Tuesday, 18 September 2018

The over-provision of 'public health' ignorance

From The Times...

Call to tackle the ‘retail clusters’ that help cause ill‑health in Glasgow

Not this nonsense again?! How many times are we going to have to go over this? Retailers go where the demand and footfall are. If there was 'over-provision', the shops would close down.

Many of Glasgow’s most deprived areas are populated by “health-damaging” retail clusters that offer easy access to alcohol, fast food, cigarettes and gambling.

The finding, by researchers from Glasgow and Edinburgh universities, has prompted calls for tighter regulation to reduce the density of unhealthy outlets.

That was the intention, of course. There is no academic justification for the publication of a study that shows, for the umpteenth time, that city centre high streets have more off licences and bookmakers than the leafy suburbs.

“Our local environment shapes what we have access to and what we can afford,” said Linda Bauld, professor of health policy at Stirling university.

“The density of fast food, gambling, tobacco and alcohol outlets in deprived areas is almost certainly contributing to the health gap between rich and poor. This density can be changed through local planning processes and also through regulation.”

The question that people like Bauld can never answer is why, if businesses can make people engage in certain activities by merely existing, do retailers not 'target' wealthy areas where people have more money to spend? What kind of capitalist would waste his coercive powers on people who have little disposable income?

Miles Briggs, the Conservative MSP and the party spokesman on public health, has called for “determined local authority action” to tackle the problem.

 Ah yes, the Conservatives.

Frank McAveety, the Labour former leader of Glasgow council, said: “Clearly there is overprovision in some working class areas, creating a fatal combination of bookies, fast food shops and off-licences. There has to be a fundamental look at the legislative framework around overprovision and where powers lie and can be applied.”

The only over-provision I can see is a surplus of economically illiterate 'public health' studies written by people who don't understand supply and demand.

And yet, right at the end of the article, we get this...

Laura Macdonald, a co-author of the study, hopes the findings will influence change...


...but said: “We cannot ascertain why outlets are colocated in deprived areas — it could reflect shopper convenience or because retailers purposely choose areas close to populations with greater demand for specific goods.”

Yes, Laura! And the truth shall set you free!

It is both, of course, and that is all there is to say.

Monday, 17 September 2018

Insufferable bastards

Public Health England had their annual conference last week with 1,600 delegates. It's probably best not to think about how much it cost the taxpayer.

Head honcho Duncan Selbie (salary: £220,000) kicked off proceedings with a speech in which he paid tribute to my Twitter #content. You can watch it below from 11 minutes 43 seconds...

The best of the quotes pertains to PHE being "insufferable bastards". Whilst I wish I had said this - and it does sound like the kind of thing I might say - I can't find any evidence that I did. And whilst I did indeed call Selbie an overpaid, parasitic quangocrat, this was in relation to his decision to stop everybody smoking by 2030 and not, as he claims, the recent advice to have two days off drinking a week. 

This suggests - not for the first time - that Big Dunc might not have full mastery of the facts. But there is no doubt that he is doing an outstanding job by his own criteria...

Friday, 14 September 2018

Snowdon and Delingpole

James Delingpole's excellent podcast is the only podcast I always listen to. If you haven't subscribed to it yet, you should do so. If you haven't, you can listen to the latest edition, featuring my good self, below...

Thursday, 13 September 2018

Mexico's sugar tax flop

Who could forget Mexico's sugar tax? Introduced at the start of 2014, it is the jewel in the crown of the growing movement to tax sugary drinks (and 'junk food', which Mexico also taxes). The Lancet describes it as a 'success', as does Bloomberg. A couple of studies have concluded that sugary drink sales fell appreciably after the tax was introduced, although these claims appear to be false

The World Health Organisation didn't wait to see if the taxes on soda and 'junk food' had an effect on obesity before it started campaigning for them. But in 2016, it said...

Mexico’s soda tax has reduced sales of sugar-sweetened beverages. Time will tell whether the tax helps to reduce obesity prevalence as well.

Now the wait is over. The years have passed and the jury is in. As Mexico News Daily reports...

Mexico’s obesity numbers are up nearly 4 million in 4 years to 24.3 million

Close to 4 million adult Mexicans joined the ranks of the obese between 2012 and 2016, a result of food insecurity and undernourishment according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

In 2012, 20.5 million adults were considered obese, a figure that has since risen to 24.3 million.

Great success!

No other media outlet has reported these facts and the 'public health' lobby will ignore them. Real world evidence counts for nothing in this racket, but I wouldn't be surprised to see a study published soon claiming that obesity has fallen as a result of the taxes, based on an activist's 'computer model'.

