Friday 30 November 2018

Something for the weekend

There's a new Last Orders podcast out. This month we have comedian and author Dominic Frisby on to discuss fixed odds betting terminals, vaping and the meat tax.

It's now a standalone podcast (ie. not part of the Spiked feed) so subscribe on iTunes or whatever. Alternatively, listen here.

Also, I was on the World Service yesterday talking about the furore over the proposed meat tax and angry low carbers. It's available online for the next few weeks. My contributions start at seven minutes and 25 minutes. Listen here.

And, as if that were not enough, I'm on the IEA podcast with Rebecca Lowe and Darren Grimes talking about the Banny State. Listen here on iTunes or here on Podbeam.

Thursday 29 November 2018

A feeble defence of the nanny state

I have never been a huge fan of the term 'nanny state' because it implies a degree of care and compassion that is largely absent from the spiteful 'public health' lobby. Nevertheless, it has the advantage of being readily understood by the public. It has an immediacy and efficiency that more accurate terms like 'coercive paternalistic lifestyle regulation' lack.

It also has the advantage of really annoying people in 'public health' and that alone is a good reason to use it. Every few years one of them tries to discredit or reclaim it. I wrote about one such effort in 2015. One of their journals dedicated a whole issue to it in the same year.

The problem with these critiques is that their authors are unable to pass the Ideological Turing Test. They don't seem to understand the arguments of their opponents and, as John Stuart Mill said, he who knows only his own side of the case knows little of that.

For example, the distinction between banning something that harms other people and banning people from doing things that only harm themselves is pretty fundamental. It is the difference between nanny state regulation and plain old regulation. But it is amazing how often defenders of the nanny state conflate the two. When Simon Chapman listed his 'One hundred and fifty ways the nanny state is good for us' in 2013, most of his examples were laws that protect individuals from other people, such as building regulations, speed limits and killing mosquitoes.

To be fair, Chapman is an imbecile whereas the latest contender - John Coggan, a professor of law at Bristol University - may not be. His essay was published by the Faculty of Public Health yesterday and it shares many of the shortcomings that undermined its predecessors. In particular, it prefers to attack straw man versions of the libertarian and economic arguments rather than addressing the real objections.

I don't know whether this is conscious misrepresentation or a simple failure to understand the arguments against his position, but it is a big problem for a critique. Coggan considers there to be three basic arguments against nanny statism. One of them is that 'health is an entirely subjective concept' and that the government therefore has no business getting involved. I have never met anyone who believes this so I will leave it to one side.

The other arguments seem more familiar at first glance. He describes them as 'Philosophical Libertarianism' and 'Economic Libertarianism'.

He defines Philosophical Libertarianism as follows:

... it may be claimed that to respect persons as moral agents the government must always respect their rights to make their own decisions for themselves unless their choices cause unjustified harm to other people or other people’s property. This holds where a person’s decision seems unwise to other people, or even where a person’s decision seems unwise on her own terms (for example when a person prioritises short-term interests over long-term happiness and security, such as by opting out of a pension scheme that she wants to be in).

If we accept philosophical libertarianism, we hold that the government and public health community have no right to interfere with people’s right to smoke cigarettes, to treat activities such as gambling as public health concerns, or more generally to prioritise values other than autonomy (or liberty/freedom).

On this view, the great majority of public health activities and agendas are nannying because, regardless of whether in fact they promote better health, they are unjustifiably paternalistic: people have a natural right (on some counts even a duty) to make their own choices without the influence of the state or the public health community.

This is his full description and it is quite inadequate. It suggests that Philosophical Libertarianism is little more than an assertion that the government should leave people alone. There is, of course, a lot more to it than that. John Stuart Mill wrote a whole book about it but Coggan never refers to Mill or his arguments. There is no hint here that the philosophical argument is consequentialist. It is not that libertarians think that free speech, free association and free trade are self-evidently human rights. It is that individuals and society are better off with them than without them.

I would concede to Coggan that the theory of natural rights is just a bald assertion and can be dismissed as much, but there are philosophical and practical arguments for limited government and individual liberty that go far beyond natural rights. Coggan doesn't discuss them but they are mostly covered by what he calls Economic Libertarianism, which he sees as a separate category.

I'm not sure they are separate categories. The line between philosophy and economics is blurred. Mill was both a philosopher and an economist, and economics started as a branch of philosophy. The view in economics that society is best served by free markets unless there are market failures is very similar to the philosophical view that society is best served by individuals being free unless they cause harm to others. But economics is more explicit in its focus on wellbeing (utility) and so I regard it as more useful in explaining why coercive paternalism is harmful.

Unfortunately, Coggan ignores most of the economic arguments and gets the rest of them wrong. He claims that:

Economic libertarians do not (of necessity) claim that health is unimportant; rather, they claim that health is best achieved without public health interventions. 

No they don't! They claim that wellbeing is best achieved without government interventions in self-regarding activities.

He describes his version of Economic Libertarianism at greater length on page 23. This is what he says (in full):

One category of argument against the nanny state holds that, as a matter of practical reality, health outcomes and opportunities are best realised through market freedoms and individual choice.

On this reasoning, most public health measures are economically inefficient. Furthermore, such arguments may hold that health promotion measures and campaigns (for example the provision of a publicly-funded healthcare system; anti-obesity programmes) are harmful to population health as they reduce personal responsibility for health: by providing a ‘safety net’, it is suggested, such policies encourage people to become less healthy by incentivising unhealthy behaviours and attitudes.

From the perspective of economic libertarianism, health protection and promotion are nannying because they infantilise: they leave people who would in fact be able best to take care of their health unable to do so.

This is almost entirely wrong. Very few people, if any, claim that health will be maximised by leaving people to their own devices, although it is true that some 'public health' policies have led to worse health (hello, snus ban!). The claim of economic libertarians is that wellbeing will be maximised. 

Wellbeing is the most important thing and health is only one component of it. There are trade-offs between risk and reward and between health and enjoyment. Maximising health requires sacrificing pleasure and bearing unwanted costs, such as turning away the dessert trolley and going to the gym. Different individuals place different values on the costs and benefits. Some people are more risk averse than others. Some people enjoy going to the gym and some people hate the taste of tobacco. Other people feel quite the opposite. 

It is because people value different things differently that individuals need to make their own trade offs to suit their tastes and preferences. Almost nobody values health and longevity to the exclusion of all other concerns. Maximising health would lead to sub-optimal wellbeing for almost everybody because the sacrifices would be too extreme. As such, coercive policies that are fundamentally rooted in the presumption that health is the most important concern can only do damage - not necessarily to everybody, but to a large number of people.

