Monday, 17 February 2020

Off-Air with Mike Graham

I did a half hour interview with TalkRadio's Mike Graham today. We discussed the BBC, cancel culture and various other topics.

And here it is...

Friday, 14 February 2020

The miserable failure of Thailand's anti-alcohol laws

Thailand is one of the 'public health' industry's posterboys: an early adopter of graphic warnings and heavy temperance legislation, as well as being a fierce opponent of vaping.

In 2008, the country passed a slew of 'evidence-based' anti-alcohol measures to tackle a perceived epidemic of underage drinking. The Alcoholic Beverage Control Act (2008) raised the drinking age from 18 to 20, banned the sale of alcohol in places frequented by youth and banned all alcohol advertising.

It was a dream come true for the neo-temperance lobby and included some of the WHO's 'best buys'.

As recommended by the WHO, cost-effective policy measures to reduce harmful use of alcohol and alcohol-related harm, especially among vulnerable populations such as children and adolescents, include restricting the physical availability of alcohol, regulating alcohol marketing and pricing policy, particularly when implemented alongside other strategies. Thailand is one of the countries which has been actively tackling alcohol consumption and related harm in the past decades following WHO recommendations.

This quote comes from a new study that looked at youth drinking rates before and after the legislation took effect. So how did things turn out?

Compared to 2007, students across all school levels in 2016 were 1.17 to 2.74 times as likely to have drunk alcohol in their lifetime, with the greatest increases among students of lower school levels.

Another big 'public health' win! What a Midas touch this field of 'science' has.

The rise in drinking was particularly pronounced among girls, twice as many of whom consume alcohol now than they did before the law was introduced. 

The authors of the study conclude that...

.. despite tremendous efforts in the prevention of underage drinking, including this Act, the implementation of the National Alcohol Policy Strategy along with several social movements, the prevalence of alcohol consumption among Thai youth has not decreased. In fact, it was found that the drinking prevalence has substantially increased, especially among female students and younger students, when compared to the year before the Act.

I believe this is known as an epic fail.

Overall, we could say that the Act seems to fail in preventing underage and youth drinking in Thailand, a result paralleling other studies, which found mixed effects of alcohol policies (35,36).

Don't expect this to lead to a moment's reflection in the 'public health' racket. As I have said many times, it is not a results-driven business.

No wonder they prefer computer models.

Thursday, 13 February 2020

Government-approved chocolate fails to sell

We barely knew thee

This is becoming a familiar story.

In December 2016, the confectionery company Nestlé announced... 

Nestlé’s groundbreaking material science makes less sugar taste just as good

Imagine if your favourite chocolate bar tasted just as good, but with much less sugar. This could soon be a reality, thanks to a major breakthrough by Nestlé scientists.

Using only natural ingredients, researchers have found a way to structure sugar differently. So even when much less is used in chocolate, your tongue perceives an almost identical sweetness to before.

The discovery will enable Nestlé to significantly decrease the total sugar in its confectionery products, while maintaining a natural taste.

“This truly groundbreaking research is inspired by nature and has the potential to reduce total sugar by up to 40% in our confectionery,” said Stefan Catsicas, Nestlé Chief Technology Officer.

“Our scientists have discovered a completely new way to use a traditional, natural ingredient.”

.. The research will accelerate Nestlé’s efforts to meet its continued public commitment to reducing sugar in its products.

In March 2018, the Guardian reported...

Nestlé says it has harnessed science to reduce the sugar in chocolate

Company claims that Milkybar Wowsomes contain 30% less sugar than regular Milkybars

Nestlé is claiming a world first by “restructuring” the sugar it uses in its confectionery to produce a white chocolate bar with 30% less sugar than its usual Milkybar brand.

Nestlé is the world’s leading producer of packaged foods, but the new “structured sugar” is being produced in its factory in Dalston in Cumbria, a result of UK government pressure on food companies to cut the sugar to help curb childhood obesity.

Chocolate and confectionery companies are thought to have an uphill task, because sugar is intrinsic to their products.

This was all done to help the company meet Public Health England's target of cutting sugar across the board by 20 per cent. As often happens with food reformulated with less sugar, the new product - Milkybar Wowsomes - was barely less calorific than the original, with 529 calories per 100g as opposed to 543 calories per 100g in a standard Milkybar. Nevertheless, PHE's Alison Tedstone praised the company's 'leadership'...

PHE’s chief nutritionist, Dr Alison Tedstone, was enthusiastic about the new reduced sugar chocolate bar. “This latest announcement shows innovation has a role to play in making everyday foods healthier and Nestlé’s leadership in this area should be applauded,” she said.
“We hope this announcement will encourage other companies to explore the use of technology to make significant reductions and produce healthier products to meet the government’s 20% target by 2020.”

Alas, and not for the first time, the public didn't share PHE's enthusiasm for food designed to suit targets rather than tastes, and today came some more news...

Nestle axes low sugar chocolate due to weak sales

Nestle has axed its range of chocolate that used a new low-sugar technique, less than two years after it was launched.

The Swiss food giant said demand for its Milkybar Wowsomes had been "underwhelming".

.. The announcement highlights a major issue facing the world's big processed food producers. While governments and many consumers have called for lower-sugar products, most people have yet to warm to less sweet alternatives.

To put it mildly. And it is overwhelmingly governments, not consumers, who are calling for such products.

At the time of the launch Stefano Agostini, Nestle's chief executive for UK and Ireland, said: "A new product like Milkybar Wowsomes introduces greater choice and allows parents to treat their children with chocolate that tastes great but has less sugar.