PS. I'm quoted in this Euractiv article about sugar taxes: 

“If taxes on soft drinks were a pharmaceutical drug, they would never be licensed by a medical authority”. “The costs are significant while the benefits are wholly unproven. Soft drink taxes might be a good way to raise revenue and a nice way for politicians to feel that they are doing something, but they do not qualify as an anti-obesity policy. They are remarkably ineffective as a way of getting people to reduce their consumption of sugary drinks.”

Tuesday, 11 September 2018

Toys out of the pram

Ian Gilmore: "Do as I said or I shoot!"
You may fondly recall neo-temperance extremists walking out of the government's Responsibility Deal project in a huff in 2011. You may also recall the same 'public health' groups storming out of the EU's Alcohol and Health Forum in 2015. When these people don't get what they want, they exclude themselves from positions of influence. It's a brilliant strategy!

Ian Gilmore, the chair of the Alcohol Health Alliance, is throwing a similar hissy fit today, 'threatening' to walk out on Public Health England if they continue to promote sensible drinking advice with the semi-temperance charity Drinkaware. Why? Because Drinkaware is funded by the dreaded alcohol industry. Never mind that it is patently independent and does not further the drink industry's interests (as anti-alcohol morons understand them) in any way.

Gilmore and the anti-smoking fanatic John Britton, have written a pompous letter to The Times about it...

Sir, The launch of a new public awareness campaign on alcohol, jointly between Public Heath England (PHE) and the alcohol industry-funded organisation Drinkaware, marks a major shift in PHE policy in its willingness to share a public platform with the alcohol industry. It also demonstrates a failure at senior level in Public Health England to learn the lessons from the use by the tobacco and alcohol industries of voluntary agreements and other partnerships with health bodies to undermine, water down or otherwise neutralise policies to reduce consumption.

Given that responses to our submissions to PHE’s chief executive, Duncan Selbie, have confirmed that the lessons of history have not been learnt, we feel our respective roles as co-chairmen of the Alcohol Leadership and Tobacco Control Implementation Boards of PHE are undermined and must cause us to consider our positions if the partnership with Drinkaware is not terminated with immediate effect.

Professor Sir Ian Gilmore, chairman, Alcohol Health Alliance, University of Liverpool; Professor John Britton, director, UK Centre for Tobacco and Alcohol Studies, University of Nottingham

The Times and The Sun are both reporting that Gilmore has already quit. If so, it's not a moment too soon. His involvement in the guidelines rigging process should have been a resignation issue and there should be no place for a hardline temperance zealot in a powerful government agency.

So long, Ian! Shut the door behind you.

One day these people will realise that they need the government more than the government needs them.

Friday, 7 September 2018

The secrecy and paranoia of the WHO

With the WHO's anti-nicotine COP8 conference on the horizon, Harry Shapiro has written a timely article about the way the fanatics who run this shindig have weaponised Article 5.3 of the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control. I'd nearly forgotten about them excluding Interpol from the conference in Delhi on the grounds that it is some sort of tobacco industry front group...

As originally written, Article 5.3 simply required Parties to protect their tobacco control policies from tobacco industry influence. Period. Even the subsequently published Guidelines to 5.3 broken down into four Principles only required Parties to have ‘accountable and transparent’ dealings with the industry. But these ‘Guidelines’ have morphed into Holy Writ, turning the whole enterprise into something resembling a fundamentalist Doomsday cult seeing conspiracy and ‘interference’ at every turn. There is now FCTC lore which has become insanely over-interpreted to mean that there should be no contact whatsoever not only with the industry, but with any organisation or individual that has any links whatsoever with the industry in any capacity. This manifests itself, for example, in the COP meetings which unlike for example the Climate Change Framework meetings, will not allow entry to industrial interests or any organisations that do not agree with its views. Any NGO wishing access has to be a member of the FCA while, on the grounds that somebody from the evil Empire might just hear what is going on, the public and the media are also pretty much excluded from the whole event and from reading the deliberations of the meeting. This is taken to ludicrous lengths by refusing access to Interpol because one of the world’s major law enforcement agencies has been working with the industry to combat the illicit tobacco trade. The FCTC Secretariat, clearly intoxicated with power, is now even trying to dictate to the Parties by attempting for a second time to push through a new rule which would exclude any delegate with links to state-owned tobacco industries. Even the Parties have been pushing back on that one.

But cloaking a publicly funded and therefore publicly accountable agency in secrecy is bad enough, but for a global public health agency to put millions of lives at risk in the service of rampant self-aggrandisement is another matter altogether. Because the WHO persists in the fallacy against all the evidence that safer nicotine products are just a ruse by Big Tobacco to renormalise smoking, wherever possible, the agency along with its NGO allies, invokes 5.3 to effectively close down any debate on the matter by simply accusing advocacy and consumer groups and any professionals engaged in tobacco harm reduction as being Big Tobacco stooges.