Why does Coggan think that economic libertarians believe that freedom maximises health? He refers to the idea that people would take better care of themselves if they had to pay for their own healthcare. I have heard people say this on occasion but the evidence for it is weak and it is a side issue at best. It is certainly not the central argument for economic libertarian, as Coggan implies. The real issue is human welfare and utility, which Coggan completely ignores.

In response to his straw man, he writes:

The arguments here rest on empirical claims; arguments (putatively) based on facts about the world. Responding to them therefore relies on evidence-based public health.

This is where members of the public health community likely feel most comfortable responding to nanny state arguments. Arguments devised in response to economic libertarian accusations of nanny statism should be guided by the best interpretation of the scientific evidence: where public health science (e.g. on commercial, political, or social determinants of health) shows that interventions would (likely) improve health or reduce health inequalities, this will rebut economic libertarian arguments.

If the libertarian objection to the nanny state was that it makes people less healthy, it would indeed be easy to rebut. But it isn't. If you want to know what the real economic/libertarian objectives to paternalistic lifestyle regulation are, read Killjoys.

Wednesday 28 November 2018

The facts according to ASH

It must be a nice feeling to know that you can get away with saying whatever you want no matter how untrue it is. That's been Deborah Arnott's fortunate position as the head of ASH for many years now. The facts are whatever she wants them to be.

At the moment she wants Scotland to ban smoking in prisons. This has been a disastrous policy in England and Wales so, writing in The Sun, she simply changes the facts.

In particular, she says...

Fears of riots and unrest were unfounded, and after prisons went smoke-free the level of assaults and self-harm went down, not up, in prisons.

Eh? What about the massive riot at HMP Birmingham last year in which prisoners set fire to large parts of the prison while demanding tobacco?

Or the nine hour riot at HMP Haverigg a month earlier?

Or the riot at Drake Hall Women’s Prison the month before that?

Or the riot at HMP Erlestoke? All of them directly caused by banning smoking.

As for assaults and self-harm going down after smoking was banned in the long roll-out between 2015 and 2018, where to begin? In the year to March 2018 there was a 16 per cent rise in both self-harm and assaults, including a nine per cent rise in serious assaults and a 26 per cent rise in assaults on staff.

Self-harm and assaults are both at a record high in prisons in England and Wales, according to the Ministry of Justice, with rates rising rapidly after 2015.

This has all been widely reported in the press. You may even recall the prisons minister pledging to resign if he doesn't get a grip on the problem.

Nobody would claim that the smoking ban is the sole cause of rising rates of violence and self-harm but to claim that rates have fallen since smoking was banned is as insane as claiming that the ban hasn't led to riots.

Caught red-handed

I spotted this tweet by a chap called Nason Maasi yesterday. He works with Mark Petticrew and Martin McKee at the LSHTM and his view of business is informed by their conspiratorial, Marxist way of thinking.

PMI is Philip Morris International, the tobacco company. And yes, it would be an astonishing thing for them to say if it was 1972.

But it is 2018 and regular readers know that the people who are most likely to economical with the truth are unaccountable, stop-at-nothing, ends-justify-the-means zealots in 'public health'.

To illustrate my point, meet Lindsay Robertson. She is a tobacco control activist-academic from New Zealand who recently made the following claim about PMI's heated tobacco product IQOS...

And now meet Moira Gilchrist, vice-president of PMI, who notes that the video evidence does not support Robertson's claim...

As Nason Maani would say, wow.

Thursday 22 November 2018

The Golden Nannies 2018

(l-r) Simon Clark, Ian O'Doherty and me good self
I was in Dublin for the Golden Nanny Awards on Tuesday night. It's a fun event put on by Forest and Students for Liberty that 'celebrates' the cream of Ireland's paternalistic busybodies. As last year, the winner - Marcella Corcoran Kennedy - turned up in person to pick up her award. One of Ireland's finest journalist, Ian O'Doherty (pictured above), was also given award for fighting the nanny statists.

I gave the opening speech. This is what I said...

Nannies, killjoys, wowsers, curtain-twitching puritans, po-faced poobahs, puritanical prodnoses, lemon-sucking busybodies, meddlesome ratbags, hatchet-faced prohibitionists, fun sponges, health fascists, pocket dictators, little Hitlers, nicotine Nazis, gambling Gestapo, sugar Stasi, tobacco Taliban, interfering, hateful, miserable, little bossy boots whose very existence is a curse on humanity. They suck the light out of the room. The grass withers beneath their feet.

Those are just some of the things people say about the nominees for tonight’s prestigious award, just because they try to stamp out the small pleasures that make life bearable. I think this is unfair. What a lot of people forget is that interfering in other people’s lives is the only pleasure these people get. So in a way, it’s Forest that are the killjoys.

You won’t be hearing any childish name-calling or vulgar abuse from me tonight. I come here in the spirit of friendship. I am British, you are Irish. Rather than fight amongst ourselves, we should unit against our common enemy: Finland. As you may know, I compile the Nanny State Index. It’s fairly self-explanatory; it’s a league table of the most meddling, paternalistic, busybody countries in the EU. Ireland is at number 3, the UK is at number 2.

Finland is at number one. And despite the best efforts of our respective governments, neither of our great nations can get close to Finland which has come top of the table in both editions and looks certain to win again next year.

So the big question for us tonight is what can we do to knock Finland off its perch? At the moment it seems invincible. Its alcohol shops are a state monopoly. It has a ban on liquorice being advertised if it shaped like a pipe. It regulates e-cigarettes like tobacco. You can't even advertise vape juice that doesn't have nicotine in it, in other words: basically water. It doesn't just tax sugary drinks, it taxes non-sugary drinks. It has the highest taxes on beer and wine in Europe and the second highest tax on spirits. It’s illegal to buy a round of drinks in a pub and it's illegal to buy any drinks with a credit card.

And it’s not just Finland we have to worry about. If some of the Eastern European countries carry on like they are, we’ll be lucky to hang on to our bronze and silver medals when the next Nanny State Index comes out. Earlier this year, Lithuania closed the off licences at 8pm and raised the drinking age to 20, making it the only country in Europe where the legal age for buying alcohol isn’t 18 or less. Last year, Estonia slapped a tax on e-cigarette fluid, a tax on all soft drinks - whether they contain sugar or not - hiked up wine duty by a third and doubled the tax on beer.

