Friday, 16 August 2019

Cooking For Bureaucrats

The IEA has an important new report out today - Cooking for Bureaucrats - which looks at the government’s food reformulation scheme. With the noble exception of Laura Donnelly at the Telegraph, journalists have shown little interest in this deranged plan to remake the food supply to satisfy the loonies at Action on Sugar.

Combining investigative journalism and economic analysis, Josie Appleton shows how vast and crazy the whole thing is. It is devoid of common sense and divorced from the wants of consumers. PHE are making it up as they go. For example...

Many of the targets are surreal, such as the recommendation that sweets should contain less than 50 per cent sugar, when boiled sweets are almost solely made up of sugar; or the request that fudge, made from sugar and butter/cream, should decrease its sugar content without increasing its fat content. The guideline for sugar content in nut butters is less than that naturally occurring in cashew nuts. The calorie guideline for olive bread (254kcal per 100g) is lower than that of a plain baguette or ciabatta. The calorie reduction figure for crisps and nuts is 403kcal per 100g, whereas plain peanuts (not allowing for roasting) are 600kcal per 100g.

PHE is also trying to introduce ‘calorie caps’ for a huge range of food products. Josie got hold of the documents showing how these are calculated. They are extraordinary. PHE takes the sales weighted average and simply knocks off 20 per cent. As the graphs below show, this often means making food which is currently at the extreme end of the distribution. It is at the extreme end because hardly anybody wants or needs it.

She has also used Freedom of Information requests to obtain emails between PHE and two groups: the food industry and the nanny state lobby groups Action on Sugar/Salt. These are also illuminating. For example...

This private communication shows that PHE work closely on the development of policy with NGOs. Policies are run past the pressure groups in their early stages, and only released to industry for consultation much later. For example, OHA was briefed on the calorie reduction programme in August 2017, seven months before consultation with industry food bodies (March 2018). In September 2017, OHA had a ‘catch-up meeting’ with PHE, discussing excess calorie definitions, and portion size recommendations, timelines and reporting mechanisms, and the role of the NGO sector. They arrange meetings not to formally consult, but to ‘swap notes’ or ‘catch up’, or to ‘update you on some work we are doing’. They congratulate each other on report launches or media appearances. 
Interest groups are included in policy plans at an early stage, and play a role in the development of these plans, which are later presented to industry as a done deal, to be tweaked but not substantially changed. PHE and Action on Sugar (AOS) exchange emails almost every week, and seem to have a meeting in person around once a month (after each meeting they email to ‘get another date in the diary soon’).

...These health lobby groups appear to be dismissive of the actual public - the choices that people make and the opinions they actually have. They see themselves as speaking in the name of public health, which they present as being a matter of life and death, and are therefore above any profane manifestation of the public, such as what people themselves may think or want. In an email to PHE, AOS said that the aim of the reformulation policy is to ‘save millions of children from disability or early death’, and that ‘[t]his is the priority - not the profits of the food industry, or even public opinion’. The interest of public health policy, then, is something that stands above - and even against - public opinion: it claims a higher mission. So AOS is able to masquerade as the true public good, as standing above the millions of people who actually form the public.

You can download the report for free. I recommend you do. It will be an eye-opener.

Thursday, 15 August 2019

The Nanny State Index conference 2019

The new Nanny State Index was published in May, bigger and better than ever. Next month sees the Nanny State Index conference. It's in Brussels and free tickets are available to anyone who registers.

There will be a keynote speech at 9am followed by three panel discussions and a lunch. Needless to say, I will be there. Join us if you can.

The panel discussions are:

09.30 – 10.30: Benign paternalism across the EU: does the end justify the means?  
Many European countries implemented sugar taxes, plain packing of tobacco products, and other policies that claim to improve the health of their citizens. What are the outcomes of these policies; did life expectancy improve faster in countries with stricter lifestyle regulations than in the countries without such restrictions? Did junk food consumption decrease as a result of the ‘fat tax’ in Hungary or Denmark? Do nations consume less alcohol where minimum pricing and/or high sin taxes were implemented? This panel reviews with local decision makers and public policy experts, how the intended and unintended consequences of lifestyle regulations have been realized.

10.50 – 11.50: Whose responsibility? 
Paying more attention to health and well-being has been both a priority for the political and the corporate sector. Now, more than ever, there is increased attention to provide healthier alternatives in all sectors. Who bears the primary responsibility for improving health outcomes of individuals? Do policy makers on the regional, national, or EU-level have a duty of care? What are the responsibilities of corporates, when it comes to providing healthier alternatives or discontinuing certain products? Should there be a focus on individuals and their particular lifestyle choices? If so, are there clear lines, between benevolent nudging towards certain choices, and arbitrary limitations on the freedom of choice?

12.10 – 13.10: Overregulation & the shadow economy
Regulations often have unintended consequences which were never the aim of policy makers in the first place. Unrealistically high tax rates, bans, and other restrictions on consumer choice push a certain segment of consumption from the legal and regulated area into illegality.
What are the concrete impacts of such regulatory policies on the shadow economy? What plays a more important role in fighting the shadow economy – levels of taxation, the amount of regulation, public perception, detection & penalties, or the income level of citizens? New empirical research from the Lithuanian Free Market Institute provides unique evidence of the actual drivers of the shadow economy and a comprehensive cross-country perspective.

Speakers to be confirmed.