Do read it all.

Wednesday, 5 September 2018

The EU throws vapers under the bus again

The WHO's Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) is holding its biennial conference in Geneva next month. It is the eighth 'Conference of the Parties', hence it is known as COP8.

In preparation for the event, various documents have been circling the global anti-smoking community to get a consensus on what to ban next. The depiction of tobacco use in the arts is one candidate. You can read the WHO's proposal here. The most notable part of the document is the WHO's intention to include tobacco use on film and television as tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship (TAPS) because:

Entertainment media content such as movies, music videos, online videos, television programmes, streaming services, social media posts, video games and mobile phone applications have all been shown to depict and promote tobacco use and tobacco products in ways that may encourage youth smoking uptake... Therefore, policies that reduce youth exposure to entertainment media depictions are required.

What policies are needed to achieve this desired level of censorship? The WHO suggests the following...

Parties are urged to develop legislation or administrative measures to reduce tobacco depictions in entrainment [sic] media such as requiring tobacco industry disclosure of all expenditures associated with TAPS [tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship], requiring health and content warnings on material that depicts tobacco, banning tobacco branding from all entertainment media, requiring that any tobacco products shown must include required health warnings and other regulatory requirements relating to packaging (such as plain packaging), and requiring age ratings on entertainment media including music videos and video games. Further, Parties are urged to prohibit tax concessions and subsidies for films that include tobacco promotions.

The EU is one of the FCTC's members and, due to its size, it is rather influential. So have they objected to this? Yes, they have. But not because the proposals are too extreme. They object because they don't go far enough. In particular, the EU wants vaping to be included. In a document from the EU to the FCTC dated 30th August that was leaked to me this morning, the EU says (emphasis in the original):

The EU welcomes the report of the Expert Group on tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship and supports its recommendations... [The EU] stresses that TAPS [tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship] regulatory frameworks and their implementation at national, regional and international levels do not only cover all tobacco products, both traditional and emerging ones such as heated products, but should also consider tobacco-related products such as ENDS.

ENDS are electronic nicotine delivery systems: e-cigarettes. The EU's position - which it will be voicing in Geneva next month - is that there should not only be a worldwide ban on advertising, promotion and sponsorship of tobacco products, but that there should be a worldwide ban on advertising, promotion and sponsorship of e-cigarettes. Furthermore, it wants the proposed restrictions on people smoking in movies, music videos, reality TV programmes, etc. to apply to people who are vaping. For example, a film which shows someone using an e-cigarette would automatically get an 18 certificate.

Has the UK gone along with this? If it has - and surely it must have done - how is it consistent with the government's pro-vaping Tobacco Control Plan or Public Health England's harm reduction agenda?

And if this is the EU's position on the 'advertising, promotion and sponsorship' of e-cigarettes, how bad is its position on the other regulatory issues going to be?

Once again, the EU and the Department of Health have shown that they cannot be trusted to represent consumers. It looks like we'll have to represent ourselves. I'll be going to Geneva next month. Who's with me?

Tuesday, 4 September 2018

Australia's new tobacco industry

Tobacco duty went up again in Australia on Saturday. The annual hike of 12.5% (plus sales tax) brings the price of an average pack of 25 up to $34 (£19).

You'd expect nothing less in the World Leader of Tobacco Control. Australian governments have been doggedly fighting smokers the tobacco industry for years. Alas, a new tobacco industry has emerged which is rather less compliant with the law, so let's see how those magnificent, evidence-based anti-smoking policies (plain packaging, sky-high taxation and a ban on vaping) have been working out in the last few months, shall we?

16 August:
Six Chinese family members accused of smuggling millions of cigarettes into Australia by hiding them in tiles are charged with laundering $11 million in organised crime money

A Chinese family allegedly laundered at least $11 million of dirty money for organised crime groups, after federal police seized illegally imported cigarettes in Melbourne.

Four men and two women, who are all from the same family, have been charged with smuggling tobacco and dealing with the proceeds of crime, police confirmed on Thursday.

1.5 tonnes of illicit weed seized near Grafton

The Illicit Tobacco Taskforce (ITTF) is continuing to disrupt the illicit tobacco market in Australia, this time seizing and destroying 1.5 tonnes of tobacco with a potential excise value of more than $1.3 million from a property near Grafton.

... Recent estimates from the ATO and the Department of Home Affairs reveal that almost $600 million in tobacco duty was foregone in 2015-16 financial year as a result of the trade in illicit tobacco.

It has been illegal to grow tobacco in Australia for more than a decade, with no licensed tobacco producers growing the crop since 2006.

Since July 2016, the ATO has undertaken 37 seizures totalling 231 tonnes of illicit tobacco with estimated tobacco duty forgone of $194 million.