These countries mean business - and they have decades of experience under totalitarian governments to draw on.

Achieving a podium finish next year, let alone taking Finland's crown, seems a hopeless task but I’m here to tell you to keep your chin up. There are two reasons for Ireland to be optimistic.

Take Estonia. Yes, they doubled the beer tax, but the result was that Estonians went over the border to Latvia to buy their booze, and people from Finland, who had previously being going to Estonia for their beer, went elsewhere. And so the Estonian government lost €90 million in revenue and cancelled their plans for further alcohol tax rises next year.

They bottled it! At the first sign of trouble, they gave up. Ireland would never do that. If there’s one thing the Irish government has proven over the years it’s that no amount of cross-border trade, smuggling and black market activity is going to get in the way of its campaign to stop poor people enjoying themselves.

The second reason is that, as hard as it is to be a genuine world beater in the field of puritanical lifestyle regulation, if anyone can do it, it is the people nominated for this prestigious honour this evening. Although we are only trying to honour the biggest nanny statist in Ireland tonight, it’s difficult to imagine the list of nominees looking much different if it was a global award. We are talking créme de la créme.

There is Simon Harris, who recently celebrated the introduction of minimum pricing as if it was the Emancipation Proclamation.

There is last year's winner Catherine Noone who wants to regulate the amount of sugar that can be put in sweets and wants to regulate the chimes of ice cream vans because, she says, they lure children towards deadly ice creams and lollies.

There’s Marcella Corcoran Kennedy, champion of the sugar tax, who neatly summarised the role of politicians in Irish society, saying - “basically, you’re the mammy.” That’s the spirit!

There’s Donal O’Shea who says “I am not in favour of a nanny state”. This would hinder of his chances of lifting the trophy tonight if it were true, but fortunately it isn’t. He lobbied for the sugar tax and, having achieved that, now wants to tax chocolate and other tasty food. He has said: “The food and drinks industry hides behind kids and uses them as human shields”. Just a normal guy saying normal things.

This year he was in the papers crusading against the perils of Easter Eggs. As it happens, I had the pleasure of meeting him this morning when we were on the radio together. He was keen to assure me that he had been misquoted on this issue. He hadn’t said that Easter Eggs should be restricted to one per household. He said they should be restricted to one per child. I’m happy to set the record straight.

Then there’s Adrian Cummins from the Restaurants Association of Ireland, a man who only takes his foot out of his mouth to shoot it. He said “we were one of the major supporters of the no smoking ban when it first came in. Publicans were opposed to it, we supported it.” He has since called for a ban on smoking outdoors and a ban on vaping indoors. It is only a matter of time before he calls for a ban on consuming food and alcohol in restaurants.

Speaking of smoking bans, no list of Irish nanny statists would be complete without the legendary James Reilly who is surely due a lifetime achievement award. It was largely thanks to James’ tireless efforts that, in 2004, Ireland became the first country in the world to discover the incredible smells that tobacco smoke had been masking in pubs all those years.

But the politicians couldn’t do it without the help of the front groups that they fund with taxpayers’ money to lobby for their own policies, so I was delighted to see not one but two nominations for the tireless workers behind Alcohol Action Ireland, a charity that gets 0.07 per cent of its funding from voluntary donations. The rest comes from the unwitting taxpayer. It took state-funded activism to new heights in 2015 when it set up another group - the Alcohol Health Alliance - specifically to lobby for the Public Health (Alcohol) Bill. The rest is history.

Last but by no means least is Patrick Doorley from that other state-funded pressure group, ASH. He’s always busy. He’s a busy body. This year, he complained to RTE and the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland when a character in a television programme was shown smoking. He’s also been busy trying to get smoking banned on university campuses. And just smoking, vaping too, because he’s not at all keen on vaping and actively discourages smokers from switching to it. The government has capitulated to every ASH demand in recent years - graphic warnings, the display ban, plain packaging, massive tax hikes - and the results speak for themselves. Since 2012 the smoking rate has plummeted from 23% all the way down to 22%. Clearly, this guy knows what he’s doing. If this progress continues, Ireland will have achieved its goal of getting the smoking rate below 5% in the year 2107. Admittedly that is 82 years later than planned - Ireland is supposed to be “tobacco free” by 2025 - but let that take nothing away from these evidence-based, peer-reviewed policies.

Good luck to all the nominees. It’s going to be tough to pick a winner and in a way it’s a shame there has to be winner. To me, they are all losers.

It’s been a pleasure speaking you tonight in perhaps the only country in the world where the term nanny statist is taken as such a compliment that you can get them to come to an event which is aimed at taking the piss out of them.

For those of you who are capable of having a good time, I hope you have one tonight.

Wednesday 21 November 2018

Has problem gambling amongst children quadrupled?

The Gambling Commission published its annual figures on gambling amongst 11-16 year olds today. The media have understandably picked up on one particular statistic.

From the BBC...

Number of child gamblers quadruples in just two years

The number of children classed as having a gambling problem has quadrupled to more than 50,000 in just two years, a report has claimed.

Anti-gambling campaigners have been quick to blame this apparent rise on advertising and online gaming. However, as I explained in a post earlier this year, participation in online gambling is almost non-existent in this age group - not surprising given how difficult it is for a child to set up an account. Insofar as 11-16 year olds use the internet for gambling, it is mostly to buy lottery tickets with their parents' consent.

The most common forms of gambling by children are private bets with friends, wagers on private card games, Category D amusement games (with stake limits of 10p) and the National Lottery. Everything else has a prevalence rate of one per cent or less.

Nevertheless, a quadrupling of problem gambling - from 0.4 per cent to 1.7 per cent - is striking. So striking that it almost defies belief. It is rare for anything to quadruple in two years without a change in methodology. Sure enough, the methodology of the survey that supplies the statistics has been changed significantly.

You have to read the technical report to see what's happened and that report isn't easy to find (I had to ask the Gambling Commission for it). Strangely, it does not mention one of the most important methodological changes which is that the 2016 figure (0.4%) was based on 11-15 year olds whereas the 2018 figure (1.7%) is based on 11-16 year olds.

This makes a big difference because 16 year olds have the highest rate, as you can see by comparing the two charts below.



The Gambling Commission may have decided to not bother mentioning this because the switch to 11-16 year olds happened last year, not in 2018. The change probably explains why the rate appeared to rise from 0.4 per cent in 2016 to 0.9 per cent in 2017, but it cannot explain the apparent rise to 1.7 per cent this year.

