changes to the HS for implementation in 2022 (HS 2022). Among the options discussed was classification under the heading ‘Tobacco and manufactured tobacco substitutes’.

The main criterion for customs classification is consideration of the physical characteristics of the product concerned.

1. Why does the Commission intend to support the WCO RSC proposal to reclassify e-liquids under the Tobacco chapter?

2. How does it justify the classification of e-liquids not containing any tobacco as tobacco products?

I can find no record of an answer but on 16th May the World Customs Organisation published a document in which it discusses shifting e-cigarettes and vape fluid out of the chemicals category (Chapter 38) and into the tobacco category (Chapter 24). The document isn't freely available online yet, although it has been published on the WCO's member website and has been distributed by the International Chamber of Commerce to its members. I quote the most relevant sections below.

It seems that the WCO has been prompted by the vape-hating Australian government and the World Health Organisation. US health agencies already classify e-cigarettes as tobacco for propaganda purposes and the EU implicitly does the same by regulating them under the Tobacco Products Directive. But they are not defined as such for the purposes of international trade and if the World Customs Organisation changed the classification, it would have several far-reaching repercussions.

Firstly, some countries use the WCO's classification as the legal basis for applying excise on tobacco products. In all Gulf Cooperation Council states, for example, goods in Chapter 24 are subject to a 100 per cent selective (excise) tax in addition to their import tariff.

Secondly, Chapter 24 is normally left out of trade deals, because the 'public health' lobby has successfully lobbied for a tobacco carve out. This means no cuts to tariffs on tobacco and, if e-cigarettes are included, it will mean no cuts to tariffs on vape products - and no protection from such tariffs in future trade deals.

Thirdly, Chapter 24 is excluded from investor protection under most new trade deals. So if you want to start an e-cigarette business in Spain, for example, don't expect any protection when the government suddenly moves the goal posts, cracks down on vaping, confiscates your stock and forces your shop to close.

Finally, it will send a negative message to governments about e-cigarettes. There is already more than enough orchestrated confusion about the health effects of vaping without a major international organisation lumping them in with cigarettes.

The current system works fine. Technically, e-cigarette products are classified in Chapter 38 as:

3824.90: 'chemical products and preparations of the chemical or allied industries (including those consisting of mixtures of natural products), not elsewhere specified or included'.

The EU has two further categories to make it more specific:

3824.99.5600: 'Cartridges and refills, filled, for electronic cigarettes; preparations for use in cartridges and refills for electronic cigarettes … containing products of subheading 2939791000'

3824.99.5700: 'Cartridges and refills, filled, for electronic cigarettes; preparations for use in cartridges and refills for electronic cigarettes'.

The USA uses the following:

3824.99.92.80: 'Mixtures of a kind containing nicotine used in personal electric or electronic vaporizing devices.'

Last May, Australia proposed that the WCO create a new category (24.04) in Chapter 24 for 'nicotine products for human consumption, not containing tobacco but containing nicotine.' The Aussie government admitted that e-cigarettes are not tobacco products but said that 'they are closely related to tobacco in that they are used as substitutes for tobacco products'(!).

The WCO Secretariat seems to be sympathetic to this proposal. It appears to wrongly believe that e-cigarettes were developed by the tobacco industry and wants to put all 'new products developed by the tobacco industry as an alternative to traditional cigarettes' in the tobacco category, including those that don't contain tobacco and even those that don't contain nicotine.

Last week's document includes a letter from the WHO, thanking the WCO for the invitation to comment and supporting the reclassification. It also includes a recommendation from the Mali government to put heat-not-burn products in the tobacco category and keep vape products in the chemical chapter under two categories (one for those that contain nicotine and one for those that do not).

Moving heat-not-burn into Chapter 24 would not be great from a harm reduction perspective but at least it follows some kind of logic. Moving vape products into Chapter 24 follows no logic at all. And yet it seems that the WCO is minded to shift all vape products into the tobacco category and - bizarrely - move heat-not-burn products out of the tobacco category. Moreover, it proposes moving nicotine replacement products into the tobacco category.


This is a seemingly boring, technical matter but it could have profound implications for vapers in the years ahead. I'm sure the pharmaceutical industry will be lobbying the national customs administrations like crazy between now and 11th June when the WCO's Review Sub-Committee will meet to take this further. Vapers and the e-cigarette industry should do likewise.

We tried to warn you (part 94)

From Australia...

Those lollies and chocolates invitingly on display at the supermarket checkout are entirely strategic.

Junk food has little to recommend it to the smarter parts of our brains, but to our impulsive side, taste is all that matters. We might strategically avoid the confectionary [sic] aisle, but we all have to pass through the checkout where our impulses can be overwhelmed by the lure of the sugar fix.

Decision psychology researcher Dr Stefan Bode says the checkout trick is just one of a multitude of “environmental cues” that food companies use to market their products, from packaging to lifestyle messages and popular culture.