In the last financial year the ABF also made more than 110,000 detections of illicit tobacco at the border including almost 240 million cigarettes and 217 tonnes of tobacco, worth more than $356 million in evaded duty.

Chinese university students arrested after 750kg of illegal tobacco seized at Adelaide docks

Australian Border Force officers have seized more than 750kg of loose leaf tobacco hidden in a sea cargo consignment at the Adelaide docks.
The haul of illegal tobacco, which is worth hundreds of thousands of dollars on the black market, was destined for New South Wales.

Six tonnes of tobacco seized from illegal crops in Northern Territory 

Six tonnes of illegal tobacco leaves and vast fields of mature plants worth more than $13m in lost tax have been seized on a rural property in the Northern Territory.

This bust on the sophisticated, 7-hectare crop outside Katherine was the first successful strike by a taskforce bringing together agencies including the Australian Tax Office and Australian Border Force.

Cigarettes smuggled into Australia in children's toys: police 

Australian Border Force officials have smashed an alleged Chinese syndicate smuggling tobacco and cigarettes into Australia hidden in children's toys.

A Sydney man, who police allege was using his position as a delivery driver to assist the criminal gang, has been arrested and charged with illicit tobacco offences.

Nearly 60 million illegal cigarettes seized in major border operation

A major joint operation between Queensland Police, the Australian Border Force, the Department of Home Affairs, ACIC and NSW Police has seized more than 57 million illegal cigarettes at the Australian border.

The cigarettes, worth more than $40 million in evaded duty, were being imported from south-east Asia by a "serious" organised crime syndicate.

Six alleged members of tobacco smuggling ring arrested
The Australian Border Force have disrupted a highly-organised tobacco smuggling syndicate, stopping the flow of nearly three million illicit cigarettes.

Airport bust uncovers 4.5 MILLION cigarettes disguised as toilet paper as accused smuggler faces court over the contraband

Officers have seized 4.5 million undeclared cigarettes being smuggled into the country and arrested a duel citizen over the bust.

Australian Border Force officers stopped the 43-year-old man for a baggage search at the Melbourne International Airport on Sunday after uncovering a massive haul of smuggled tobacco.

'We will find you': Border Force bust black market on cigarettes 

The Australian Border Force (ABF) has uncovered 10 tonnes of tobacco allegedly illegal imported into Melbourne.

ABF officers swooped on a number of homes across the city this week as part of ongoing efforts to bust open the cigarette black market.

ATO seizes, destroys, illegal tobacco in Dubbo and Coonamble raids 

Two raids in Dubbo and Coonamble saw Australian Taxation Office officers seize and destroy an estimated $13 million worth of illegal tobacco.
​Over 7,000 kg of illegal tobacco plants and more than 500 kilograms of dried tobacco bales were seized from the two properties and destroyed.

Three tractors valued at nearly $100,000 in total and a range of equipment, including kilns and drying machines were also seized.

Owners of a property 'unaware' a record 28 tonnes of illegal tobacco worth $60 million was being grown on their land

A record 28 tonnes of illegal tobacco with an estimated street value of $60 million has been seized at properties near Bundaberg.

The Australian Taxation Office (ATO) announced on Wednesday it had seized the tobacco following a joint operation with Queensland police.

Officers exercised warrants at four properties south of Bundaberg on Tuesday following an 18-month investigation which also included members of the Australian Border Force.

Perth baker made plenty of dough smuggling two tonnes of tobacco

A Perth bakery owner imported more than two tonnes of tobacco illegally into Australia, defrauding the Commonwealth to the tune of almost $2 million, a WA court has heard.

And that's just the fraction of the illicit market that the cops managed to track down. This is going great!

Monday, 3 September 2018

Australian drinking at a 50 year low

Another chapter in The Decline of Australia...

224 stubbies a year: Australians' alcohol consumption plunges to lowest since 1962

1962! In 1962, pubs still had to close at 6pm in Victoria and South Australia (not that this was a very successful anti-drinking policy). Drinking in Australia peaked more than 40 years ago and has fallen by 30 per cent in the years since. Beer has been the main casualty.

Beer has also been the main casualty in Britain where per capita consumption of alcohol peaked in 2004 and has fallen by 18 per cent in the years since. Alcohol consumption is now about the same in both countries at a little over nine litres per adult per annum.

None of this will appease the neo-temperance lobby, obviously, but I was amused to see this comment from Kypros Kypri, a professor at the University of Newcastle's School of Medicine and Public Health:

"The real puzzle for people like me is: Why are some indicators of harm continuing to increase while you've got these reductions in aggregate consumption?" he asked.

It's because the total consumption model is nonsense, mate. Therefore the whole population approach of alcohol control a waste of time. Always has been, always will be.

When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do, sir?