But there have been other changes in 2018 which have led to a bigger number. Significantly, the 2018 survey is the first in which the children were given the option of completing the survey online. Previously it had been a written survey only, but this year the schools which participated were given a choice between paper and online - and 70 per cent opted for online.

This doesn't sound like it should make much difference but it does. As the report explains...

One of the key metrics captured in the Gambling Commission’s study is the proportion of young people who are ‘problem’ or ‘at risk’ gamblers, as measured by the DSM-MR-IV-J, a screen consisting of 9 domains (see Chapter 3 for more about the screen). Responses across these domains are aggregated to form an overall score; respondents scoring 4 or more are classified as ‘problem gamblers’ and those scoring 2-3 are ‘at risk’ gamblers. The problem gambling rate among those answering on paper is in line with rates in 2017, while the aggregate 2018 rate (including the online and paper samples) is higher than 2017.

Only those who gamble are given the problem gambling questions. This year, many more children were given these questions because gamblers were screened on the basis of whether they had gambled in the past year rather than - as before - in the past week. The rate of problem gambling is obviously higher among gamblers than among the entire cohort and, again, the online survey produced much higher numbers than the paper survey.

.. the proportion of those screened who were classified as problem gamblers was higher among those responding online (5.6%) than on paper (1.6%), despite similar screening rates (35% and 34%, respectively). This is because online respondents were more likely to indicate problematic behaviour at 7 of the 9 domains on the screen. As such, it appears that differences by mode as well as the improved screening rate are factors in the increased problem gambling rate seen in 2018.

It is not entirely clear why the online version elicits higher rates, nor is it clear which version produces the more accurate responses. The Gambling Commission says that 'respondents are more likely to give responses indicating problematic or socially undesirable behaviour when answering a survey online rather than on paper' and cites this study as evidence.

Whatever the reason, the results from the 2018 survey are simply not comparable to the 2017 survey, let alone the 2016 survey. The 2016 survey was paper only and used a younger cohort.

The 2017 survey had the same age group but it was all paper whereas this year's study was mostly online. The difference this makes becomes crystal clear on page 10 of the technical report. If you compare the paper responses in 2018 to the paper responses in 2017, the rate of problem gambling has actually declined! I've circled the relevant figures below - click to enlarge. The apparent rise is due solely to the online responses.

It is fair to say that the Gambling Commission could have done more to flag up the apples and oranges problem here. They have a section in the technical report titled 'The impact of moving the survey online' but the technical report is not available from their webpage and is only briefly referenced on page 32 of the main report. I doubt any journalists would have read it.

Even if they had, few journalists would pass up the chance to report a quadrupling of problem gambling in the space of just two years. It must have seemed almost too good to be true. As it happens, it isn't true.

Monday 19 November 2018

Teetotallers still dying too young

In April, the Lancet published one of those 'no safe level' studies about alcohol. It was garbage but it got the kind of media coverage its authors doubtless anticipated, with the Guardian declaring that ‘Drinking is as harmful as smoking’ and the BBC asserting that ‘One drink a day “can shorten life”‘. Interestingly, the BBC headline has since been changed to the more credible 'Regular excess drinking can take years off your life' but the damage has been done.

It's all part of the drip-drip campaign to erase the health benefits of alcohol consumption. Lies like this travel the world while the truth is getting its shoes on. Last week, I mentioned the article by Alexandra Freeman and David Spiegelhalter criticising a similar study that was published in August. It did not receive the same level of interest from the media as the original, to put it mildly.

Nor did the letters in Friday's Lancet criticising the April study so I will flag them up here. The trick employed in that study was fiendishly simple. The authors simply removed non-drinkers from the analysis, leaving graphs that imply no health benefits from moderate drinking...

If you put the never-drinkers and ex-drinkers in, the usual J-Curve emerges. Drinkers have to consume quite a lot of booze before their health risks exceed those of teetotallers.

I don't know why it has taken seven months for a rebuttal to this deeply misleading study be published in the Lancet, but two have now come along at once. As the first letter says:

Taking out the non-drinkers as a reference group is the only novelty in this study compared with existing scientific literature, and causes the complete elimination of the left rising arm of the J curve (as shown in the figure and in the Article's appendix, p 31). This is also not the first time a study has suggested that the mortality curve bends at a drink per day or less. By removing the non-drinkers, Wood and colleagues make it difficult to establish whether any amount of moderate alcohol consumption has a different effect to abstaining. Thus, we believe that the study has little to add to existing scientific literature and cannot contribute to public health advice.

The second letter makes a similar point...

Over the past decades, observational studies have taught us a lot about the relation between alcohol consumption and health. The effects of alcohol on health are now understood to differ depending on the amount of alcohol consumed, the age and gender of the consumer,1 and the various endpoints studied. Most studies find that individuals who abstain entirely from alcohol consumption might be worse off than moderate drinkers, and virtually none have reported a beneficial effect of abstention on mortality compared with moderate consumption.

.. By disregarding ex-drinkers and never-drinkers and the differing effects patterns of alcohol consumption had on mortality, the main message emerged that less alcohol consumption was better. A more informative message based on the findings hidden in the appendix could have been that the study added further evidence to support a beneficial effect of moderate alcohol consumption (especially wine) on mortality. The headlines might have then resembled those of just a year ago: “A glass of wine or pint of beer a day can help people to live longer, according to new research”.

The authors have replied to these criticisms but are unable to credibly defend the decision to exclude non-drinkers - who are, after all, the only relevant control group if you're going to encourage total abstinence. They don't deny that non-drinkers have higher rates of mortality than moderate drinkers, nor do they deny controlling for every conceivable confounding factors. Instead they make vague assertions about non-drinkers possibly being unhealthy for reasons nobody can think of.

...never-drinkers might differ systematically from drinkers in ways that are difficult to measure, but might be relevant to disease causation.

Well, they might. Just as heavy drinkers might be more likely to get liver cirrhosis for reasons that have nothing do with drinking, but since every alternative explanation has been studied and found wanting, we would reject this notion as desperate straw-clutching. Same rules apply.

NB. I wrote about this study at the time for Spectator Health.

Friday 16 November 2018

Fall? Did we say fall? We meant rise!

The arse-covering has already begun at the Sheffield University Alcohol Research Group (SARG). Having bet the farm on minimum pricing reducing alcohol consumption in its first year, it's having to deal with the news that consumption has risen in the first six months.