"We are demonstrating how we can, and will, contribute to a healthier future and that we take our public health responsibilities very seriously," he added.

The company makes sweets and chocolate. It doesn't have any 'public health responsibilities'. If you want to lose weight, don't eat chocolate. That is the start and end of the conversation.

Tuesday, 11 February 2020

BBC re-edits minimum pricing story

In early December, the BBC outdid itself by reporting statistics that showed a rise in alcohol-related deaths in Scotland under the headline 'Alcohol death rates dropping in Scotland' and linking this supposed decline to minimum pricing.

This was garbage on stilts. The number of recorded deaths rose in 2018 and has risen in nearly every year since 2012. 

I complained to the BBC about this and was fobbed off with a condescending e-mail implying that I was unusual in wanting to focus on the latest year of data - or even the last few years - rather than comparing the figures with 2008 and framing the news in the present tense, as the Beeb had done.

I complained again - as you have to if you want to get anywhere - and received a more satisfactory response on Friday. The headline has been changed to 'Scotland's alcohol death rate highest in UK', which is not very newsworthy but has the merit of being true.

See this thread for the details.

It's a minor victory since almost no one will read a two month old news story, but it would be nice to think that the BBC might think twice before pursuing its campaign for minimum pricing so overtly in the future. We can dream, can't we?

Monday, 10 February 2020

A rare honest film about vaping

And the truth shall set you free

I was abroad at the end of last week and missed ITV Tonight running a hatchet job on e-cigarettes featuring Stanton Glantz. I believe Channel 4's Dispatches is in the process of making a similar documentary.

There is only one angle the media are interested in when covering tobacco and e-cigarette stories and it involves 'Big Tobacco', conspiracy theories and fear-mongering. A rare exception is the film below from the Economist, a magazine that has generally covered the vaping issue responsibly and honestly. It gives the facts about the so-called EVALI outbreak and the supposed 'epidemic' of underage e-cigarette use. It even discusses snus and the new, baseless panic about nicotine damaging the brain.

If you were unfortunate enough to watch the ITV programme, this may help rinse the taste out of your mouth.

Thursday, 6 February 2020

Hawaii to raise the smoking age to 100 - or is it?

When, last February, I commented on reports that Hawaii was considering raising the smoking age to 100 (yes, you read that right), I said it was the stuff of satire and was doubtful that it would happen.

But it has. And they included vape products for good measure...

HB 2540: This bill would progressively ban the sale of cigarettes and e-cigarettes by periodically raising the minimum age of purchase. The bill proposes raising the minimum age to purchase these products to 30 years of age by 2021, 40 years of age by 2022, 50 years of age by 2023, until finally 100 years of age by 2025. The bill passed out of the House Health Committee on Tuesday.

Last month was the centenary of the start of alcohol prohibition. It looks like Americans are ready to do it all over again.


Thanks to Jukka on Twitter for bringing this to my attention. It seems that the bill was amended to remove the gradual age progression. It’s not entirely clear what was voted through in the end, but it looks like Hawaii has stopped short of full prohibitionist insanity for the time being.

As you were.

Wednesday, 5 February 2020

Alcohol is new tobacco for the WHO

It is now seventeen years since the World Health Organisation adopted the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control dedicating to denormalising and ultimately eradicating tobacco use around the world. It was the WHO's first treaty and, despite the earnest claims of those who insisted that there was no slippery slope, it was never going to be the last.

The WHO is currently sharpening its knives for a global war on alcohol, as this recent document makes clear...

Alcohol remains the only psychoactive and dependence-producing substance with a significant impact on global population health that is not controlled at the international level by legally-binding regulatory instruments.

The others are covered by the tremendously successful policy of prohibition or, in the case of tobacco, neo-prohibition. Both make pariahs of consumers while fuelling organised crime. 

This absence limits the ability of national and subnational governments to regulate the distribution, sales and marketing of alcohol within the context of international, regional and bilateral trade negotiations, as well as to protect the development of alcohol policies from interference by commercial interests. 

It really doesn't do any of these things. As the WHO notes elsewhere, eleven countries have banned the sale and production of alcohol completely. A few others have banned alcohol advertising completely. Trade deals have got nothing to do with it.

But you can probably tell where this is heading...

That state of affairs prompts calls for a global normative law on alcohol at the intergovernmental level, modelled on the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, and discussions about the feasibility and necessity of such a legally binding international instrument.

Expect to hear much more of this as the decade wears on. The anonymous liars of the WHO will not waste this opportunity to grab more power. Drinkers be warned: it's your turn to be denormalised.

Tuesday, 4 February 2020

To ban or not to ban?

Tim Worstall has written a nice little essay about paternalism for the IEA. In To Ban or Not To Ban?, he looks at everything from chlorinated chicken and climate change to gambling and the green belt.

When is the government justified in restricting freedom? It is not enough that some people might prefer the new arrangements. Tim rightly notes that costs to third parties could justify state coercion and taxation, but he finds the evidence of such costs is often lacking in practice. Much of the time, demands to clamp down on other people's behaviour are motivated by paternalism or self-interest.

Regular readers may be familiar with these arguments, and many will be familiar with Tim from his popular blog. This report takes a fresh look at the subject from first principles. Hopefully it will appeal to people who do not normally read about economics. You can download it for free here.

Monday, 3 February 2020

Ten times Remainers went insane

I've written about the ten maddest Remainer moments for Spiked. It's pretty funny if I do say so myself; it's hard to go wrong with such strong source material.

Do have a read.