Wednesday, 14 August 2019

Burning injustice tackled

This advert has just been banned in the UK after three cranks complained. See if you can work out why.

The answer, such as it is, can be found here. Thank you, Theresa May.

Monday, 12 August 2019

Panorama on gambling - wrong again

It looks like Panorama is going to have yet another pop at gambling tonight. Having dealt with fixed odds betting terminals, it now reports that people can bet much larger sums of money online - as I repeatedly pointed out when I was virtually the lone voice opposing the anti-FOBT crusade.

A BBC article promoting the show ('Addicted to Gambling') says...

High stakes betting machines have been banned from the High Street, but there are no legal limits for online games. That means customers can lose thousands of pounds in just a few minutes.

No kidding. If only someone had mentioned this earlier, eh?

The article - and I presume also the programme - makes a striking claim about the amount of money spent (or 'lost' as the BBC sees it) on gambling. It says that there has been 'a sharp increase in UK gambling over the past decade' and that...

The industry has expanded rapidly since the government relaxed restrictions on betting and advertising in 2007.

It also claims that...

Gamblers are now losing almost twice as much to the betting companies as they were a decade ago. Last year, punters lost a record £14.5bn.

How 'sharp' has the increase been since in the last decade? The Gambling Commission records a gross gambling yield (ie. money taken minus winnings paid out) of £8,365 million in 2008/09 which, adjusted for inflation, is £11,400 million in today's money. The figure for 2017/18 was £14,529 million.

That's a rise of 27 per cent in real terms. An increase, but not an especially sharp one and certainly not 'almost twice as much', as the BBC claims.

However, as anyone who is familiar with these figures knows, the totals from the last few years are simply not comparable with those from a decade ago. Until 2015/16, most online gambling revenue was not included in the figures. It wasn't until the Gambling (Licensing and Advertising) Act of 2014 that remote gambling by UK consumers was regulated (and taxed) at the point of consumption, with any company trading on the British market having to hold a Gambling Commission licence.

This was George Osborne's way of taxing the offshore industry. Once introduced, billions of revenue that had not previously been recorded suddenly appeared on the books. In 2013/14, remote gambling spend was recorded at £1.1 billion. Two years later, it jumped to £4.2 billion.

Needless to say, this did not reflect a quadrupling of online gambling in Britain. All it showed was that a lot of offshore gambling spend had previously gone unrecorded because the companies were not based in the UK, did not pay tax in the UK and did not hold a UK gambling licence.

If you look at the Gambling Commission's figures, the step change between 2013/14 and 2015/16 is obvious. Click to enlarge.

For some reason, the Commission has switched from financial years to October-September years in the most recent year, but that's not important. The big picture is that gambling spend has fallen in real terms in arcades, betting shops, bingo halls in the last ten years. (Yes, you read that correctly - it has fallen in betting shops). Spending on the National Lottery has also fallen.

Gross gambling yields have remained about the same in casinos and have risen in the relatively small non-state lottery sector.

The only substantial sector that has seen an increase in real terms spending is online. That should come as no surprise, but we don't know the scale of the increase in the last decade because the figures are not comparable.

Has gambling spend increased in real terms in the last decade? Probably, but not by much, and if there has been a rise, it has come almost exclusively from online and we know that most online gambling spend was not recorded until 2015/16. The claim that overall gambling spend has nearly doubled is absurd. Panorama really needs to be put out of its misery.

Friday, 9 August 2019

The smoking ban miracle revisited

Remember this, from 2013?

The number of children admitted to hospital with symptoms of asthma has fallen since the ban on smoking in enclosed public places came into effect, a study has found.  
Research shows there was a 12.3% fall in admissions in the first year after the law was introduced in July 2007, and these have continued to drop in subsequent years, suggesting that any benefits of the legislation have been sustained.

The claim was a lie and the study was junk science, as I showed at the time. Stanton Glantz was one of the authors. Nuff said.

It was followed shortly afterwards by this equally false claim...

The smoking ban in public places has been linked to 1,900 fewer emergency hospital admissions for asthma patients every year, researchers have found. The ban, which came into force in England in July 2007, has been associated with an annual 5% drop in adult admissions, they said.

Anyone who bothered to look at routine hospital data could see that none of this was true. There was no downward trend in admissions for children or adults.

Emily Humphreys, head of policy and public affairs at the charity Asthma UK, said: "Eight out of 10 people with asthma tell us that other people's smoke makes their asthma worse. 
"That's why we campaigned for the smoke-free laws and are delighted to see evidence of the benefits these are having on the millions of people with asthma in England.

But reality has a way of intruding on the carefully constructed fictions of the nanny state industry. Two years earlier, in 2011, Asthma UK had noted that the number of emergency admissions for asthma among young people had ‘remained unchanged for a decade’.

Today, the same organisation released figures showing that...

Asthma deaths in England and Wales 'highest in a decade'

Deaths from asthma in England and Wales are the highest they have been in more than a decade, according to analysis of official data.

Sadly, they are much higher than they were in 2007 when the smoking ban came into effect.

Yet another big win for ‘public health’.

Wednesday, 7 August 2019

Last Orders with Julia Hartley-Brewer

There’s a new episode of the Last Orders podcast out. Our special guest is Julia Hartley-Brewer and we discuss cannabis legalisation, tobacco prohibition and the collapse of AG Barr’s shares since the company degraded Irn-Bru.

It’s a good one. Give it a listen.