Their worthless model made some very specific predictions about Scotland's first year under MUP:

Alas, consumption has gone up by four per cent (year on year) since the policy was implemented in May - this, against a backdrop of falling consumption over the long-term.

Sensing that the wheels could be falling off already, the Sheffield team are trying to move the goalposts...

The emerging narrative is that the rise in consumption would have been even higher if minimum pricing had not been introduced. This theory has the convenient benefit of being impossible to prove either way and it allows for even more meaningless modelling in the future.

In an interview with the Herald, Sheffield's Colin Angus said:

"A more relevant comparison is to look at alcohol consumption over the same period in England, where MUP is not currently in place.

"Alcohol sales in England rose by substantially more over the same period, suggesting that in the absence of MUP we might have seen a bigger rise in drinking in Scotland.

As tempting as it is to look for immediate impacts of the policy, this volatility means that the real test of MUP will be in how drinking in Scotland changes over the next few years."

Suddenly those predictions for the first year, which were such a big part of the campaign for this regressive policy, are being shoved down the memory hole. "Did we say alcohol consumption would fall? No, no, no! We meant to say it would rise, just a bit more slowly than in England." It's hard to believe than even the SNP would have proceeded with minimum pricing if that was the prospectus.

It's still too early to say what will happen to alcohol consumption, let alone alcohol-related deaths, in the first year. A big decline in the second half of the period is still possible. I have always said that trying to predict the effect of the policy is a fool's errand, other than to say that a shift to spirits is highly likely. But the response from SARG shows that it doesn't matter how far off the mark their predictions turn out to be, they will always find a way to claim minimum pricing 'worked'. 

And yes, it was an unusually hot summer (even in Scotland) and there was a World Cup on (which Scotland wasn't in). Both may have been factors in alcohol consumption rising, although there is an international football tournament every two years so that really should have been accounted for in the model. But we were told that minimum pricing is 'the most effective of a range of policy options' (Scottish Government) and 'a highly effective tool' (every self-proclaimed alcohol expert). It was seen as such a powerful weapon against excessive drinking that the Scottish Government went to court to defend it - and commissioned research from (you guessed it) SARG which concluded that minimum pricing was the single most effective anti-alcohol policy available.

You'd think that a game-changing policy of such potent efficacy would be able to overcome the effects of a few weeks of sunshine and a bit of football on the telly, wouldn't you? 

But apparently not. In the space of six months, the rhetoric around minimum pricing has gone from it being 'the most potent and evidence-based approach to reducing the population’s consumption of alcohol' to 'er, well, it could be worse.'

If minimum pricing continues to have so little effect on alcohol consumption, a rectally sourced regression model will be the only way to spare the campaigners' blushes. We have seen it all before with the Mexican sugar tax, plain packaging and various smoking bans. In each case, the targeted outcome either failed to decline or declined at the same rate as it usually did after the 'game-changing' intervention. And yet, thanks to opaque modelling that can never be tested or replicated, campaigners claimed success - take a look at this study by Jill Pell to see the lengths to which activist-academics go to conjure a positive finding out of nothing.

This is one of many ways in which 'public health' differs from public health. Real public health interventions deliver observable improvements in health. If rates of disease stay the same or rise after a vaccine is introduced, for example, we would rightly conclude that the vaccine doesn't work. But when the intervention works, the results are obvious and immediate. They do not require statistical models to (supposedly) filter out the other factors - though other factors undoubtedly exist. We can see the effects with our own eyes because they do what they are supposed to do. They actually work.

Wednesday 14 November 2018

Who is to blame for junk science? Junk scientists.

Remember the junk study published earlier this year which claimed that there's no safe level of alcohol consumption? No, not that one, or that one. This one. It was reported like this...

No alcohol safe to drink, global study confirms

Bad news for those who enjoy what they think is a healthy glass of wine a day. 

A large new global study published in the Lancet has confirmed previous research which has shown that there is no safe level of alcohol consumption.

The researchers admit moderate drinking may protect against heart disease but found that the risk of cancer and other diseases outweighs these protections.

Note the use of the word 'confirms' in the headline and the implication that most previous research came to the same conclusion when, in fact, almost all research shows health benefits from moderate drinking.

The study was flim flam from start to finish. It involved no new research and instead relied on opaque modelling of crude national data. It contradicted virtually all epidemiological evidence and relied on an implausible large association between drinking and tuberculosis - which is irrelevant in most developed countries in any case - to reach its preordained conclusion. Even after all this, the findings didn't actually support the claim that there is no safe level of alcohol consumption.

Who is to blame when such fake news stories appear - the media, the journal, or the researchers? In a article published yesterday in BMC Medicine, Alexandra Freeman and David Spiegelhalter point the finger at the latter. Using the alcohol study and a study about adrenaline/brain damage as examples of poorly communicated scientific evidence, they write...

The path from research findings to media headlines is often a tortuous one, fraught with various hazards; nevertheless, in the two cases presented above, it is possible to backtrack along the decision-making pathway. Journalists were initially alerted to these two stories by press releases. The alcohol risk study press release included the sub-headline “The authors suggest there is no safe level of alcohol, on which the press chose to focus. The adrenaline study press release stated that “Using adrenaline in cardiac arrests results in less than 1% more people leaving hospital alive – but nearly doubles the survivors’ risk of severe brain damage, with journalists choosing to literally reproduce the press release. Therefore, should the press officers be held accountable? Did they misinterpret the numbers to ‘spin’ the story? No – the press releases actually quoted the researchers verbatim, with the authors’ own interpretations of the numbers being reported.

These two examples illustrate a seemingly continuing pattern, wherein journalists’ reports are fairly accurately reproduced from the press releases they are given and press officers work hard to clearly and accurately represent their authors’ views. Therefore, much of the responsibility lies with the researchers themselves, perhaps feeling under pressure to maximise the ‘publishability’ of studies.

I'm not sure the alcohol study was about 'publishability'. It was no coincidence that it was published in the most political medical journal (the Lancet) a few weeks before the big WHO conference on non-communicable diseases in New York. In the growing war on alcohol, it is important for the 'public health' lobby to erase the health benefits of alcohol. That can only be done with junk science and it will continue.

Tuesday 13 November 2018

Action on Milkshakes

Action on Sugar's shtick is reading the labels on food and drink to see how much sugar is in them and then slapping the figures - always in 'teaspoons' - on a press release with some outraged quotes about how 'shocking' it is. They have been doing this for several years but the media still lap it up.