But how alluring would that chocolate be if the packaging was slapped with a picture of decaying teeth or a diseased heart?

 I think you can guess where this is going.

New research by the University of Melbourne and Cancer Council Victoria, published in both NeuroImage: Clinical, and Appetite, suggests that just like warnings on cigarette packaging, when it comes to junk food - the more graphic and negative the message the better.

Here's one of the food labels under consideration:

We libertarians tried to warn nonsmokers that this would happen, but we were treated like Cassandra as usual. And it will happen somewhere sooner or later once a public health minister is persuaded that he or she will look "bold" and "brave" and will get a trinket from the WHO. You know it's true.

Wednesday 23 May 2018

Action on Sugar's latest demands

Consensus Action on Salt, Sugar and Health - as Action on Sugar is now known - is a microscopic pressure group that basically consists of Graham 'Mad Dog' MacGregor and a couple of nutritionists. In 2016, they described the government's childhood obesity plan as 'pathetic' which was rather ungrateful given that the government had capitulated to many of their loony demands. Let's cast our minds back for a moment...

Action on Sugar's first manifesto, published in 2014, demanded a sugar reduction programme which is now underway, albeit with an unrealistic 20 per cent target rather than the totally insane target of 40 per cent suggested by MacGregor et al.

They also demanded a fat reduction target of 15 per cent (a strange request from an organisation that is concerned about sugar and salt, but never mind). Public Health England have confirmed that this will be going ahead, although no figure has been set yet. In addition, PHE have gone above and beyond Action on Sugar's demands by setting a 20 per cent target for calorie reduction, because the world's gone mad.

Their manifesto told the government to 'discourage drinking of soft drinks by planning to introduce a sugar tax'. They suggested a 20p per litre tax. The so-called Conservatives introduced a 24p per litre tax last month.

Oh, and they also called for portion size reduction which is also happening thanks to the sugar reduction programme.

Not a bad return on a few years of campaigning by a lobby group that could fit in a phone-box. But it was nowhere near enough for MacGregor, who responded in his usual batshit way:

Professor MacGregor, an expert in cardiovascular medicine at Queen Mary University, said: “The report is missing a key element of obesity: fat. This is meant to be a plan for reducing obesity and all it does is talk about sugar."

Yesterday, as if to prove that fanatics can never be appeased, Consensus Action on Salt, Sugar and Health returned with a new set of demands. The way things are going, the Tories will have adopted them all by the end of the year so pay attention. Their new policy proposals include...

1. A '50% reduction in sugar content across all products'!

2. 'Incremental reformulation' to bring per capita salt intake below six grams per day. (It is currently 8 grams a day so this is pie in the sky stuff).

3. Slowly reduce the sugar threshold at which soft drinks are taxed and 'slowly escalate' the size of the tax. (MacGregor makes no secret of his desire to make a can of Coke cost the same as a pack of cigarettes.)

4. A tax on confectionery.

5. A total ban on HFSS (high in fat, salt or sugar) food advertising and a total ban on HFSS price discounts.

They also say that reformulation must ensure that 'sugar, and sweetness, are reduced across the board'. It's not just about sugar (or fat, or salt) for these puritans. As I discovered when I attended the Sugar Summit, they want to rid humanity of its taste for sweetness. 'To encourage a gradual lower preference for sweetness across the population over time,' says the manifesto, 'the artificial sweeteners used to replace sugar in drinks should not match the same level of sweetness.'

These people are as mad as Nero and no less despotic. Some of the other gems from the manifesto include the following (these are direct quotes):

Where companies are replacing salt with sodium alternatives, the overall saltiness should still be reduced.

Sugar-free drinks (including use of sugar free syrups) should be the default option, in all settings including restaurants and cafes.

Chefs and caterers should receive additional training in nutrition and the harmful effects of food high in fat, salt and sugar, and the benefits of increasing consumption of vegetables .

Cigarette advertising has been banned in the UK for many years because it causes cancer and cardiovascular disease, yet HFSS foods and drinks, which are now a bigger cause of death and disability, can be advertised without strong restrictions to vulnerable children, who have no understanding of the consequences of consuming these products.

Free refills on drinks in out-of-home sector should only be available for water.

The out-of-home, catering and the public sector providing food must commit to supporting people to eat two portions of vegetables at lunchtime at no extra charge.

This is truly bonkers stuff. It shows no understanding of how food manufacturing and retailing works and has no consideration for the basic freedom of people to eat what they want to eat. This organisation should a national laughing stock and yet they can stake a claim to be the most effective pressure group in the country.

And yet, no matter how many times the government caves into them, they will shout and scream and hurl abuse. They cannot possibly be appeased so why does the government try?

Helen Dale's review of Killjoys

I'm grateful to Helen Dale for writing a long and thoughtful review of my book Killjoys which she combined with the formidable David Leyonhelm's book Freedom's Salesman. Do have a read of it. Part one is here and part two is here.