This week it's the turn of milkshakes. Milkshakes generally consist of around 10 per cent sugar, so a 400ml serving will have about 40 grams of sugar. They tend to have around 60-70 calories per 100ml. They're obviously not a health food but they are very tasty.

Public Health England, in its madness, wants to cap calories in milkshakes to 300 per serving. It is Action on Sugar's job to make Public Health England seem relatively reasonable. To that end, they are calling for it to be a crime to sell a milkshake with more calories than this.

In its early days, Action on Sugar only counted added sugar (AKA extrinsic sugar). In that context it made sense to talk about teaspoons. It also had some relevance to the government's sugar guidelines which, arbitrary and unjustifiable though they are, relate to added sugar, not the sugar that occurs naturally in the product (intrinsic sugar).

Those days are over - and it makes a big difference. Plain old semi-skimmed milk is 5 per cent sugar and has 50 calories per 100ml. In other words, the intrinsic sugar (lactose) is responsible for most of the sugar in a milkshake and the milk is responsible for most of the calories. Grams of lactose are in no sense 'teaspoons' and they do not count towards your daily sugar 'limit'.

Ignoring this entirely, Action on Sugar put out a press release yesterday saying:


Milkshakes sold across high street restaurants and fast food chains contain grotesque levels of sugar and calories, warns NEW survey by Action on Sugar

Some have a shocking 39 teaspoons of sugar – over 6 TIMES the recommended daily amount of sugar for a 7- to 10-year-old

At the top of their list, with 39 'teaspoons' of sugar is the Toby Carvery Unicorn Freakshake. Freakshakes were pretty much invented to annoy the kind of people who would set up a group called Action on Sugar, but they are desserts, not milkshakes. That's why they are on the dessert menu and come with a spoon. Two of the other villainous milkshakes in their top 6 are also freakshakes. The other three are patently indulgent drinks from Five Guys and Pizza Hut. It would be unwise for the average person to consume any of these everyday, and nobody does.

Of the milkshakes available in supermarkets, only one exceeds Public Health England's calorie limit - and only just, with 304 calories. Faced with this disappointing result, Action on Sugar resort to complaining that '90% of the 41 products surveyed (sic) would receive a 'red' (high) label for excessive levels of sugar per serving as sold'. Well, d'uh. They're milkshakes.

The press release contains a quote from Holly Gabriel, a nutritionist, who does a good impression of a finger-wagging scold who should mind her own business:

“It is unnecessary and unacceptable to sell milkshakes with over half an adult’s daily calorie needs in a single serving. There should be a limit of 300kcal per serving on these drinks."

Unnecessary? Unacceptable? In a free society, that is surely for the individual to decide.

Equally outraged is Linda Greenwall from the Dental Wellness Trust...

"These findings are remarkable, especially given tooth decay among children in Britain is now at a record high, largely because food and drink products are packed with unnecessary sugar."

Given that Linda is a dentist working for a dental charity it is hard to believe that she is ignorant of the fact that tooth decay among children in Britain is at a record low...

The Office for National Statistics has run the Children’s Dental Health Survey since 1983 and the figures are striking. The number of 12-year-olds who exhibited clear signs of tooth decay fell from 81 per cent in 1983 to 28 per cent in 2013. One in three kids of this age had a cavity in 1983 but by 2013 this had fallen to one in nine. 

Perhaps she is deliberately lying? Why would she do that?

And there's that word 'unnecessary' again. Unnecessary to what? Not unnecessary to flavour, clearly. Sugar costs money. Restaurants wouldn't use it unless it improved the taste.

Look, we know that milkshakes are unnecessary to sustain life. Added sugar is unnecessary, technically speaking, but so is alcohol, sausage rolls, vape juice and the latest remastered version of the White Album but I'm going to keep buying them anyway because I like them. Whether you think they are unnecessary - or, heaven forfend, unacceptable - is of no account and the government should not be banning things because they are 'unnecessary', nor because they exceed a recommended quantity of some ingredient or other. The clue is in the word 'recommended'.

As always, the only response to this hand-wringing wowserism is that if you don't like these products - or if you don't want your children consuming them - then don't buy them.


I was on the telly this morning talking about this. There are some clips below...

Monday 12 November 2018

Alcohol sales up four per cent since minimum pricing

Six months after the introduction of minimum pricing in Scotland, data emerges in dribs and drabs. We'll have to wait for at least a year for official data on alcohol-related deaths, although we may get some modelled estimates and propaganda from the 'public health' lobby before then.

In the meantime, various sales figures have been released. So far, my prediction of a big fall in strong cider sales combined with a rise in spirits sales seems to have been borne out (not that this was hard to predict).

White cider sales are indeed down...

Sales of super-strength Frosty Jack’s cider have plummeted by 70 per cent in Scotland since minimum booze pricing came in, a report reveals.

The Retail Data Partnership found the sales value for the tipple, which contains 22.5 units per three-litre bottle, fell from £148,605 between May and September 2017 to £46,289 in the same period this year.

But the Retail Data Partnership also found that overall alcohol sales in the convenience sector rose by 14.9 per cent between May and July compared to the previous period in 2017. They confirm that 'gin sales leaped hugely', as was first reported in October:

Brian Eagle-Brown of The Retail Data Partnership (TRDP) gave an overview of convenience performance in recent months, noting that alcohol sales were up “across the board” since the implementation of MUP.

“What was unexpected is that the result of minimum pricing is not declining, but actually increasing alcohol sales. Gin sales are up 90% year on year,” he said.

It was recently reported that Scots are drinking an extra two million bottles of wine since MUP was implemented. As for Scotland's best selling beer...

Tennent’s owner C&C Group said Scotland’s best-selling lager brand had traded well since the introduction of minimum unit pricing north of the Border.... During the six months to the end of August, Tennent’s volumes were up by 1 per cent in the off-trade...

And there's then Scotland's most notorious tipple, the caffeinated wine Buckfast AKA wreck-the-hoose-juice...

Scots are glugging an extra 3,600 bottles of Buckfast a day in the wake of minimum pricing. Sales of ‘Bucky’ have soared since the SNP’s crackdown on cheap alcohol, with Scots drinkers turning to the potent tonic wine.

Nats introduced minimum unit pricing in May and sales of Buckfast have since risen by £5.3million to £36.5million.

It should be noted that both Tennent's and Buckfast cost more than 50p a unit before minimum pricing was introduced. It is not surprising that semi-premium drinks priced just above 50p have benefited from MUP (indeed, the makers of Tennent's actively lobbied for the policy). More interesting is the impact on the total market. So far, volumes are up...

Scots spent 11 per cent more on drink, and consumed four per cent more, than in the same 24 weeks last year.

I don't remember a rise in alcohol sales being in the model. Do you?

Friday 9 November 2018

Scrooge's victory

Killjoys hate Christmas. Nobody is in the mood to listen to their whining during the festive season and so they go to ground and prepare their (dry) January media assault. But it's not Christmas yet and November is the time for bitching about the Coca-Cola truck. This is a relatively recent tradition dating back to 2015 when the disgraced MP and sweet shop proprietor Keith Vaz told Coke not to come to Leicester.

Last year, attention switched to Liverpool where Councillor Richard Kemp, a miserable bastard from an obscure political party, called for the truck to be banned, citing the fictional childhood obesity epidemic as justification. His campaign was supported by Public Health England's chief fat cat, Duncan Selbie as well as Simon 'caps lock' Capewell and several local 'public health' groups including Food Active and the Health Equalities Group.

The Coca-Cola truck tour schedule for 2018 was published this week and Liverpool isn't on the list. Naturally, some the worst people in the country are celebrating this as a campaign win.

The tweet below nicely captures the snobbery of the 'public health' racket and the appetite for banning anything that doesn't personally appeal to them.

Coca-Cola say that last year's campaign has nothing to do with Liverpool being left out this time. They say they change the route every year. This may be true. Who knows? But as far as the likes of Food Active are concerned, they found something that gives a lot of people a little bit of joy and stamped it out. It must be very satisfying for them.

Regular readers will not be surprised to hear that Food Active is a taxpayer-funded pressure group, albeit a rather strange one. It is one of a network of interchangeable nanny state groups set up by Heart of Mersey, including Give Up Loving Pop (GULP), Healthy Stadia and HoM Partnerships. Heart of Mersey's trading name is the Health Equalities Group. I was looking at their accounts recently. They make for interesting reading.

Heart of Mersey is, as it states in its accounts, ‘primarily an advocacy organisation’. It has four trustees, one of whom is the aforementioned Simon Capewell. Its official charitable objective is to tackle cardiovascular disease but it puts most of its efforts into clamping down on e-cigarettes and fizzy drinks.

In 2016/17 Heart of Mersey had an income of £63,088 but it spent £239,974, of which £166,632 went on staff costs. Not bad going for an organisation that only employs two people.

It has been spending much more than it pulls in for years. Between 2013 and 2017, it had an income of £1,770,555 but spent £2,471,081 - a £700,526 overspend. But it could afford it. Heart of Mersey used to get grants from the NHS and by the time these dried up in 2012 they had £853,506 in the bank. They have been ploughing through this pot of cash ever since. Its (dwindling) income has mainly come from local authorities.

But the party is nearly over. By 2016/17 the bank reserves had fallen to £9,285. In 2017/18, Heart of Mersey spent £22,000 from an income of £15,000. It is now so small that it doesn't need to file accounts with the Charity Commission, but it doesn't take Carol Vorderman to work out that the money has all gone. Unless they attract some serious money soon they won't be able to pay the rent.

In its last (ever?) set of accounts, Heart of Mersey say:

These are clearly very challenging economic times for charities whose main commissioners are traditionally within the public sector. This has been reflected in our reduced income.

With judicious use of the charity's reserves, built up over its eleven year history, Heart of Mersey is able to continue its heart health activities.

Its not clear how the charity managed to save up so much money, nor why the money was not spent on its intended purpose at the time. So far as one can tell, Heart of Mersey has always been overwhelmingly funded by the taxpayer. For the last six years it has been burning through what is essentially a slush fund for handsomely remunerated northwest nanny statists.

It could be time to say farewell to Heart of Mersey/the Health Equalities Group. Half its trustees have quit in the last two years and it's old secretary, the disagreeable vape-hating Robin Ireland, has scuttled off to Glasgow to do a PhD.

But its network of front groups lives on. Food Active is still getting money from local authorities, some of which is used to fund the ludicrous GULP. Healthy Stadia, which is principally focused on banning vaping in outdoors sports grounds, is still getting money from the European Commission.

The sockpuppet state is a many headed beast.

PS. You might be interested to learn that another hectoring charity, the National Obesity Forum, no longer exists. In its last year as a going concern, it raised a grand total of £10. This is a shame for Tam Fry who I also found to be a sincere, if misguided, gentleman. But that's what happens when you let Aseem Malhotra and his reverse Midas touch near your operation.

Wednesday 7 November 2018

Slippery slope: Meat tax edition

I told you this would happen...

Taxing red meat would save many lives and raise billions to pay for healthcare, according to new research. It found the cost of processed meat such as bacon and sausages would double if the harm they cause to people’s health was taken into account.

It is a modelling study (of course) involving Marco Springmann and our old friend Mike Rayner. The estimates of risk and mortality used are ridiculously high and the levels of tax they recommend are politically impossible for the time being. I was pleased to see the Chief Secretary to the Treasury give it short shrift...

But it's early days. What happens next is that a load of money goes into this field of research, more and more modelling studies are produced with each suggesting greater benefits than the last. Eventually, the evidence becomes 'overwhelming' and a future government, under pressure from environmentalists, vegans and 'public health', puts the idea out to public consultation. It dithers for a while but eventually introduce a tax at a rate of 10 or 20 per cent after pressure groups accuse it of being in the pocket of Big Pork.

I've written about this for the Spectator...

Leaving aside the garbage-in, garbage-out methodology at the root of these numbers, it seems unlikely that a British government – even one that bans plastic straws and taxes fizzy drinks – will introduce a 78 per cent tax on processed meat any time soon, although that is what the authors recommend. It is even less likely that everybody in the world will go vegan, although that is what the lead author, Marco Springmann, told delegates needed to happen at the End of Meat conference last year.

And yet every nanny state policy sounds absurd until the public have been battered with soundbites, dodgy statistics and empty promises for a few years. Nobody who has witnessed the unstoppable rise of the ‘public health’ movement over the last two decades can dismiss the possibility of a meat tax being introduced in the foreseeable future, probably followed by an advertising ban and graphic warnings.

Do have a read.

Tuesday 6 November 2018

Rage against the dying of the light

I was on TRT yesterday talking about one of my favourite subjects - daylight summer time. I am very much 'pro'. It was a full half hour discussion with several experts giving different perspectives. Here it is...