Tuesday 22 May 2018

Sugar Reduction Year One

Public Health England has just released its first report looking at the results of its madcap sugar reduction scheme. The idea is to reduce sugar content in most foods by 20 per cent by 2020. The first target was a five per cent reduction by 2017 but, as today's report shows, this has not happened.

It was never likely to happen. Instead, there has been a two per cent reduction across the eight categories that PHE is most interested in: biscuits, breakfast cereals, chocolate confectionery, ice cream/lollies, puddings, sweet spreads & sauces, sweet confectionery and yoghurts.

The sugar reduction scheme was introduced on the pretext of tackling the non-existent childhood obesity epidemic, but although PHE initially said they would be only targeting children's foods, they soon admitted that they would be targeting everything because, as they say in today's report...

As children eat a wide range of foods and not just those that are manufactured for or marketed to children, all foods in each category are included.

There was no reduction in sugar content for three of the eight categories and, in some cases, sugar reduction has been accompanied by calorie increases (see below). Great success!

The juicy stuff is tucked away in Appendix 4 of the report. That's where you can read the case studies sent in by the food companies. If you think your favourite snack has started to taste a bit funny, this is where you can find out what's been done to it in the name of 'public health'.

Similarly, if you suspect that your chocolate bar has been shrinking, head over to the appendix and find out. As I have said repeatedly, shrinkflation is all part of the Public Health England plan. Once they realised that you can't just take sugar our of chocolate and hope nobody notices, they actively encouraged the food industry to reduce portion sizes.

Here are some of the companies boasting about their miniaturisation work...

Shrinkflation has been variously blamed on Brexit, 'austerity' and the rising cost of raw ingredients. In fact, the price of sugar and cocoa have both fallen sharply since the referendum - the import sugar price reached a record low last year. The ONS noted that these prices had dropped when it looked at shrinkflation last year. It also noted that whilst shrinkflation can affect any product, sugary products seemed to be particularly heavily affected. It did not, alas, pick up on Public Health England's role in this.

Nor did the consumer organisation Which? realise that it was government policy to reduce product size when it complained two months ago about this apparent rip off:

Consumer group Which? accused manufacturers and supermarkets of misleading customers because they never announce the cut in pack sizes. 

Ratula Chakraborty, a senior lecturer in business management at the University of East Anglia, said watchdogs such as the Competition and Markets Authority should require firms to give customers clear information when sizes are reduced.

‘Regulatory intervention is needed to tackle shrinkflation,’ she said. ‘The CMA should require retailers to inform consumers when product sizes [are reduced] so they are not misled by these sneaky changes.’

A year earlier, the financial journalist Andreas Whittam Smith complained that reducing portion sizes without telling customers was a form of fraud:

There have been reports for some time that manufacturers of such household items as sugar, jam, syrups, chocolate and confectionery have been reducing the size of their products without making corresponding cuts in their prices. I say reports because this activity cannot easily be detected by the naked eye. Somebody has to tell us poor consumers that this shrinkage is going on because we cannot see it for ourselves. That is the nature of the fraud.

It is a fraud, isn’t it? If the manufacturer of, say, your favourite jar of strawberry jam raised the price, you would most likely notice and then make a rational decision whether to pay up or do without the jam. But if instead the manufacturer reduces the quantity of jam and maintains the price, you probably won’t be the least bit aware of what is going on – unless you study the small print on the label. In short, you have been had.

Indeed it is a form of fraud; a state-sanctioned fraud. The whole point of the 'health by stealth' approach is to not tell consumers what's going on. It would be amusing if, as Chakraborty suggested,  the government introduced a 'regulatory intervention' to deal with a problem that is being fuelled by government policy. 

Food companies need little incentive to shrink their products while keeping the price the same (if you look at Nestlé and Mars in the list above you'll see that they were frantically shrinking their products before the sugar reduction plan officially began - and before Brexit). But the government is now encouraging them to do it. Indeed, it is effectively compelling them to do it because that is the only realistic way of cutting sugar content in chocolate, confectionery and biscuits, which are the main sources of sugar (see below).

So that's two per cent down, eighteen per cent to go - and they've only got two years to do it. This bonkers idea needs to be knocked on the head before it does any more damage.

I put out a comment on this for the IEA earlier today:

“Public Health England issued their Soviet-style targets with no understanding of how food is made or what consumers want. A five per cent reduction in one year was always unrealistic because it takes longer than that to develop products, test them and create the manufacturing infrastructure. A 20 per cent reduction is unrealistic under any timeframe and leaves the manufacturers of many products with only one option: reduce the size of the product. We have started to see the rip-off of shrinkflation with chocolate bars and we will see much more of it in the years ahead.

Why is this quango systematically degrading the food supply? Consumers didn’t ask for it, the electorate didn’t vote for it and, when offered an artificially sweetened option, shoppers don’t buy it.”

"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.