I was involved in an entertaining debate on this issue with Peter Hitchens in 2016 to mark the 100th anniversary of the clocks going forward for the first time. The video never surfaced but there is a samizdat audio recording if you're interested.

Sunday 4 November 2018

FOBT chat

Further to my post about the 'delay' in implementing the 98 per cent stake reduction for fixed odds betting terminals, I did a few interviews about this on Friday including this one with Jeremy Vine. The other guest was - as it so often is - Matt Zarb-Cousin.

If you feel like listening to it, the interview starts at 14 mins 25 secs.

Thursday 1 November 2018

A final trick from the anti-FOBT spivs

My favourite fact about the campaign against fixed-odds betting terminals (FOBTs) is that the term 'crack cocaine of gambling' - which is routinely used to describe them - was coined in the 1980s by Donald Trump when he was lobbying against the digital competition of his casinos.

How fitting it is that the anti-FOBT crusade - which is also run by a casino tycoon - should look to the Donald for inspiration. Fake news has been at the heart of the campaign from the outset, but the media have shown no interest in finding out the facts. As a result, a small but extraordinarily well funded campaign group has got away with claiming that problem gambling rates are doubling every few years (they haven't risen since records began in 1999), that the number of bookmakers has risen exponentially (it's gone down) and that the machines are almost uniquely associated with problem gambling (the Gambling Commission concluded in 2016 that 'there is no consistent evidence that particular gambling activities are predictive of problem gambling, after controlling for the level of involvement').

All of these claims can be checked within minutes. Journalists did not do so because, I suspect, they and their readers wanted to believe them. It was a good old-fashioned moral panic about a gambling product that most people have never played and know nothing about. What happens next is hundreds of bookmakers go out of business, gamblers migrate to the internet, and problem gambling rates stay the same (or get worse). Gambling advertising will be blamed and banned in short order. The whirlwind of destruction will go on.  

It is apt that this grubby debacle should end with the same kind of deceit that has characterised the last six years of campaigning. Tracey Crouch has today resigned as sports minister, supposedly because the government has delayed the stake reduction (from £100 to £2). Although this is being widely reported, it is not true.

The decision to lower the stake to £2 was announced in May. No date was given. In June, the government announced that implementation would take place in April 2020. Then, in the Budget on Monday, it was announced that the date would be pushed forward to October 2019.

At no point has the government ever suggested that it would be implemented as early as April 2019 (bookies clearly need ample time to prepare for this shattering blow) and yet the anti-FOBT crowd has somehow conned the media into believing that the switch to October 2019 represents a 'six-month postponement' (the Guardian) and a 'U-turn' (New Statesman) rather than the six month acceleration that it is.

How do Derek Webb and his boys do it? Hypnotism? Are they Jedis? Do they have incriminating photos of newspaper editors? It's quite remarkable that these people have fooled so many people about easily verifiable facts for so long.

Apparently Webb's next dragon to slay is online gambling, so expect everything you know about that to be wrong in five years time.

The minimum pricing model is, was and will always be wrong

A study was published in the European Journal of Health Economics last month looking at the price elasticity of alcohol. It showed, for the umpteenth time, that heavy drinkers are less responsive to price rises than moderate drinkers.

.. we examine the extent to which drinkers respond to price changes by varying the ‘quality’ of the alcohol that they consume. We find that heavy drinkers are much less responsive to price in terms of quantity, but that they are more likely to substitute with cheaper products when the price of alcohol increases.

This can be filed under 'things that are so obvious only an academic could disbelieve them'. Not all heavy drinkers are alcoholics but all alcoholics are heavy drinkers - and alcoholics are plainly more likely to sacrifice over expenditure to get hold of booze. Moreover, non-dependent heavy drinkers presumably like alcohol a lot more than light drinkers.

This has been shown in many previous studies. For example...

The results indicate that both light and heavy drinkers are much less price elastic than moderate drinkers. Further, we cannot reject the hypothesis that the very heaviest drinkers have perfectly price inelastic demands.

In other words, the price-demand relationship is U-shaped, with moderate drinkers more likely to reduce their consumption in the face of price rises than either light or heavy drinkers.

There is nothing particularly note-worthy about this except for the fact that the Sheffield Alcohol Model makes exactly the opposite assumption. The authors of the new study flag this up in the text:

Scotland introduced minimum unit pricing on alcohol in May 2018, with a floor price of 50 pence ($0.67; €0.57) per unit. Modelling by Brennan et al. suggests that a 45 pence (US$0.60; €0.51) minimum unit price would affect the price of 12.5% of the units purchased by ‘moderate’ drinkers compared to 30.5% of the units purchased by ‘harmful’ drinkers. The price elasticities in this modelling predict that a 45 pence minimum unit price would decrease consumption by 0.6% for moderate drinkers, compared to a decrease of 3.7% for harmful drinkers. However, the modelling is based on pseudo-panel estimates that impose a constant price elasticity across the drinking distribution. If harmful drinkers were less price responsive than moderate drinkers, then the effects predicted in the modelling work will be incorrect. Since the marginal health and social harms are assumed to be increasing with consumption, the modelling work will thus overstate the health and social harm reduction of minimum unit pricing.

That is pretty much what John Duffy and I said six years ago in a report for the Adam Smith Institute:

By wrongly assuming that heavy drinkers are more sensitive than the general population to changes in the price of alcohol as a product category, the Sheffield model not only overestimates the putative health benefits to be derived from minimum pricing, but also overestimates the drop in overall consumption that is likely to take place (since heavier drinkers consume a disproportionate quantity of alcohol).

.. In summary, the Sheffield research does not give a prediction of what will happen under a minimum pricing regime. At best, it offers a shaky guesstimate of what might occur under a minimum pricing regime if the Ledermann hypothesis is correct, if harmful drinkers are more price-sensitive than moderate drinkers, if there is no illicit alcohol market and if there are no health benefits to be derived from moderate alcohol consumption. Since the first two of these assumptions are highly questionable and the latter two assumptions are demonstrably false, the Sheffield research has no practical merit and does not deserve the exalted status it has been afforded in the policy debate

The Sheffield model was not only instrumental in persuading the Scottish government to adopt minimum pricing, it was also instrumental in the Scottish government winning the court case that allowed it to overcome EU rules.

But it's flim flam. It was always flim flam, and it won't be long before we have solid evidence from Scotland confirming this.